Thursday, October 29, 2020

Why Fox News And Right Wing Brits Are Scrambling To Declare New Zealand A Fascist Failure On Covid-19

Why is New Zealand's pandemic response (as of a few months ago, might I add) being blasted across Fox News in the US and presented as some sort of dystopian totalitarian FEMA internment camp ridden nightmare?

Because there's an Election on. The people backing one of the candidates therein, or even merely 'fellow travelling' with his brand of politics overseas - know that Covid-19 isn't going away, is an incredibly salient political issue; and that against their expectations, the escalating prevalency of both virus and frustration with their not taking it seriously ... hasn't actually been diminished by railing against lockdowns, masks, quarantines. Instead just causing ever-larger numbers of previously pliant people to ask the obvious question: "Why is this happening? Why don't we have a good response?" 

It would be simple enough to attempt to claim that that's because it's a "tricky virus" and that nowhere has it good - therefore absolving the responsibility of leaders who have done little, by suggesting that there was nothing to be done other than what was.

Except this is the Internet Age - and the truth of the matter, that some places have done drastically better than others, is now a matter of public record for anybody with a smartphone. Which is everybody. 

So the question changes. It becomes "Why are some countries doing better than others? Why didn't WE do some of those things?" And the answer ... the answer is "we COULD have, but there would be such 'costs' associated with doing so - to your freedom, to your income and our economy, that 'the cure would be worse than the disease'". 

I somehow doubt that this rings true to many - especially as there's an ongoing demonstration that having an 'open' economy which is nevertheless also open to the transmission of the virus, doesn't actually lead to sustained positive growth outcomes. And especially, further, as people either fall victim to the virus itself (and its lingering, still poorly understood impacts) or hear of others in their community or perhaps even their own family who have. 

So if the evidence suggests that there WAS an alternative, if people can read with their own eyes the statistics and the stories coming out of little old New Zealand showing that what a mighty global superpower was unable to accomplish via bloviating bluster, a small chain of islands at the fringe of the world could do via pragmatic and principled methods ... where does that leave the naysayer? 

Frantically endeavouring to obscurate reality itself with those well-worn tools of the recent political experience: fake news and alternative facts. All in a bid to present one of the international success stories - in this case, New Zealand - as being somehow 'undesirable' to attempt to replicate at home.

By making it seem like we're operating ... well ... that aforementioned "dystopian totalitarian FEMA internment camp ridden nightmare". A sort of Second Coming of Stalinist Russia - with Gulags for dissidents plucked up off the street under the pretext of potentially having the virus.

And the constant implicit repetition that therefore, the ONLY WAY to actually have a competent response to Covid-19 is ... by , well, that.

It's literally Orwellian. Both in terms of presenting our country as Oceania amidst the South Seas with repression aplenty ; and also, more pointedly, in terms of making active utilization of media to change and distort reality so as to make domestic dissent, domestic questioning of governance in their own countries a non-starter. Encouraging and facilitating the adherent of the politics, policy, and politician in question (I hardly think we need to name names by this point) to mentally shut down their own critical faculties; and to spray-repeat these lines to anybody else in their immediate orbit who may themselves be experiencing some subconscious doubts. 

So 4 and 5 star hotels housing people coming into the country for mandatory 14 day quarantine , or close contacts of confirmed cases in the community .. get turned into internment camps where not-actually-ill New Zealanders are snatched up into from off the street ; and remarks explaining the Kiwi policy dating from months ago are branded as a "terrifying new response".

They're trying DESPERATELY to distract from their own blustering incompetence - and therefore transforming via the magic of the camera lens and the biased media talking-head, a situation wherein we are all pretty much living normally here in Kiwiland, one of the most free societies on the planet right now ..

.. into , as I (or rather, as they) say - a dystopian hellscape of socialist / fascist (mis-)rule dotted with camps for dissidents under a tyrannical pseudo-monarch with an adoring cult of personality sufficient to drown out the apparently repressed domestic opposition and "moderate rebels" .

