Friday, 23 October 2020

The Twilight Of Boomer Power.

Heading For The End Of The Road: Martyn Bradbury is right about the Boomers: twilight does beckon them, as their long reign approaches its end. But before they go into “that good night” (which awaits us all!) I, as someone born right in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, would implore the younger generations to give my fellow Boomers one more chance to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”. One last opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of the poet, Robert Browning, who declared: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

THE DAILY BLOG’s Editor, Martyn (Bomber) Bradbury, is characterising the decisive 2020 election result as the Twilight of Boomer Power. Martyn, and all those who share his view, had better hope not. Baby Boomer votes played a critical role in Labour’s historic victory. Moreover, as New Zealand’s most electorally diligent demographic, they are likely to play an equally critical role in the next. Under these circumstances, dancing on the grave of Boomer power strikes me as a sub-optimal strategy for holding together Jacinda’s winning coalition.

For clarity of analysis, it is important to remind readers that the age-range encompassed by the term Boomer stretches from those born in the year following the end of World War II, 1946, to those born at the very end of the post-war surge in fecundity in the mid-1960s. In other words, a Baby Boomer can be anybody between the ages of 55 and 75. Or, to put it another way: the first Boomers came into this world to the crooning of Frank Sinatra; the last to the pop poetry of The Beatles.

We are a singular generation. Those who pay attention to the ads on television will have noticed a strange shift in the marketing strategy of the corporations promoting retirement villages. Where once the ad-men conjured up visions of silver-haired ladies and gentlemen settling into their final years amid fine china and roses, they are now making their pitch to what look like slightly wrinkled versions of sixties-era hippies and rockers. The soundtrack, once Mantovani and his Orchestra, is now The Who and The Rolling Stones. Clearly, the psychographics are telling the advertising gurus that the Boomers are preparing to grow old as they grew up – disgracefully.

There’s a political side to all of this that it would be most unwise for younger generations of voters to ignore. It is, perhaps, best illustrated by a meme sent to me recently by a friend. It depicts a young woman from the Swinging Sixties standing in front of a Mini Minor motor car. The text reads:

Your Grandma wore: Mini Skirts, Hot Pants, Go-Go Boots, Bell-Bottoms, and no Bra.
Listened to: Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, Hendrix, Janis Joplin and The Stones.
Drove: Mini Cars.
Rode on: Fast motor bikes and scooters.
Smoked: Slim cigarettes.
Designed: Fashion you are still wearing today.
Drank: G and Ts and shots, came home at four am, and still went to work.
You will never be as cool as your Grandma.


Boomer hubris? Of course! But it does make the point that the generation raised in the years of plenty turned out to be very different from the generation raised during the years of global economic depression and worldwide war. All that generation wanted to do when the shooting stopped was find a job, get married, buy a house, and start a family. (Although, not always in that order!) Their children, however, took all of their parents’ hard won opportunities and affluence for granted, and went off in search of something more. Not all of them gave up when the rules of the game changed abruptly in the 1980s. And even the ones who did can still remember what it’s like to reach for something beyond your grasp. Some of us are reaching still.

Could that “reaching” have played a part in Labour’s astonishing victory? I think it did. I think Jacinda reminded many Boomers of their younger selves. I think they contrasted her courageous handling of the Covid-19 Crisis with their own cowardly failure to meet the moral challenge of Neoliberalism. Where they had simply taken the corporate money and run, Jacinda faced down the “economy first” brigade with, of all things, kindness.

There was a transcendence in that brave display: a moment of – dare I say it? – transformation. It reminded many of them of things they had forgotten. Like the sheer size of the anti-Vietnam War mobilisation of 1971. Like the political electricity crackling across the first United Women’s Convention in 1973. Like the lonely thrill of seeing the Riot Squad advance with batons drawn in the anti-Apartheid protests of 1981. Like the passage of the Homosexual Law Reform Bill in 1986, and the Nuclear-Free New Zealand legislation of 1987.

Some may even remember the evening of Saturday, 25 November 1972, when New Zealanders, after 12 long years, shrugged off the blues and turned their country red. I certainly remember it. Sitting in my parent’s kitchen, watching the portable TV set, drawing a red star by every electorate that fell to Labour, and a blue swastika alongside every National win. And how, by the end of the night, the Special Election Lift-Out section of the Evening Post, sellotaped to the kitchen wall, had become a veritable galaxy of red stars. Thinking to myself: this is new; this is something I haven’t seen before. I was sixteen.

Nobody will convince me that in kitchens all over New Zealand, last Saturday night, there weren’t thousands of 16-year-olds looking at their devices and feeling that same shiver-up-the-spine as their country, very deliberately, turned a page. That they’re out there fills me with hope. But, I would be lying if I didn’t admit also to feelings of dread.

A recent study by the University of Cambridge indicates that: “Young people are less satisfied with democracy and more disillusioned than at any other time in the past century.” The reason? That’s easy. Their disillusionment has grown out of their steadily deteriorating socio-economic situation vis-à-vis the two generations that came before them. It’s the Millennials, those born between 1981 and 1996, who feel most aggrieved. And why wouldn’t they? When the Baby Boomers were their age, in the US, they held 21 percent of the nation’s wealth. Today, Americans aged 25-40 hold just 3 percent! For those disposed to light a match there is fuel aplenty here to set democracy ablaze.

That would be a tragedy, because the sort of people who set democracies ablaze do not offer hope – only hate.

Our democratic vote can be put to multiple uses. In dangerous times, it can be used as a shield. In times like these, of opportunity, it can also be used as a tool – to build a better future. But our votes can also be used as weapons: to punish and to harm political “enemies” of all kinds. But, when they are used in this way, history shows that the weaponisers suffer every bit as much harm as their intended victims. Political vengeance is a poor substitute for progressive policy. Giving up on democracy means giving up all hope of a better future.

Martyn Bradbury is right about the Boomers: twilight does beckon them, as their long reign approaches its end. But before they go into “that good night” (which awaits us all!) I, as someone born right in the middle of the Baby Boom generation, would implore the younger generations to give my fellow Boomers one more chance to “rage, rage, against the dying of the light”. One last opportunity to demonstrate the wisdom of the poet, Robert Browning, who declared: “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, Or what’s a heaven for?”

In the name of generations yet unborn, I invite you to reach out your hands to those who, for a few, brief, shining moments, allowed themselves to believe that there is “something more”.

Because, sixteen, thirty-two, sixty-four: don’t we all, as New Zealanders, deserve the chance to say:

“This is new. This is something we haven’t seen before.”


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 October 2020.

"Change That Sticks."

Implementing Change With Us - Not Imposing It On Us: Jacinda Ardern, like Mickey Savage before her, understands what her more revolutionary critics do not: that the only sort of socialism that endures is democratic socialism – socialism by popular demand and with popular consent.

AFTER THE BIGGEST WIN in nearly 50 years, you’d think the Left would be cheering. But, no, you’d be wrong. While ordinary New Zealanders: factory workers, shop assistants, storepersons, bar-staff, teachers, hospital orderlies and nurses; are still pinching themselves to make sure Labour’s stunning landslide isn’t a beautiful, impossible dream; the Left’s grim keyboard warriors are predicting a dismal future of failure and betrayal. It’s nothing short of astounding, and I’ve got to admit that I’m struggling now to understand exactly what sort of election result could possibly make these Cassandras of the Left happy!

Actually, that’s not quite true. I do have an inkling of what sort of election result would transport these revolutionaries into the realm of unqualified delight. Unfortunately, it’s the sort of election result that would cast a heavy pall of fear and dread over the rest of us.

Imagine a political amalgam of the Alliance, the Maori Party, Mana and the Greens. Now imagine its manifesto. It’s pretty short: “Socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” No ifs, no buts, no maybes: full-throated socialism.

Don’t laugh. That used to be the primary objective of the New Zealand Labour Party. It was deleted back in the 1950s: partly in response to the red-baiting excesses of the 1951 snap election (called to supply ex post facto validation for the National Government’s crushing of the Watersiders’ Union) partly in recognition of its electoral toxicity in the Cold War political environment. [1951 was also the last election in which a party received more than 50 percent of the votes cast.] In practical terms, however, Labour’s hardline socialist objectives were quietly set aside by Michael Joseph Savage in the run-up to the 1935 general election. He wanted New Zealanders to vote for Labour – not run screaming from it!

But, if Kiwis weren’t willing to vote for full-throated socialism in the midst of the Great Depression, then it’s really difficult to imagine the circumstances in which they would be prepared to vote for it. And that is the problem, really, isn’t it? The hardline Left’s general failure of imagination. They are very quick to prejudge any government Jacinda Ardern might form as a creature of the bosses, but that is where their imagination peters out.

My own imagination, however, does not. I can easily visualise New Zealanders’ response to confiscatory tax rates; full-scale re-regulation of the labour market; restoration of the untrammelled right to strike; climate change legislation that drives more than half of New Zealand’s farmers out of business; raising welfare benefits to equal the minimum wage. While one half of the country might applaud such a programme, the other half would, almost certainly, rise-up against it in open revolt.

Now, I have a sneaking suspicion that there are many on the Far Left who would be delighted with such an outcome. At long last, battle could be joined, and capital and labour could slug it out in a fight-to-the-finish class war. Except, “class war” is just another name for “civil war” – which, as any historian will tell you, is the very worst sort of war a nation can fight.

