I remember my dad telling me a story just after New Zealand was debating the legalisation of same-sex marriage. The meter reader had visited, and as soon as he jumped out of his van he looked at my dad and said, “What do you think about this same-sex marriage stuff? It’s crazy isn’t it”? He wasn’t a religious bloke as it happened, and he didn’t know my dad. He just said it because he thought he saw another ordinary bloke in front of him who might understand.
What my dad said next has echoed in my ears like a prophecy this year. It whispered as I watched several right wing parties rise to positions of unforeseen strength across Europe. It echoed louder as Britons defied the establishment and voted to leave the European Union. It became a shout on Wednesday night when Americans defied the world and voted Donald Trump in as their president.
What Dad said to me back in 2013 was that ordinary people were shocked at what was going on in our country. And I think he was onto something.
Brexit and Trump (along with Europe’s right-wing rise), tap into that shock, and it is simmering away in New Zealand too.
Mostly, the shock boils down to the death of free speech. There are an increasing number of things, as an ordinary citizen, that you simply are not allowed to say – and the “banned comments” list is filled with arguments for maintaining the values and principles that have underpinned Western civilisation for centuries and lifted it to the heights of wealth we now enjoy. As soon as you open your mouth to utter them you are shut down with a label, and dismissed as stupid. Take immigration, for example. Across the West you can’t say that you’re worried about immigration’s impact on your nation, because that makes you racist. And so, before a factual debate can even start (for example, on how humanitarian immigration actually damages the countries immigrants leave), the conversation is shut down. It was obvious with Brexit supporters, who were “xenophobic” instead of “citizens with concerns over immigration”. It was obvious in the US election whenever Trump spoke about the issue, because we only heard about his latest “racist attack” instead of his “speech about immigration” (although there were genuine racist attacks on his part, mingled with speeches about immigration). It is the same with same-sex marriage, affirmative action, and religious freedom.
Even the New Zealand media has been sucked in. One radio commentator kept announcing with great excitement on Wednesday that “the little folk have put their pitch forks in their trucks and gone out to vote” in America. How arrogant, I thought. The facts show almost one in three Latinos voted for the guy. More African Americans voted for him than they did the previous Republican nominee. As for the college educated masses who were going to abandon Trump en mass…well, they didn’t. Little people? Pitch forks? Trucks? Do I think these people like Trump and want him to be President? In large part, no. Polls comparing how much people like him and whether they will vote for him hint at that. Do I think they are angry enough at decades of being ignored, told what to think, and belittled for their beliefs to vote for a bigger bully than the ones currently running the playground? Absolutely. And that same sentiment swirls through New Zealand’s silent majority – the conservative Maori, religious Islanders and white folk who were labelled, insulted and shut down during debates over issues like same-sex marriage or smacking laws. Over and over again these people are forced to swallow the diet of “equality” while their rights are run over rough-shod. And when they try to point out that some people are “more equal” than others, they simply get laughed off the stage.
The problem, overseas and in New Zealand, is that the media and politicians are so out of touch that they don’t realise those who are “less equal” still make up the majority of the population. They couldn’t possibly know, because it has been so long since those people have had a real chance to speak up and show they exist.
So could the same think happen in New Zealand? Absolutely.
We just haven’t had the right candidate or issue come along yet.
This article was first published on Stuff.co.nz