Well, it looks like another election is over. After much suspense—or boredom, depending on your point of view—one party limped stumbling across the finish line and another left wondering what might have been with a few more breaks going their way.
While both parties seem more focussed on shifting the blame outwards, the Australian public is left facing the reality that we are a house divided.
If you look at overall trends in elections, they are getting closer and closer. It seems like we have two almost even groups voting for either major party—or least parties that pass on their preferences accordingly—with a minority of voters who swing either way. This isn't necessarily bad in of itself, people can vote any way they like and no party has a lock on people's loyalty. But, it is what it signifies that is a growing concern.
The glass is half empty
Regardless of the result of the election there was always going to be almost half of the country dissatisfied. Worse than dissatisfied, feeling disenfranchised and powerless, without a voice in the way that the country is run. And when people feel like that, it destroys their faith in the system and leads to cynicism and distrust of the government.
This is not just a problem in Australia, you can see the same thing happening across the world. In the United States, they are in the middle of an election season that may prove to be the most divisive of them all, while the United Kingdom is still coming to terms with the results of the recent Brexit referendum.
Winners and Losers
It is one thing to be disappointed when the result doesn't go your way, but it no longer seems to stop there. Election after election, we see people refusing to accept defeat, claiming everything to the stupidity of the average voter to outlandish conspiracy theories. In the case of the Brexit vote, we've heard suggestions of a second referendum or calls for Parliament to simply ignore it.
But, the thing with democracy is that you can't just uphold when it goes your way. That's not how it works. There is no doubt that our system is not perfect, and there are issues that we need to keep working on but, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, democracy may not be the best system of government but it is the best one we have found so far.
The Leaders We Deserve
So, how have we gotten to this point? Well, a large part of the blame has to fall upon our leaders. Politicians no longer seek to govern for the whole country, as they know that there is a sizeable part of the voting public who will never vote for them no matter what they do, and that those already committed to their party are unlikely to forsake them. There is little incentive to try and reach out to those on the other side.
All they need to do is appeal to those who are undecided. That's why, despite their other differences, Liberal and Labor share a similar policy on refugees. They have identified that as the issue that is important to undecided voters, and know that they won't lose any of their loyalists over it.
But, we have to accept our share of the blame. Politicians only echo what they think we want, after all. And, it seems that most of us want to believe that only our vote should count, that everyone on the other side is at best stupid, if not evil.
We want our politicians to tell us that we are right, and to paint the opposition as villains. And, when the vote doesn't go our way we want to hear that it wasn't because of democracy in action, but because the other side ran a campaign of lies, or because there were voting irregularities, or because we were robbed.
Time to Reach Out
This trend of a divided electorate is only going to get worse. We can see the results of a disenchanted populace all around us and on the news, people turning to hatred and extremism, the dehumanisation of those who disagree, or more and more people no longer seeing the point in voting.
A house divided cannot stand, nor can a country. We need politicians who are willing to reach out to those on the other side, and we will only get that if we are willing to do the same.
As Christians we should be leading by example, showing those around us how you can disagree with people but still value them. We should be calling out those leaders, both Christian and secular, who encourage intolerance and division to bolster their own positions.
And, we should be reaching out to those who disagree with us and trying to understand their point of view, even as we respectfully communicate ours. If everyone would do that, then this country would be a far better place.
David Goodwin is the former Editor of The Salvation Army's magazine, On Fire. He is a freelance writer, and an unapologetic geek.
David Goodwin's archive of articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-goodwin.html