Bloody civil war is not, however, the inevitable consequence of all radical programmes of economic and social reform. Many of the “socialist” measures described above were part and parcel of Labour’s plan for putting New Zealand back to work. They were not, however, implemented without having thoroughly prepared the public for their introduction.

That’s because Mickey Savage understood what his more revolutionary critics did not: that the only sort of socialism that endures is democratic socialism – socialism by popular demand and with popular consent.

Without consent there is only force, and force acts like acid on the ethical foundations of the socialist dream. Socialism by force is best summed-up in the line I heard long ago, spoken by a crusty old socialist in a long-forgotten New Zealand television drama. “It’s not hard”, he admonishes his fishing companion, “nationalise everything and shoot the buggers who complain.”

That is, of course, if they don’t shoot you first.

Personally, I’m with Mickey – and Jacinda. I want my fellow New Zealanders to press their government for change, not be oppressed by it. Socialism imposed without a democratic mandate cannot – and should not – last.

Like the Prime Minister, I want “change that sticks”.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 October 2020.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

It's Time For Some "Earnest Struggle".

Not Child Poverty, Just Poverty - Full Stop: Society doesn’t impose poverty on children, it imposes poverty upon their parents. So, when the demand is made to end child poverty, those making it are actually demanding an end to poverty itself. A worthy goal, but also a problematic one, since the problem it addresses – economic and social inequality – encompasses the entire battleground between the Left and the Right.

THE TRUE MEASURE of Neoliberalism’s victory is the extent to which the Left now expects someone else to make the revolution. I listened this morning while Janet McAllister, from Child Poverty Action Group, did her best to guilt-trip Jacinda Ardern into ending child poverty. Labour’s mandate is unequivocal, Janet reassured Morning Report’s listeners, everyone’s in favour, so “let’s do this”. The CPAG spokeswoman’s faith was little short of biblical: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” Oh, that political change were so simple!

Let’s pick apart Janet’s political pitch. CPAG’s analytical frame – “Child Poverty” – is, not to put to fine a point upon it, a con. A well-meaning con, to be sure, but a con none the less. Why? Because, as that wry old Communist, Don Franks, noted on Twitter just the other day: “Children are poor because they don’t work.” And, of course, he’s right. Society doesn’t impose poverty on children, it imposes poverty upon their parents. So, when the demand is made to end child poverty, those making it are actually demanding an end to poverty itself. A worthy goal, but also a problematic one, since the problem it addresses – economic and social inequality – encompasses the entire battleground between the Left and the Right.

Now, being lumped-in with the forces of the Radical Left is not something the good folk at CPAG are all that keen on. They are perfectly aware that if they made their pitch all about lifting wages and raising taxes, the flow of donations would dry up almost immediately. That’s why they frame their political narrative around child poverty. It’s about all those poor little children without warm, dry houses; without shoes; without school-lunches. Because who, out there in middle-class-land, is hard-hearted enough to refuse to help these poor wee mites? The answer, of course, is: the very same people who deny their parents a decent wage; whack up the rent on their freezing-cold hovels; and resist any attempt to make them pay their fair share of tax. (An astonishing number of whom have, over the past fortnight, cast their Party Vote proudly for “Jacinda” and the Labour Party!)

So, Janet, when you tell RNZ’s middle-class audience that everyone wants to end child poverty, you’re right – and you’re wrong. When confronted with the emotional shock of a deprived child, everyone (or just about everyone) wants to do something to help. But, when they discover what “doing something to help” is going to cost them, well, that’s when they stop being willing to cry: “Let’s do this!” In fact, that’s when they end up feeling just a wee bit manipulated; a wee bit conned; and a whole lot convinced that “ending child poverty” is just a polite way of saying: “Let’s do Socialism!”

I’m pretty sure Jacinda (aided, as always, by her trusty pollsters and focus-group moderators) worked this out some time ago. Which is why, in her case, ending child poverty has become less of an urgent priority and more of a work in progress. The Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, will also have been given the message (in his case by Treasury) that the Prime Ministers’ promises, if kept, would likely prove very expensive and tread on a great many very powerful toes. “Are you absolutely sure, Minister,” his advisers will purr, “that the PM really intends to be that … courageous?”

There will be plenty of readers bristling about now, and demanding to know, from no one in particular, exactly what Trotter is suggesting. Is he saying that the Left should simply give up on poverty and inequality? No, he most emphatically is not. What he is proposing, is that the Left does what the Left used to do: organise!

If Jacinda were to switch on Morning Report and, instead of CPAG’s Janet McCallister cheekily borrowing her own election slogans, hear the RNZ newsreader describing the 20,000-strong anti-poverty march that had wound its way through the streets of South Auckland the night before, how do you think she would react? What would Grant Robertson’s response be when he heard a grab from the passionate speech delivered to the marchers by the Green Party’s Ricardo Menendez March, in which he reaffirmed his party’s commitment to a Universal Benefit of $400 per week? I strongly suspect they’d be texting each other within 30 seconds with the same message: “We’ve got to do something about this!”

Relying on top-down solutions to entrenched economic and societal problems is never a good idea. Liberal Americans may have celebrated when the US Supreme Court overturned Jim Crow legislation in the Deep South and guaranteed American women the right to terminate their pregnancies. Conservative Americans, however, were spared the trial they truly feared: that of having their prejudices challenged and defeated, democratically, in their state legislatures. Legal victories are very different from democratic victories. The former are won in courtrooms, the latter on the streets and in the polling-booths. American conservatives were not daunted by Supreme Court activism, they were educated by it. And the lesson they learned was simple: Stack the Court with your own activists.

Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) the former slave and leading abolitionist, understood the crucial role of organisation and action in the fight for freedom and equality. This is how he summed it up:

Let me give you a word of the philosophy of reform. The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. The conflict has been exciting, agitating, all-absorbing, and for the time being, putting all other tumults to silence. It must do this or it does nothing. If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters.

This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.


Douglass spoke those words in 1857, and in the intervening 163 years they have lost neither their power, nor their urgent wisdom. The New Zealand Left should commit his words to memory, and take his message to heart.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 22 October 2020.

Tuesday, 20 October 2020

Governing For All Of Us.

The Kind Colossus: There are those on the Left who fear that Jacinda’s attachment to the centre will prevent her from doing what so urgently needs to be done in housing, welfare, child poverty, industrial relations and climate change. They argue that the only people she and her government will respond to are the owners of businesses large and small. My own feeling is, that Jacinda will do as much as we compel her to do. As much as – now that she need ask no other party’s permission – the mood of the electorate urges her to do. And, given how incredibly skilled she has become at creating a mood, that could be quite a lot.

WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS when half the country has just voted for you? How should you respond to such a resounding vote of confidence? Jacinda Ardern has undoubtedly been giving this question considerable thought for several weeks. I say “weeks” because her party’s pollsters and their focus-group moderators have been making it clear to her for months that a Labour win of historic proportions was on the cards. From the tone and content of her gracious Saturday night victory speech, it soon became clear that, from the options on offer, Jacinda had already made her choice. She would lead a government “for all New Zealanders”.

It’s a promise that works as well for those on the bottom of the socio-economic heap as it does for those at the top. Indeed, it will be interpreted by both groups as applying particularly to themselves. For beneficiaries, the unemployed, and the working poor struggling to pay the rent; Jacinda’s words will be taken to mean that their needs will not be forgotten. For the rich and the very-rich, the Prime Minister’s speech brings reassurance that their wealth is safe. For the rest of us, it just sounds right: what sort of Prime Minister would set out to govern only for her supporters?

Part of the reason for Labour’s landslide win on Saturday is just how easy National Party leader Judith Collins and her colleagues made that question to answer. Throughout the campaign, it was made abundantly clear that National’s policies were intended to advantage its friends, allies and supporters – and virtually no one else. Time and again, when questioned about the huge disparity between the tax relief being offered to those in full-time employment on generous salaries, and those working two or three minimum-wage jobs, National’s finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, talked of hard-working Kiwis on the average wage – as if everyone else were shiftless wastrels who deserved nothing better.

It’s precisely this dog-eat-dog attitude that New Zealand turned its face from in this election. If Covid taught New Zealanders anything, it’s that selfishness is a potentially deadly affliction. We learned how dangerous those who insist that “protecting the economy” be accorded the highest priority – ahead of the lives of elderly and vulnerable New Zealanders – truly are. We also learned the virtues of collectivism: rediscovering the simple truth that the well-being of each of us, and the well-being of all of us, are goals that can only be achieved by working together. It was her steadfastness in advancing this simple proposition that made Jacinda unbeatable.

That is not a rhetorical flourish. From the moment New Zealand went into Level 4 Lockdown, National found itself shut out of the election conversation. Individuals close to the party report campaign operatives telling them that the voters were screening their calls. Focus-group moderators quizzed their subjects relentlessly, desperate to find the words and phrases that would trigger former National voters into answering their phones. But, it was no good, nobody wanted to talk to politicians who thought it was a good idea to criticise, nit-pick, or in any other way undermine the nation’s determination to “stamp out the virus”.