Funny thing, I didn't think the Trump Administration and its supporters had any problem with putting people coming into their country into camps.

At the rate we are going, I would almost be semi-seriously expecting some form of international sanctions to be discussed in 'retaliation' for Jacinda "rigging the election" to produce her unprecedented electoral result or something.

Also, lest I be misinterpreted as suggesting this is somehow a uniquely American problem ... it isn't. We've already seen a British politician push all of this, and this morning we had some guy apparently affiliated with anti-PRC activism around Hong Kong and Taiwan start making similar claims.

There is a Buddhist maxim I am quite fond of :

That there are three things that cannot permanently remain hidden:

The Sun, The Moon, and The Truth.

Leaving aside the Murdoch publication by the name of one of these, and the Cameron Slater edited rag which bore the last of these three names and operated in imitation of the first one ...

The international reputation of New Zealand as something other than a "Hellhole", and somehow less democratic (or, for that matter, free) than the modern United States - shall surely remain similarly resplendent. So bright in fact, that these benighted morons desperately clinging to the rather literal fake news broadcast about this by Fox et co, cannot bear to look upon us.

No wonder they are letting their lurid imaginations 'fill in the blanks' instead.

Unfortunate, yet unsurprising, that we are being made spurious mis-use of as a political prodding-stick for other countries' political brawling . Because we cannot be allowed to be presented as having succeeded where the 'big boys' have stumbled and failed.

New Zealand in the 1950s was declared prominently to be the little country who had lead the world in developing and implementing the humane state and humane society of the Post-War Economic Consensus era.

Looks like We're Back.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Team of Five Million Becomes Team Leviathan - On The Impending Coronation Of Our First MMP Monarch


[Author's Note: I started penning this piece in early August. Events on the ground have, as they say, shifted quite considerably since then - we've had a Second Lockdown, and some of the lustre on Labour may have worn off ever so slightly as exhibited via their collapse down to only just being able to govern alone on most polling. Yet I still think that the core sentiments are applicable. So I've picked it back up again, where I left off ... ] 

I'll always remember my first Law test at University. Largely because I failed it (before, to be sure, then going and arguing my way to a pass ... literally lawyering my way into law-school). What it was on, was a pretty well-known New Zealand constitutional case - Fitzgerald vs Muldoon. If you weren't around in 1975, the facts of the matter were thus: The Rowling Labour government had instituted a compulsory national savings scheme, National had campaigned on rolling it back in favour of a universal superannuation (the famed 'Dancing Cossacks' ad) ... and when the latter won, they did exactly that. Via Rob Muldoon issuing a press statement and declaring that was what was happening - rather than, say, the more usual process of putting a bill through Parliament first. 

One plucky teacher, however (for some reason, it's often teachers who do this kind of thing), refused to recognize this - and kept sending his Compulsory National Savings deductions into the IRD anyway, who kept dutifully returning them. Fitzgerald, for that was the teacher's name, then proceeded to sue the Prime Minister over the matter. And, to the surprise of many ... he won. It was held that Muldoon was in violation of the 1688 Bill of Rights - specifically, section 1: "That the pretended power of suspending of laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of Parliament, is illegal:"

Now, I won't bore you with how my 17 year old self endeavoured to argue that Muldoon was *not* in fact in the wrong upon this matter; nor the economic argument for why a pension scheme rather than a saving scheme was actually pretty socially just in 1975. And will instead skip ahead to what one of my American colleagues recently said upon the matter when I explained the case to him - namely, that Muldoon was demonstrably not acting with the "pretend power [...] of regal authority", because quite clearly if the nation re-aligns itself like that following your issuing a statement, the power being exercised is obviously not "pretend". It is genuine. It's a little more complex than that in actual constitutional legal terms, but never mind that for now.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because sometimes, it seems, there are few things new under the Sun. A few days ago, it was announced that somebody was once again suing the Government alleging of executive overreach. In this case, the claim is that our Covid-19 Lockdown protocol was legally invalid. That Ashley Bloomfield overstepped his authority by enacting the Lockdown, and that the Prime Minister made declarations with presumed legal force via press-conference. 

