Resentment Politics… in Reverse

By Tim Wilson September 27, 2022

“Deplorables” aren’t born; they’re created.

Grant Robertson recently received sympathy (and some cynicism) for his decision to call in the Diplomatic Protection Squad during a visit to Northland. Protesters followed him around screaming vile epithets such as ‘paedophile’ and blockaded the airport. Some observers made comedic grist of the fact that the protesters also deployed lamingtons as weapons, but there’s a serious point here.

Whatever you may think of Robertson’s policies, he’s a savvy operator who is typically happy to address opposing views or interviewers. So it’s a surprise when such a robust figure is floating the possibility of ending the political walkabout for his party because of security worries. “We are going to have to think about this election campaign in a slightly different way,” Robertson said.

The unvaccinated have been fired from jobs; the end of the traffic light system doesn’t give them a right to re-employment.

Indeed, the conditions for anger have intensified. The unvaccinated have been fired from jobs; the end of the traffic light system doesn’t give them a right to re-employment. Theories abound about igniting resentment through misinformation, conspiracy, etc. Social media, the reliable culprit, is blamed; chins are stroked. The presumption is that outliers have found new ways to magnify their isolation and their aggression.

But “deplorables” aren’t born; they’re created.

Yes, blame COVID. The pandemic has exacerbated the wealth divide. But the Government must shoulder some responsibility. COVID response, as examined by Maxim Research Fellow Alex Penk, has been a mixed bag, often eroding our Constitutional arrangements. Urgency was overused in passing laws. Minority rights were trammelled. As Professor Andrew Geddis has observed, “if you were trying to construct a lawmaking process to set off the conspiracy-minded and undermine the social licence needed for success, it would look something like this.”

Put it another way: If those in the Beehive won’t follow the rules, how can they expect those on the streets to do otherwise?

Widespread anger at and resentment of politicians isn’t new or limited to one party. In 2012, John Key and Judith Collins were beheaded in effigy in Aotea Square. The argument is that this time is different. Neither of the main parties met the protesters outside of Parliament. Private conversations with MPs reveal genuine fear around the anti-mandate fringe. Grant Robertson isn’t alone.

When institutions fail, or the safety rails around them are ignored, as we’ve seen, our whole body politic suffers. The rise of Donald Trump was—in many respects—a response to the failure of establishment President Barack Obama. It’s concerning that the politics of resentment, a mode often directed at politicians, is being turned back on a segment of voters. Those protesters in Northland may indeed have been a security risk; they’re also citizens.

We’re Aotearoa New Zealand—let’s not become the Disunited States.

The wero (or challenge) to our political class is: Please continue to engage with and be accessible to those who disparage you. Politicians should be held accountable; they also need to be accessible. We’re small and mostly connected. We’re Aotearoa New Zealand—let’s not become the Disunited States.

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