National’s desperation was etched for all to see on the increasingly distraught features of Judith Collins. It was reinforced by her frenetic visits to the party’s rural and provincial heartland. It was as if any thought of reaching out beyond National’s electoral base no longer made any sense. It had become, in the metaphor so beloved by political journalists, a simple matter of “saving the furniture”.

Except, it didn’t work. In every South Island electorate the Party Vote was won by Labour. Rangitata fell. East Coast fell. Wairarapa fell. New Plymouth and Wanganui fell. Unbelievably, Ilam – Gerry Brownlee’s leafy Christchurch redoubt, the bluest of National’s blue-ribbon seats – fell. The furniture was burning.

Labour has ceased to frighten National voters. The class enemy turns out to have a kind heart, a toothy smile, and a special knack with ginger-cake. Their own leader, sadly, looks more and more like a fruitcake.

Mickey Savage performed the same trick back in the 1930s. My father liked to tell a story from his childhood about the old dairy farmer he often helped-out after school. The 1938 general election was fast approaching, and politics was on everybody’s lips. One evening, the hard-scrabble cow-cocky, perhaps aware that Dad’s father, the local GP, was a firm ally of the Labour Government, observed: “Well, Tony, it looks as though we’re going to have the socialists again!” As my father told the tale, the farmer did not say this with bitterness, but with a wink and a smile. A few days later, Labour romped back to power with 55.8 percent of the popular vote.

There are those on the Left who fear that Jacinda’s attachment to the centre will prevent her from doing what so urgently needs to be done in housing, welfare, child poverty, industrial relations and climate change. They argue that the only people she and her government will respond to are the owners of businesses large and small. My own feeling is, that Jacinda will do as much as we compel her to do. As much as – now that she need ask no other party’s permission – the mood of the electorate urges her to do. And, given how incredibly skilled she has become at creating a mood, that could be quite a lot.

When confronted by urgent and indisputable need, Jacinda and Grant Robertson were willing to spend scores of billions of Reserve Bank-created dollars to keep the lights on. The Prime Minister is not afraid of breaking the rules of neoliberalism if that is what the situation clearly requires – and what the voters are urging her to do in numbers too great to be ignored. Far too many on the Left are unwilling to acknowledge that the only kind of socialism that endures is democratic-socialism. Or as Jacinda puts it: “Change that sticks.”

We must not be frightened of the Prime Minister’s pledge to govern for all New Zealanders. It is not a formula for centrist betrayal. It is just another way of saying that she will continue to look after “The Team of Five Million”? And hasn’t Jacinda already shown us how well she can do that?

Isn’t that why she won?


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 20 October 2020.

Monday, 19 October 2020

Jacinda Will Keep Us Moving – To The Same Place.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes? Not Likely: Though few New Zealanders would express it in such a fashion: Jacinda’s and Labour’s general handling of the Covid-19 crisis proved both to be highly effective defenders of the capitalist status quo. She, and they, kept the lights on. And that, in the absence of an alternative team of lighting engineers, is pretty much the whole extent of 95 percent of New Zealanders’ expectations.

IF, AS EVERYONE ANTICIPATES, Labour wins the election, it is important to understand that, for Jacinda Ardern, little will change. She will still be Prime Minister, with all that entails. The constant flow of information from her officials will not slow. The daily decisions of government will still have to be made. Yes, there will be a new cabinet, but the key figures in that cabinet will still be her closest allies: Grant Robertson, Chris Hipkins, Meagan Woods. For Jacinda, the next few days and weeks will not be distinguished by how much everything has changed, but by how much of it has remained the same.

Depending on how the votes fall, Labour may, or may not, have to decide what sort of relationship it wishes to establish with the Greens. If, as National is desperately hoping, the Greens are forced out of Parliament, the matter will have resolved itself. If, however, National’s soufflé rises too little, too late, and the Greens squeak back into Parliament, their relationship with Labour will be determined by whether or not the seats they hold are needed to form a working government majority.

Obviously, if Labour needs the Greens to make up the numbers of power, then Jacinda will be obliged to offer James Shaw, Marama Davidson and, perhaps, three of their parliamentary colleagues, seats at the Cabinet Table. But, if Labour has the numbers to govern alone, then they will have a choice to make: to govern with the Greens – or without them.

A not inconsiderable number of Labour MPs will argue against a voluntary coalition with the Greens. Many will be furious with them for refusing to hose down National’s Wealth Tax allegations in the final days of the campaign. They will argue (with some justification) that Shaw’s and Davidson’s refusal to simply take the Wealth Tax off the table provided Judith Collins with the only weapon capable of influencing the election’s outcome. That’s not something they’ll let Jacinda forget. Their argument will be simple and brutal: The Greens cannot be trusted – not when it counts. Let them sit on the cross-benches for three years. See if that improves their judgement.

The Prime Minister and her closest advisors are much more likely, however, to heed the advice of that hardest of hardball politicians, President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who, when his advisers pressed him to put the formidable FBI Director, J Edgar Hoover, out to pasture, memorably quipped: “It’s probably better to have him inside the tent, pissing out, than outside the tent, pissing in.”

The last thing Jacinda and Labour needs is a Green Party, positioned well to their left and feeling morally obliged to criticise every move Labour makes for the entire term. Better by far to slap them in the handcuffs of Collective Cabinet Responsibility – the doctrine which requires cabinet ministers to defend even those government policies they have argued and voted against. The Greens should therefore be very wary of smiling Labour leaders bearing gifts of ginger cake and kindness!

In the best of all possible worlds, the Greens would refuse to join any form of coalition government. In that world, the Greens would not need to be told that the only thing capitalism truly fears, or has the slightest reason to fear, is anti-capitalism.

Liberalism, even in its most radical manifestations (embodied to a decidedly unhealthy degree in the current crop of Greens) remains indissolubly wedded to the core principles of the profit-driven system. When the Green Party was first formed, more than 30 years ago, it quickly attracted a swathe of hard-core anti-capitalists (many of them, like Sue Bradford, refugees from the communist organisations driven out of Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party). By no means all of these “eco-socialist” anti-capitalists have exited the Greens, but it is indisputable that the party has become much more capitalist-friendly since James Shaw was elected co-leader. Only stupid capitalists fear the likes of Shaw. Smart capitalists all know him to be a man they can do business with.

To avoid disappointment, and that all-too-familiar disillusionment that sets in among leftists after every Labour victory, progressive New Zealanders need to understand that “doing business” is the default setting of the system our representatives are elected to administer. Capitalist democracy has almost nothing to do with the emancipation of those on the receiving end of its economic and social injustices; it is, rather, as one of capitalism’s better analysts, Joseph Schumpeter, pointed out: all about securing “an orderly circulation of elites”.

National is demonstrating – to a hilarious degree – all the signs of an elite which has become exhausted, and needs a period out of power to reconstitute and re-energise itself. Labour, by contrast, has drawn around it an impressive cross-section of the professional and administrative strata responsible for keeping this country going.

Though few New Zealanders would express it in such a fashion: Jacinda’s and Labour’s general handling of the Covid-19 crisis proved both to be highly effective defenders of the capitalist status quo. She, and they, kept the lights on. And that, in the absence of an alternative team of lighting engineers, is pretty much the whole extent of 95 percent of New Zealanders’ expectations.

Maybe, as the world descends further into epidemiological and economic panic, and the planet itself turns aggressively on its dominant species, Jacinda, Labour and the Greens will prove themselves unequal to the challenge of keeping the lights on. At that point, we will begin in earnest the search for an elite dedicated to the creation of a new kind of economic, social, political and ecological order. That’s generally the way it works: the failure of an old system calls into existence a new one.

When our very survival turns on the creation and election of anti-capitalists, then rest assured, we will find them – and vote for them. In the meantime, as the French are wont to declare: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 16 October 2020.

Friday, 16 October 2020

"Fitz" On Cannabis.

"I Like It!" “Shall I tell you the real reason to legalise cannabis? Because all the stuff I’ve told you, while true, isn’t enough. You should legalise cannabis because you’d like it. No, actually, you’d love it! Cannabis makes food taste better. It turns music into magic. It suppresses pain and nausea naturally. And, it transforms sex into a holy sensory sacrament. So, go on, what are you waiting for? Just say YES!”

JIMMY MCGOVERN’S “Fitz” is a marvellous character. Played by the irrepressible Robbie Coltrane, Fitz is an anarchist, a hedonist, and a forensic psychiatrist of genius who is seconded to the Greater Manchester Police to get inside the minds of offenders their detectives cannot catch. Fitz is all the more compelling as a character for being a deeply flawed human-being. Though thoroughly aware of his addictions, he makes no real effort to overcome them. Perhaps his most serious compulsion is truth-telling. When asked why he drinks, smokes and gambles to excess; he replies, with uncompromising honesty: “Because I like it!”

When someone asked me recently how I would have handled the campaign in favour of legalising Cannabis, I immediately thought of “Fitz”. The hero of McGovern’s television series “Cracker” would have taken a very different approach to the careful promoters of the real world “Yes” campaign.

Fitz would, of course, have rattled-off all the evidence in favour of legalisation in a single, supremely detailed, multi-clausal sentence. (McGovern, as a writer, excels at writing these, and Coltrane, as an actor, is even better at delivering them.) But that would not have been the end of it – not by a very long chalk.

Fitz would have saved the real passion for his follow-up remarks – beginning with the enormous level of hypocrisy surrounding the whole issue of intoxicants.

In his commanding Lanarkshire accent, he’d talk about the billions-of-dollars-worth of profits cranked out by the perfectly legal manufacturers, distributors and retailers of alcohol. Describing, in horrendous detail, the bloody carnage he’s witnessed, and the emotional devastation he’s come face-to-face with, on account of booze. He’d talk about the way the reality of alcohol’s destructiveness is only permitted to travel so far before being silenced by the glib unrealities of the liquor industry’s lobbyists.

Pivoting to the draft legislation setting out the comprehensive regulation of Cannabis use: the legislation we are being asked to answer “Yes” or “No” to in the referendum; Fitz would invite us to imagine how the liquor industry might respond if it was required to abide by the same rules.

A limited number of outlets across the country. Strict limitations on potency. No advertising whatsoever. Monopolisation of the market forbidden. Restriction of the product to persons over the age of 20 years. “How do you think the booze barons would react to that?”, Fitz would ask. “Why can’t we impose on them the same controls over the production and distribution of alcohol that we are demanding from the growers of cannabis?”

As a psychiatrist, Fitz would, of course, be well aware of the effects of heavy and prolonged cannabis use on young people afflicted by a variety of mental illnesses. Well aware, because, of course, he’s dealing with these kids every day.

“Prohibition doesn’t prevent these youngsters from using the drug,” he’d tell us, intruding his impressive bulk into our personal space to emphasise the point, “it just makes them less likely to get help until they fall foul of the law and the courts send them to me.”

Pausing only to flick his cigarette ash into his empty beer glass, Fitz would continue. “And the millions of dollars raised in taxes on legalised cannabis would allow more people like me to be trained to help these kids. Which makes a damn sight more sense than giving them a criminal record and locking them up in prison!”

All of this would, naturally, be leading us towards Fitz’s moment of truth. The recitation of the clinical data. The stinging rebuke of our society’s ingrained hypocrisy in regard to alcohol and tobacco. (The latter, perfectly legal, product kills 5,000-plus New Zealanders annually!) The utter failure of cannabis prohibition to prevent mental illness. These are just the hors d’oeuvres of Fitz’s rhetorical feast.

In the climactic sequence, Fitz would stub out his cigarette, and fix us with that hard look Robbie Coltrane does so well.

“Shall I tell you the real reason to legalise cannabis? Because all the stuff I’ve told you, while true, isn’t enough. You should legalise cannabis because you’d like it. No, actually, you’d love it! Cannabis makes food taste better. It turns music into magic. It suppresses pain and nausea naturally. And, it transforms sex into a holy sensory sacrament. So, go on, what are you waiting for? Just say YES!”


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 October 2020.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Let's Make Jacinda Break Her Promises.

Make Her An Offer She Can't Refuse: Expecting Jacinda and her colleagues to break their promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax is not only unfair it is unwise. A consensus for change has never arisen out of a series of polite discussions - or base betrayals. A better New Zealand becomes possible only when its citizens muster sufficient democratic force to guarantee themselves a fair hearing. Change will only come when New Zealanders are strong enough to make Jacinda break her promises.
 
IF THE ACTUAL RESULT on Saturday evening is anything like the latest UMR poll, Jacinda Ardern will have a problem. UMR has Labour on 50 and the Greens on 6 percent. Replicated in the polling-booths, those numbers would give the centre-left a higher percentage of the votes cast than Mickey Savage’s government received in 1938. Jacinda would have a problem because, unlike Mickey Savage, she lacks a clear and comprehensive plan for economic and social change.

It gets worse. In assembling her unbeatable electoral coalition, and holding it together, Jacinda has had to give an explicit promise not to enact the sort of urgent fiscal programme the country requires. This will be the new government’s dilemma. How to do what needs to be done without breaking its word, and without breaking up the cross-class alliance of voters that brought it to power.

To overcome this dilemma, the prospective Labour-Green Government will have to devise some way of persuading its working-class, middle-class and ruling-class supporters to pursue change together. The Government’s objective: to create a broad-based consensus around the policies needed to steer New Zealand through the Covid Recession to the point where a united and purposeful response to Climate Change can begin. Jacinda and her team will have to lead this discussion, but they must not be left to lead it alone.

Peter Dreier, writing in the Huffington Post, recalled an important anecdote from the early years of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” (FDR’s administration’s broad programme to meet the multiple challenges of the Great Depression.)

“FDR once met with a group of activists who sought his support for bold legislation. He listened to their arguments for some time and then said, ‘You’ve convinced me. Now go out and make me do it.’”

Fifty years ago, the institutions upon which a centre-left government could rely for that sort of coercion would have been the Federation of Labour, the NZ University Students Association, the major Christian denominations’ social service organisations, the universities, and a host of NGOs and progressive pressure groups. Today, virtually none of these institutions (or, at least, those that have survived!) could be relied upon to avail themselves of such a huge opportunity.

The successor organisation to the Federation of Labour, the NZ Council of Trade Unions, which should be chomping at the bit to “go out and make” a centre-left government do its duty, is a morally and organisationally moribund organisation. The vast majority of New Zealand workers are employed in the private sector, but only 8 percent of private-sector workers are unionised. Most unionised workers are public servants of one kind or another, and the unions they belong to dominate the CTU completely. In practical terms, this leaves the majority of New Zealand workers not only unprotected but unrepresented.

What this suggests is that one of the most useful initiatives the new Labour-Green Government could take would be to radically re-constitute the New Zealand labour movement. On this very blogsite, Matt McCarten has published a series of articles detailing the atrocious exploitative practices already deeply embedded in the New Zealand workforce. Along with the workplace reforms already promised, legislation to dramatically increase union density in the private sector would go a long way toward bringing the NZ working-class back on to the political stage.

The effectiveness of this reform would be further enhanced by facilitating the creation of a national organisation composed exclusively of unions representing private sector workers. The history of the CTU has demonstrated conclusively that the interests of public and private sector workers cannot be reconciled within a single organisation. It has also shown that ruthless centralisation and democracy make for extremely uncomfortable bedfellows.

It is difficult to imagine a more enthusiastic activist ally for a centre-left government than a working-class once again recognised as a vital part of New Zealand society. If Covid taught us anything, it’s that this country’s most essential workers do not wear suits and ties!

Another re-constitution more-or-less guaranteed to produce enthusiastic activist allies for a centre-left government would be the restoration of universal membership provisions to the nation’s university student associations, and, in the spirit of the union reforms, a revitalisation of democracy on the nation’s campuses. This would not stop at the radical re-organisation of student representation. Democratisation would occur across the whole university system, restoring the decision-making powers of academic staff in the management of the nation’s institutions of higher learning. Universities are not businesses and they should not be run as if they are.

These sectional reforms would be matched by a general restoration and reinvigoration of citizens’ rights generally. The powers of employers to gag their employees are in need of radical curtailment. Freedom of expression shouldn’t be restricted to a citizen’s spare time in their own home. Human rights do not cease to apply simply because workers are required to operate on their bosses’ real estate. By the same token, access to the courts should not be rationed according to the size of a citizen’s bank balance. Nor should the prohibitive cost of legal representation deprive ordinary New Zealanders of their day in court.

Jacinda and her team have given no irrevocable promises in regard to any of the above. Interestingly, very similar reforms were undertaken by the First Labour Government (1935-1949). The Labour Party acted as midwife for The Federation of Labour, and the associated legislation mandating universal union membership (via the closed shop) made the FoL a real and admirably democratic force for the advancement of workers’ interests for 50 years. FDR, likewise, through his radical Secretary of Labour (and only woman in his cabinet) Frances Perkins, made sure that the drive towards union organisation would be assisted by strongly facilitative legislation. It didn’t hurt that the President, himself, was willing to publicly declare that if he was an industrial worker, then he would most certainly be a union member.

As Peter Dreier put it in his Huffington Post article:

“Even in the middle of the Depression, Roosevelt understood that the more effectively people created a sense of urgency and crisis, the easier it would be for him to push for progressive legislation — what we now call the New Deal. FDR used his bully pulpit, including radio addresses, to educate Americans about the problems the nation faced, to explain why the country needed bold action to address the crisis, and to urge them to make their voices heard.”

Because one thing is absolutely certain: the representatives of business, the leading civil servants, think tank policy researchers, lobbyists and right-wing journalists (is there any other kind?) will be making their voices heard. A consensus cannot be forged where agreement is already unanimous. New Zealand has suffered from one-sided conversations for far too long. Helping to create a two-sided conversation should be Labour’s and the Greens’ top priority.

Expecting Jacinda and her colleagues to break their promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax is not only unfair it is unwise. A consensus for change has never arisen out of a series of polite discussions - or base betrayals. A better New Zealand becomes possible only when its citizens muster sufficient democratic force to guarantee themselves a fair hearing.

Change will only come when New Zealanders are strong enough to make Jacinda break her promises.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 15 October 2020.

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

The Second Time As Farce: National's Election Campaign Falls Apart.

The Mask Of Civility Is Removed: According to Politik’s editor, Richard Harman, Collins has become her own campaign manager. Now, as a lawyer, you might think that the Leader of the Opposition would be familiar with the old saying: “The lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.” Well the same applies, with bells on, to the management of election campaigns. What do you call the candidates who decide to manage their own campaign? That’s right, you call them losers

WHICH CAME FIRST, the Taxpayers’ Union’s campaign against the Wealth Tax, or the National Party’s “Stop the Wealth Tax Day”? My money’s on the Taxpayer’s Union. If the past week of the campaign has taught us anything, it’s that Judith Collins is making National’s campaign up as she goes along. I suspect she read, or someone summarized, Richard Harman’s Politik post on the Taxpayers’ Union’s direct mail shot. I can just see Collins’s eyebrows arching wickedly and hear her exclaim: “What a good idea!” Needless to say, she and her woefully inept campaign team then proceeded to cock the whole thing up.

If I’m wrong, however, and the whole exercise was, indeed, carefully planned in advance, then the Taxpayers’ Union’s mail-shot must have been timed to arrive in its targeted mailboxes just in time to underscore the media’s coverage of Collins’ “Stop The Wealth Tax Day” event. According to this script: just as the parties began their final dash for the finish-line, the voters were to be treated to a classic, last-minute, National Party demolition job.

There is actually at least one piece of evidence to support this theory. On the final “Politics” panel before the election, Trish Sherson and Neale Jones joined RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan, to discuss the state-of-play just five days out from polling-day. In the course of that discussion, Sherson told listeners that a letter explaining the impact of the Wealth Tax on her family’s future fortunes had turned up in her letter-box. Surely, this was the mail-shot exposed by Richard Harman in last Thursday’s Politik post?

So far, so good. On paper, this sequence does indeed have all the hallmarks of a potentially ruinous National Party hit. We have only to cast our minds back to Steven Joyce’s superbly-timed attack on Labour’s tax policy in the final weeks of the 2017 general election. In concert with his “There’s an $11 billion hole in Labour’s financial plan” assault on Grant Robertson’s economic competence, National’s attack on the Opposition’s proposed Capital Gains Tax delivered a devastating blow to Jacinda’s and Labour’s credibility.

Still, you must remember what Karl Marx had to say about history repeating itself? No? Well then, allow me to supply the quote:

“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

We could spend some time debating whether Steven Joyce is, or ever was, a “world historical personage”, but what is not in doubt is that he was pretty damn good at running election campaigns. If Joyce had been master-minding the joint National Party/Taxpayers’ Union hit, then “Stop the Wealth Tax Day” would have set in motion a dangerous, hard-to-counter Opposition effort designed to strip 5 percentage points off the Labour Party at a point in the campaign when Labour is least equipped to mount an effective counter-attack.

But – and it’s a really, really big BUT – Joyce is not running National’s campaign. According to Politik’s editor, Richard Harman, Collins has become her own campaign manager. Now, as a lawyer, you might think that the Leader of the Opposition would be familiar with the old saying: “The lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.” Well the same applies, with bells on, to the management of election campaigns. What do you call the candidates who decide to manage their own campaign? That’s right, you call them losers. What looked like a truly tremendous plan of attack on paper, simply could not survive the fog of Judith.

The Ancient Greeks used to say that those whom the Gods sought to destroy they first made mad; these days they just make them incompetent. The degree to which National’s number-crunchers cocked-up the calculations at the core of their “Stop The Wealth Tax” Facebook post simply beggars belief. After all, these are the guys who never stop telling us that when it comes to number-crunching, National leaves Labour in its dust. And yet, when critiquing the Wealth Tax, the Nats’ not only failed comprehensively to get the numbers right, but were also, clearly, unable to grasp even the rudiments of the Greens’ proposed fiscal instrument. No wonder that, for just about the first time since the days of Roger Douglas, the “Business Community” prefers a Labour finance minister (Grant Robertson) to National’s economic spokesperson (Paul Goldsmith).

It was such a debacle that I almost (and that word, almost, needs to be stressed) felt sorry for the National Party. Their soldiers lifted up their rifles, took careful aim at their enemies, pulled their triggers, and discovered that the party’s armourers had failed to supply them with live rounds. The poor bastards were firing blanks!

I do not, however, feel the least bit sorry for the mainstream news media. What I’m actually feeling is anger and disgust. Richard Harman broke the story about the Taxpayers’ Union’s mail-shot early in the morning of Thursday, 9 October. With the honourable exception of The Daily Blog, it was studiously ignored. No one that I’m aware of thought to ask Judith Collins if she was aware of the Taxpayers’ Union’s plans. No one from RNZ picked-up on Sherson’s description of the letter she received over the weekend. The parallels between this attack and the similarly timed, and targeted, Exclusive Brethren attack of 2005 have been missed completely. Okay, it happened 15 years ago, but are we really expected to accept that today’s political journalists lack the capacity to link the events of the present with those of even the relatively recent past?

Obviously, the politicians don’t think so. Why else would the National front-bencher (once again, this information is sourced from Harman’s Politik website) have leaked Denise Lee’s critical e-mail directly to the media? Waiting around for the modern gallery journalist to ferret out the level of dissatisfaction with Judith Collins in National’s caucus all by themselves is clearly regarded as a fool’s errand. When it comes to making sure the news media knows WTF’s going on, spoon-feeding would appear to be the order of the day!

We have already seen what has happened to the National Party, now that experienced players like Steven Joyce are no longer in control of their election campaigns. It’s amateur night in Tory Town. But, God alone knows what will happen to the mainstream media’s ability to maintain a properly informed electorate when experienced professional journalists like Richard Harman finally retire. Democracy defeated both Nazism and Stalinism: whether or not it can survive the sheer incompetence of its contemporary practitioners and reporters, is an open question.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 October 2020.

National's Little Helpers have A Cunning Plan.

Keep Your Hands Off Of My Stash: Viewed from the perspective of the 2020 General Election as a whole, the intervention of the Taxpayers’ Union against the Greens' Wealth Tax confirms the Right’s growing sense of desperation that the campaign is slipping away from them. With hundreds of thousands of voters having already cast their ballots in favour of the Labour Party, the opportunity to turn around all those former National voters who have shifted their allegiance to the Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, grows smaller by the day.

LIKE THE EXCLUSIVE BRETHREN in 2005, the Taxpayers’ Union is poised to launch a well-funded, last-minute attack on the Greens. According to Richard Harman’s Politik website, the right-wing, anti-tax, lobby group is about to send a personalised letter to every homeowner whose property is valued at more than a million dollars. The letter “explains” how the Green’s proposed 1 percent Wealth Tax on property valued at more than one million dollars will apply to them.

As Harmon makes clear in his post, the cost of sending a direct mail shot as big as this is, almost certainly, beyond the means of the Taxpayers’ Union. When questioned by the veteran broadcaster and journalist about the source of the sizeable funds required, the Union would say only that the money had been raised in response to a special appeal for financial support.

Harmon also makes clear that the Taxpayers’ Union has registered itself with, and obtained all the required approvals from, the Electoral Commission. The latter has duly authorised the Union to spend up to $338,000 on its “political campaign” against the Greens’ tax policy.

Naturally, any campaign directed primarily at the Greens will likely be of considerable benefit to National and Act. But, since the letter makes no direct appeal for its recipients to support either of those parties, the cost of critiquing the Greens’ Wealth Tax cannot be deducted from the spending caps of the campaign’s principal beneficiaries. Like the Exclusive Brethren before them, the Taxpayers’ Union is taking full advantage of the fact that there is nothing in the Electoral Act which prevents individuals and groups from attacking the enemies of their friends.

Viewed from the perspective of the 2020 General Election as a whole, the intervention of the Taxpayers’ Union confirms the Right’s growing sense of desperation that the campaign is slipping away from them. With hundreds of thousands of voters having already cast their ballots in favour of the Labour Party, the opportunity to turn around all those former National voters who have shifted their allegiance to the Labour leader, Jacinda Ardern, grows smaller by the day.

Throw into the mix the internecine squabbling that has re-emerged within National’s ranks, and the widely shared opinion that Judith Collins has become her own (less than brilliant) campaign manager, and the readiness of outsiders to do something – anything – to stop the rot is easily understood.

For most strategic thinkers on the right, the only viable path to victory for National is over the dead body of the Green Party. If the Greens can be driven below the 5 percent MMP threshold, and the so-called “Trash Vote” pumped up to something approaching 10 percent, then a combined tally of National and Act votes of around 45 percent should be enough to reclaim the Treasury Benches. Assuming Act stands firm on 8 percent, National need only lift its Party Vote to around 37 percent for it to be “Game On!”. So, the 84,000 vote question is: “What will it take to shift that many voters from Labour’s column to National’s before 17 October?”

The Taxpayers’ Union (and whoever is bankrolling its direct mail shot) is betting that the prospect of having to pay a Wealth Tax of $10,000 (on a $2 million property) will be enough. They are confident that people with that sort of asset base are smart enough to know that while a Labour Party able to govern alone might be trusted to keep its promise not to introduce a Wealth Tax, a Labour-Green government could not. The Taxpayers’ Union is confident that, in the cold light of day, those asset-rich/cash poor voters will come (albeit reluctantly) to the conclusion that the only safe vote is a vote for National or Act. The bet is also that, as anxiety about the Wealth Tax percolates through the wider electorate it will shave just enough off the Greens Party Vote to send them below the threshold.

How sweet a victory that would be! Labour would find itself in exactly the same position as National in 2017: holding a clear plurality of the Party Votes cast, but, stripped of its Green ally, commanding insufficient seats in the House of Representatives to form a government. Presumably, all those who denounced this outcome as unfair – unconstitutional even – just three years ago, would bite their tongues in 2020.

There are, however, two important factors working against the Taxpayers’ Union and its Sugar-Daddies winning their wager.

The first is that the National Party’s “bucket”, in which it is hoping to collect the voters bailing out of Labour, may have a hole in it. As fast as all those asset rich/cash poor liberals dribble back to National, an equal number of disillusioned social conservatives and angry evangelicals may be dribbling out a hole in the base of National’s big bucket and into the little pails of the New Conservative Party and Advance NZ positioned directly underneath. Judith Collins can kneel and pray until Doomsday, but it won’t erase her name from the list of those who voted in favour of liberalising New Zealand’s abortion laws.

The second factor is driven by left-wing solidarity – something which, to be fair, the leading lights of the Taxpayers’ Union cannot be expected to know a great deal. If, over the next few days, Labour’s pollsters discover that the Right’s desperate strategy is working, then Labour has only to let the information percolate through the Left and wait for its more radical adherents to draw the obvious conclusion. That the best way to help Jacinda and Labour to retain power is to cast a Party Vote for the Greens. What’s more, if the situation were to become really and truly hairy, then all Jacinda needs to do is let it be known that if Labour’s supporters in Auckland Central have a strong desire to poke the Taxpayers’ Union and their secret backers in the eye, then they should think seriously about giving Chloe Swarbrick their Electorate Vote.

Every New Zealander who wants to progressivism to be given three more years and a fighting chance, owes Richard Harman a hearty vote of thanks. Forewarned is forearmed. The Taxpayers’ Union and its backers (whose identity is legally required to be revealed after the election) may be desperate, and even though there is a better-than-even chance that their “Hail Mary!” attempt to fly under the radar will end up harming, not helping, the National Party and Act, we would be most unwise to dismiss their strategy as hopeless. As the Right repeatedly fails to grasp the power of solidarity; we on the Left are far too prone to underestimate the terrible power of selfishness.

If the Right’s plan looks like it’s working, every Baby Boomer who has ever voted for Values, NewLabour and/or the Alliance knows exactly what they have to do. Because, if the Greens go down, so, too, does the Left.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 October 2020.

Friday, 9 October 2020

Uncompromising Thinking.

Cosmic Contradictions: In New Zealand and across the world, the incidence of what is often referred to as “Manichean” thinking is steadily rising. Manicheans see the world as being locked in a perpetual struggle between the Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness, or, more simply, between Good and Evil.

THIS WEEK has been filled with speculation about what Judith Collins might have been saying to God. Many of the suggestions offered will have been neither couth nor kind. Over the past few decades, New Zealanders have become increasingly uncomfortable participants in religious conversations. With less than 40 percent of us now willing to own up to being Christian (2018 Census) that reticence is, perhaps, understandable. The number of people with a working knowledge of Christianity (or any of the other great world religions for that matter) continues its steady decline.

Which is odd, because the incidence of what is referred to as “Manichean” thinking is steadily rising. Manicheans see the world as being locked in a perpetual struggle between the Forces of Light and the Forces of Darkness, or, more simply, between Good and Evil.

The founder of this dualistic religion, Mani, prophesied that the ultimate outcome of this cosmic struggle would be the emergence of two worlds: one wholly good and the other wholly evil. The world of light and spirit would be ruled by God. The world of darkness and matter by the Devil.

Now, the people described as Manicheans today know nothing of Mani and his Third Century religious movement. But they are very much believers in the idea that there is one body of ideas, principles and values that is “right”, and another body of ideas, principles and values that is “wrong”.

Manichean thinking is on display everywhere. Neoliberals dismiss all those who refuse to accept the supreme efficacy of market forces as Marxists. Ecologists write off all those who refuse to accept the “incontrovertible” evidence of anthropogenic global warming as Climate-Change Deniers. Feminists who refuse to abandon biological science’s division of the human species into “men” and “women” are castigated as Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminists – TERFs. (J.K. Rowling, creator of Harry Potter, has been branded a TERF and her books burned.) Pakeha who decline to attribute all the ills of contemporary New Zealand society to the impact of colonisation are dismissed as racists.

The key aspect of Manichean thinking is that it eschews absolutely the possibility of compromise. It is simply not possible for the World of Spirit to compromise with the World of Matter; Light with Darkness; Good with Evil. The very idea must, perforce, come from the Devil. (Also known as Capitalism/Communism, Big Oil/Greenpeace, Harvey Weinstein/MeToo, David Seymour/Marama Davidson.)

The apotheosis (an old-fashioned religious term meaning the condition which cannot be exceeded) of Manichean thinking is, of course, the United States of America. Republicans and Democrats confront each other over a seemingly bottomless abyss of mutual mistrust, unable to concede the existence of even the tiniest measure of common ground. The victory of the opposing party simply cannot be countenanced. Any failure to prevail is proof only of the other side’s willingness to “rig” the contest.

Those who call themselves “progressives” and who range themselves unequivocally with the Forces of Light against the dark evils of racism, sexism, transphobia, laissez-faire capitalism and environmental despoilation, would do well to contemplate Mani’s endgame. Because, radical Gnostic that he was, Mani despaired of Good’s capacity to triumph over Evil in the material world. In fact, he saw this world not as God’s creation, but as a place fashioned by the Devil: a realm in which God’s writ does not run.

The Gnostics (from the Ancient Greek word gnosis, meaning knowledge) were Christians of a profoundly heretical stripe, who took as their departure point Jesus’s statement to Pontius Pilate: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

There’s a profound and tragic wisdom here. For how does light drive out darkness without negating the meaning of light itself? How does spirit overcome matter without partaking of the very qualities that encompass its enemy? How does Good defeat Evil without taking up the weapons responsible for inflicting the wrongs it is seeking to right?

The Ancient Greek playwright, Sophocles, understood this long before Jesus, or Mani. In his tragic play, Antigone, he has the Chorus ask: “Who is the slayer, who the victim? Speak.”

The Ancient Greeks despised the dualistic mindset. They sought always the middle way where values mingle. They knew that the owl, sacred to Athena, goddess of wisdom, shuns alike the uncompromising sun and the all-consuming dark, preferring to fly when neither reigns – at twilight.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 9 October 2020.

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Bringing National To Its Knees.

Take It To The Lord In Prayer: Adding to the internal pressures applied by National’s own right-wing  Christian MPs, is the rise of the even more religiously conservative New Conservative Party. With the latter rumoured to be stripping thousands of Christian votes away from National, is it any wonder Judith Collins fell to her knees in the chapel and began an earnest conversation with God!

WHAT IS WRONG with the picture of Judith Collins at prayer? In her maiden speech to Parliament, Collins testified to her belief in God. Presumably, then, her Christian faith is a longstanding facet of her political persona. Why should anyone take exception to the images of her kneeling in prayer.

There are many reasons for New Zealanders to furrow their brows at these images.

First and foremost, as any reasonably well-educated Christian knows, such public displays of piety are frowned upon by Jesus himself. It took an old-fashioned Sunday school graduate like Winston Peters only a few moments to locate the relevant verses from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s gospel:

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.

It is curious that Judith Collins appears to be unfamiliar with these verses since they precede what is, arguably, the most quoted passage from the New Testament – The Lord’s Prayer. Certainly, a Christian more familiar with Jesus’s teachings would have hesitated to pray in circumstances where her actions would, inevitably, be captured by the news media and broadcast across the entire country. Does praying alone in an empty chapel while the cameras rolled constitute going into your room and closing the door? Or, is it more akin to praying on the street corners to be seen by others?

Even those New Zealanders whose feet have never crossed the threshold of a church or a Sunday school would likely have reacted uneasily to Collin’s display. In part this is a reflection of New Zealand society’s rapidly increasing secularisation. In the 2018 Census, only 37 percent of the population were prepared to declare themselves Christian. Forty years ago, by way of contrast, the fraction of New Zealanders declaring themselves Christian was well in excess of two-thirds. The unavoidable conclusion? That the overt expression of religious belief is fast becoming unusual in New Zealand. Judith Collins praying in the pose of an altar-panel saint looked odd because it was odd.

For political secularists, Collins behaviour is especially objectionable. It has long been a central tenet of New Zealand’s democratic political system that Church and State remain strictly separated. As far back as Nineteenth Century, this principle was reflected in New Zealand legislation. The Education Act of 1877 clearly stipulated that the provision of public education in New Zealand was to be “free, compulsory and secular”.

The only period in New Zealand political history when a citizen’s membership of a specific Christian denomination became an excuse for something pretty closely resembling persecution was during, and immediately after, the First World War. New Zealand’s wartime government was dominated by the right-wing Reform Party leader and Prime Minister, Bill Massey. A member of the rabidly Protestant Orange Order, Massey regarded New Zealand Catholics as both a religious and political threat.

Massey’s bigotry found strong institutional support in the Protestant Political Association. Formed in 1919, the PPA worked hand-in-glove with the Reform Party to maintain the ascendancy of Protestantism in New Zealand. They were especially concerned to block the rise of the NZ Labour Party. Formed in 1916, Labour was strongly supported by New Zealand’s large Irish-Catholic community.

The most notorious instance of religious bigotry in this fractious period of New Zealand history came in 1922 when the Catholic Assistant-Bishop of Auckland, James Liston, was put on trial for sedition for recalling in a speech he delivered on St Patrick’s Day the Irish patriots who fell in the 1916 Easter Rising. The all Protestant jury acquitted him, but could not refrain from noting that Liston had committed “a grave indiscretion”.

On the Left, the vexed question of how to integrate Catholic schools into New Zealand’s secular public education system remained a cause of considerable contention right up until the early 1970s. It was in hopes of bringing this contentious issue to a favourable conclusion that the quasi-official Catholic newspaper “The Tablet” came out openly for the Labour Party in the general election of 1972. The reconciliation effected between Catholics and socialist secularists by the creation of “Integrated Schools” was, however, short-lived. The rise of feminism and the ongoing campaign for a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion pretty much sundered orthodox Catholicism from the secular labour movement.

The success of the so-called “new social movements” – most especially in relation to their expansion of women’s and LGBTQ+ rights – threw the principle of Church/State separation into particularly sharp relief. Increasingly, Christianity retreated into the theology of evangelical fundamentalism, or, in the case of the Catholic Church, rigid doctrinal orthodoxy. Liberal Christianity was in full retreat as the principal protestant denominations turned their faces from the agitation for the creation of gay and lesbian ministers and the right of LGBTQ+ Christians to marry.

For conservative Christians, the willingness of the secular state to legislate over the objections of the churches, had made it necessary for the churches to take control of the state. The most obvious means of securing such control is to increase the influence of conservative Christian morality in the parties of the Right. If conservative parties could be made beholden to conservative Christian voters, then, upon taking office, their legislators could re-enshrine the moral certainties the secularists have so wickedly overturned.

Thanks to groups like the Maxim Institute, this seeding of the socially-conservative Right with Christian candidates has been proceeding steadily for some time. Maxim’s chosen vessel, the NZ National Party, has, for more than fifteen years, been choosing evangelical fundamentalist Christians to represent the party in safe seats. This has progressed to the point where Christian support, if not already crucial to the success of an aspiring leader, is fast becoming so. The recent departure of so many of National’s liberal MPs, and the projected loss of still more in the general election already underway, seems certain to strengthen the influence of National’s Christian Right.

Adding to the internal pressures applied by National’s own Christian MPs, is the rise of the even more conservative New Conservative Party. With the latter rumoured to be stripping thousands of Christian votes away from National, is it any wonder Judith Collins fell to her knees in the chapel and began an earnest conversation with God!


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 6th October 2020.

Friday, 2 October 2020

You Know What? Collins Could Win This.

Right On A Roll: If the 200,000 former National voters, most of them women over 45 years-of-age, who crossed over to Labour in recognition of Jacinda’s management of the Covid-19 emergency, begin to waver, then the shape of the battle-lines will change dramatically. Instead of a cake-walk to victory, this election will become a knife-fight for political survival.

THIS IS SERIOUS now. Judith Collins is leading the National Party back into electoral contention. Against all the appearances of just a fortnight ago, Labour’s 50 percent fortress is proving to be alarmingly vulnerable. Jacinda could lose this.

If the 200,000 former National voters, most of them women over 45 years-of-age, who crossed over to Labour in recognition of Jacinda’s management of the Covid-19 emergency, begin to waver, then the shape of the battle-lines will change dramatically. Instead of a cake-walk to victory, this election will become a knife-fight for political survival.

In the light of Collins’ two pretty good Leaders’ Debate performances, it is highly likely that the wavering has already begun. What’s more, if it’s picked up by Colmar Brunton’s and Reid Research’s pollsters, then the pace and scale of that wavering will only increase. The trickle of Nats returning to the fold, will become a flood. By Election Day the two main parties could be duking it out for the prize of a percentage beginning with 4. If that is where the two major parties do end up, then the share of the Party Vote won by Act and the Greens will be critical to the election’s outcome.

In this situation, the Right has the advantage. National deserters returning to the fold will come, overwhelmingly, from Labour. What that is likely to precipitate is a stampede back to Labour by left-leaning voters who’d made a strategic decision to support the Greens. That would be the very worst thing they could do, of course, but it won’t stop them. Their panic-driven determination to rally-round Jacinda, to protect the Queen, will drown out the voice of political rationality. If this sudden surge from the Greens to Labour is too large, then it’s all over. Driven below the 5 percent MMP threshold, the Greens’ inadequate share of the Party Vote will be redistributed among the successful parties. National and Act, together, will have more than enough seats to form a government. Labour will be out.

The truly terrifying aspect of this grim scenario is that there is so very little that Labour can do to defend itself. It is important to recall that in 2017, with “Jacindamania” in full-swing, Labour could attract no more than 37 percent of the Party Vote. That was 7 percentage points shy of National’s 44 percent. The raw political arithmetic of these results is not encouraging. Even with the more progressive remnants of NZ First in its pocket, Labour’s 2020 numbers – sans National’s deserters – will struggle to add up to more than 40 percent.

It gets worse. Labour, in its pride, has ruled out a deal in Auckland Central. So, unlike National and Act, if Labour’s numbers end up being even marginally fattened by “strategic” Green voters returning to the fold, then that extra fat could kill its chances of re-election stone-dead. By contrast, Act can fall below the 5 percent threshold without denying its National Party ally the additional seats needed to govern. Perhaps it’s time for Labour to ask itself exactly how badly it wants Helen White to beat Chloe Swarbrick?

Labour’s strategists’ dreams about building an unbeatable “centrist coalition” out of the professional-managerial middle-class and the upwardly-mobile working-class: a broad electoral alliance from which the extremes of right and left could be shaken-off; were always ridiculously optimistic. The idea of a new kind of politics, accessible to “progressive New Zealanders”, but not to the backward-looking National Party, always grossly over-estimated the middle-class’s willingness to share. That those same strategists assessed the poorest and most marginalised New Zealanders as being permanently alienated from electoral politics, left Labour with no Plan-B. If all it takes to woo back National’s 200,000 deserters are a few well-rehearsed zingers from Judith Collins, then from whence can Labour possibly hope to replace them? Unfortunately, there’s no “progressive” answer to that question.

Surely, there must be something Labour can do to hold its Covid Converts in place? Yes, there is, and it can be summed-up in a single word: “Fear.” Jacinda and her colleagues need to pivot away immediately from their current message of rather complacent optimism, and towards the imminent threat of a National-Act programme of ruthless economic austerity. Scare the bejesus out of the nurses and teachers Judith Collins is forever appealing to. Make them feel the fear of cuts and lay-offs as Paul Goldsmith – egged-on by David Seymour – plays Edward Scissorhands with public health and education. Make all those 45+ women hear, in their mind’s ear, the demented cackle of Collins on election night as she discovers how many of her sisters have fallen for her “Nice Judith” routine.

Ask moderate voters to ask themselves why Collins has suddenly taken to describing herself as a Christian. Exactly to whom is this new, devout, Judith appealing? To which faction of the National Party caucus has this newly-minted Christian Collins sworn her undying loyalty? Do moderate voters really want to see their country pitched into the sort of culture wars that have brought the United States to the brink of civil war? When the voters look at Judith Collins, Labour needs to make them see Donald Trump.

Too much? Not at all. Who do you think National’s going to go after over the course of the next fortnight? Who do they need people to flee from in terror? No, not Labour! National’s target will be the Greens. The party’s message will be brutally simple: the only way to avoid paying a Wealth Tax; the only way to prevent the dairy industry from being destroyed; the only way to preserve your right to free speech; is to Party Vote National. Jacinda couldn’t say no to Winston Peters, the Covid Converts will be told, so can you really see her saying no to Marama Davidson and Golriz Ghahraman?

See how easy it is! Scare the Covid Converts back to National. That will scare the strategic Green voters back to Jacinda. That takes the Greens below the 5 percent MMP threshold. And that’s ‘Game Over’.

So, you know what? Labour’s only real chance of securing re-election is to scare them the hell back.


This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 2 October 2020.

The End Of Their World.

God's Instrument? At the very heart of the President’s electoral coalition are the evangelical Christian churches who see Donald Trump as God’s chosen instrument: the means by which the ancient prophecies contained in the Bible will be fulfilled. Painting by Marco Ventura.

WHEN THE VICTORY of a political party becomes confused with the end of the world, society has a problem. Democracy, if it’s anything, is an agreement to surrender power without a fight. If an election ends with anything other than an uncomplicated re-confirmation of the status-quo, or the peaceful transfer of political authority, then democracy, like Elvis, has left the building. What remains inside the building is seldom pretty.

That President Donald Trump has refused to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power should he lose the 3 November election bodes very ill for the American republic. At the very least, it signals his unshakeable conviction that he is politically invincible in a “free and fair” fight. It serves no purpose for Trump’s opponents to point out that, in a democracy, acknowledging the possibility of defeat is almost as important as accepting it. Trump is so certain that he speaks for the “real” America, that he “knows” he can’t be beaten.

Who is the “real” America? We all know the answer to that question. The real America is white. The real America repels “socialism” as naturally as water repels oil. The real America puts its trust in God – and in the special people He chooses to do His will. What’s more, we all know who Donald Trump does not count as real Americans. They are Blacks. They are Hispanic. They are Muslims. And, they include all those who challenge the idea that White, Christian, Capitalist America is an unequivocal force for good in the world.

It’s that idea of the United States being a “force for good” that holds the key to understanding the formidable threat to democracy which Trump has become. At the very heart of the President’s electoral coalition are the evangelical Christian churches who see the USA as God’s chosen instrument: the means by which the ancient prophecies contained in the Bible will be fulfilled. That’s why there are no more fervent defenders of the State of Israel than American evangelicals. Israel, they are certain, is destined, alongside the USA, to usher-in the great reckoning described in the Book of Revelation.

Unbelievers are often puzzled by the evangelicals’ unswerving support for Trump. How can they tolerate such a self-confessed sinner at the head of God’s chosen nation? Their two-word rejoinder: King David.

The ancient Israeli king was not a good man. David spied on Bathsheba as she bathed and was consumed with lust for her body. Her soldier husband, Uriah, he ordered into the front lines, thus ensuring his death, and making it possible for the Hittite’s wife to be enjoyed by her king undisturbed. Covetousness, murder and fornication! And yet, God loved David, and David loved the Lord. If God could overlook the sins of King David, then he will overlook the sins of President Trump. The Lord moves in mysterious ways!

Perhaps He was at work in the Republican Party-controlled state legislatures when all those voter-suppression laws were passed. Perhaps He was guiding the hands of Republican Governors when they signed the contracts tasking Republican Party-friendly companies with purging the voter rolls. Perhaps it’s His voice that speaks through the mouths of all those Fox News “journalists”.

You can’t be an evangelical Christian without believing fervently that God reveals his will through his chosen servants. That all human history positively snaps, crackles and pops with the electricity of His divine will. Right now, the evangelicals of America are looking at Trump’s nominee for the US Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, a devout Christian who will turn America away from what she and her co-religionists regard as the sinful judicial decisions of the last 50 years. On their knees, with fervent devotion, they will thank God for his perfectly-timed decision to send Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the everlasting reward she so richly deserves.

The ancient Greek word apokalypsis, is best translated as “unveiling”. “Apocalyptic” thinking, therefore, is all about what you think you’ve been shown of the “End Times”. For the evangelical Christian, the showman, obviously, is God himself. For those Trump supporters who prefer not to live on their knees, however, the unveiling of hidden truths requires a slightly less supernatural agent. No worries, if God won’t do, then there’s always the anonymous “Q”.

God, or no God, if Trump loses, their world ends.


This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 October 2020.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Conversation In An American Bar.

Out of Options: “What does it say about this country, Jerry, that this is the choice we’ve been given? Between a septuagenarian grifter and a septuagenarian dotard. Three hundred and thirty million Americans and the best candidates we can come up with for President of these United States are Donald Trump and Joe Biden!”


“JESUS WEPT! Turn it off, Jerry, I’ve seen enough!”

“Don’t you touch that remote, barman! Me and my friends are enjoying watching the President beat the living crap out of Sleepy Joe Biden, senile old bastard.”

Jerry sizes-up the huge man in front of him. The bulging biceps, the impressive amount of ink, the MAGA cap on his head, and nods.

“Sorry, Carl”, he says, moving down the bar and pouring his old friend a free glass beer by way of apology.

“No, no, it’s alright, Jerry. I shouldn’t have asked you to deny your patrons their gladiatorial sport.”

“Gladiatorial? Doesn’t that imply two evenly matched fighters? Not much evidence of equality in this contest. More like a face-off between a Christian and a lion.”

“What does it say about this country, Jerry, that this is the choice we’ve been given? Between a septuagenarian grifter and a septuagenarian dotard. Three hundred and thirty million Americans and the best candidates we can come up with for President of these United States are Donald Trump and Joe Biden!”

“What it says, Carl, is that the people of this country are hoping that a Democrat Dad or a Republican Pop will sort everything out. Not themselves, they don’t really trust themselves. And certainly not their kids. The younger generation are a complete mystery to them. They’re reaching back to those times in their lives when they turned to Mom and Dad for help. When their first marriage crashed and burned. When their second business failed. When their eldest daughter got pregnant to that drug dealer. When the factory closed and they lost their job. Those moments when they were at a loss. When they were scared. When they needed help.”

Carl throws back his beer and brings the glass down on the bar with a crack.

“Another?”

“Thanks, Jerry.”

A great cheer goes up from the MAGA men. Carl looks up at the big screen and turns away quickly from the bewildered expression on Sleepy Joe’s face.

“Poor old bastard really is getting a shellacking – as Obama used to say. And all those guys in the caps: why in God’s name are they cheering-on a New York billionaire who pays $750 a year in taxes? Jeez, that’s less than half what those guys pay the IRS. Dammit! They’re all working stiffs, just like you and me. Why can’t they see that Trump is not their friend?”

“Oh, come on, Carl, you know that ain’t true. He’s been a better friend to them than Hilary Clinton would ever have been. He gets them, Carl. He knows them. They’re the guys he used to josh around with on his daddy’s building sites when he was a teenager. Remember Nixon’s Hard Hats from the 1970s? The guys who beat the living shit out of those anti-war hippies outside the New York Stock Exchange. Trump’s always known that the American working-class ain’t exactly full of liberals.”

“Oh, don’t, Jerry. Don’t say that – not when it’s true.”

“And I’ll tell you something else. At some place, deep, deep down, they get him, too. They know that only Fat Cats can get Fat Cats. Guys like them, working stiffs, as you call them, they worked out long ago exactly how much power they don’t have. The guys who worked for Trump senior, their unions were all run by the Mob. Look the wrong way at those wise-guys – let alone stand against one of them for the presidency of the union – and likely as not you’d end up in the foundations of one of old man Trump’s tenement buildings.”

“Yeah, well, it wasn’t always like that, was it?”

“Wasn’t it? What was Franklin Delano Roosevelt, if not a Fat Cat from upstate New York? What else was Jack Kennedy? Jesus Christ, Carl, the guy went to Choate and Harvard! You know what his daddy told him, Carl? As he was preparing to send his little boy to the White House? He said, ‘Son, to become President of the United States you only need three things. The first is, money. The second is, money. And the third is, money.’ And, guess what, Joe Kennedy had plenty of all three!”

“Yeah, well, Clinton wasn’t from a rich family, and neither was Obama.”

“And didn’t it show, Carl? Didn’t it show! They couldn’t do enough for the big boys on Wall Street. Look at Obama, when he summoned the big bankers to the White House. Man, they were quaking in their boots. They thought Obama was going to go after them with an axe. Did he? Like hell he did! He told them not to worry. He bailed out their banks. He rescued Wall Street. What about Main Street? Fuck Main Street! Ordinary folks – like those guys in the caps – they have never been too big to fail.”

“Oh my God! Did I just hear Trump tell the Proud Boys to ‘stand back and stand by’?”

“Judging by the cheers and the fist-pumping, Carl, I think that’s exactly what you heard.”

“Jesus Christ! What they hell is it with this guy? Does he really want a civil war?”

“Isn’t it obvious, Carl? Of course he wants a civil war. It’s what he’s wanted from the very beginning. Not just because he’s broke. Not just because he owes the IRS. Not just because he’s likely to be indited on multiple charges if Biden beats him. But because the United States is all played out. He knows it. Those guys in the MAGA caps know it. Wall Street knows it. The military know it. About the only people who don’t know it are the Democratic National Committee and the mainstream news media.”

“Jeez, Jerry, lighten-up will ya. It’s not that bad.”

“Actually, Carl, it is that bad. This country’s tired, bone-tired, of pretending to be something it’s not. It’s tired of trying to live up to Lincoln’s “better angels”. Everybody knows that the stories America tells herself are the worst kind of lies. We’re a vicious, rapacious people: always have been, always will be. How does Bob Dylan put it in his song, Blind Willy McTell? ‘Well, God is in his heaven, and we all want what’s his. But, power and greed, and corruptible seed, seem to be all that there is.’”

“Man, you need a drink!”

“Carl, I’m just getting started. You know I love to read history.”

“Oh yeah. We all know about you and your history books, Jerry.”

“Well, let me tell you something about the Roman Republic. It was brought down by wealthy men. Not aristocrats, mind you, but plutocrats. And do you know how these Fat Cat Romans, brought it down? By siding with the plebs against the aristocrats. By promising to look after them – and keeping their promise. By pledging to expand the Empire – and making Rome great again. By sharing with the plebs the wealth which the Senate and People of Rome plundered from the tribes and cities they conquered. I tell you, Carl, the American republic is going to end exactly the same way. It’s going to be brought down by an unholy alliance of the very rich and the very poor. It’s going to be destroyed by an American Caesar.”

Carl’s response is drowned out by the guys at the end of the bar breaking into a chant:

“USA! USA! USA!”


This short story was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 1 October 2020.