Except that's not really what's interesting about this.

What is - to me, anyway - is the reaction that the suit's been getting, as expressed both through our media and in the voices of ordinary New Zealanders. 

There's been some dissenting from this, to be sure, usually from people who're lawyers or constitution-enthusiasts, or avowed opponents of the Government ... yet in the main, Kiwis have not so much shrugged their shoulders at the suit as they have overtly sneered at it.

And that's understandable. The Lockdown worked. It's proven significantly popular, even (perhaps especially) with the benefit of hindsight. Many of us actually wanted it to go much further while it was on. So when somebody sues the Government over it, explicitly claiming that they don't care "how necessary" the Lockdown turned out to be - we, collectively, raise an eyebrow and wonder if the bloke's got his appropriate priorities in order. 

It probably helps, too, that one of the major implicit defendants in all of this, is one of the more well-regarded political figures in living memory - with a pretty incredible 82% of Kiwis feeling they can trust Jacinda per this week's Colmar Brunton poll. There's no similar polling effort that I'm aware of to assess Dr Bloomfield on a comparable basis, but if there were, I feel pretty confident in asserting that he'd be doing well, too. 

And the current crisis in Victoria as well as the ongoing shambles in America mean that all we have to do is look at the World section of the paper to see why the Lockdown being "necessary" is not an irrelevant consideration. 

Yet while it is inarguable that the circumstances around the Covid-19 Crisis have built the pyre ... the flames which have risen thereupon have seemingly taken on a life of their own. The Crisis may still be raging elsewhere, and is thankfully at bay here - but the popularity of Labour, which is in large measure more truly designated the positive reputation of Ardern, continues to surge. It's possible to read this, to be sure, as people concerned and anxious about their future choosing to place their trust in a figure who's managed a decent job of steering us through the calamitous crises of the recent past. It's also probable that the utter implosion of the National Party through their own invidious internal democracy has left Labour as the major force for stability in our politics (something unthinkable a mere three years ago when Jacinda ascended to the leadership, for a few reasons). 

Whatever it's based on, the net impact is that our upcoming Election has been transformed from a potentially fraught democratic contest between two major blocs ... into an effective coronation. Well, a post-facto formalization of the coronation that has implicitly already occurred. The salient 'democratic' element to it is basically us collectively deciding whether we can really be bothered with Winston for another three years, and perhaps The Greens - acting as 'handbreak' and 'biofuel' [or, if you prefer, NOS] respectively. This, in spite of the fact that a little less than three decades ago we demanded the comprehensive reform of our electoral system so that never again would we have the one-party rule of majority-government. 

But if there's an election involved, no matter how symbolic it may be - why do I then call it a 'coronation' ?

Because judging by the significantly unfavourable reactions to the Lockdown lawsuit, we've collectively and in the main come to the conclusion that we actually don't mind the idea of a single figure, perhaps two, exercising that kind of power (provided that it works). It verges on 'regal authority', some might say. 

And you know what? I'm actually pretty OK with this. We have found ourselves the proverbial 'good dictator' or 'good monarch' which [Author's note - that's as far as I got back in August. Everything which follows is more recent re-view.]

I call it a 'Coronation' - because this 'Good Monarch' is the one that we have chosen. The one that we have decided, most of us anyway, we would really quite like to continue to be ... well, just what a monarch is. Something like the Queen in Chess (although in Jacinda's case, she has the weakness of the Labour Party of being their King upon the board also). Wherein the reason that the Queen piece is the most powerful - is because the Queen represents the Nation, the Spirit of the People. It would be entirely inappropriate to term this the 'Figurehead' - as it is a piece with quite considerable and capacious *actual power*. Also why a certain associate of mine has argued that Muldoon was not in violation of the 1688 Bill of Rights Act - for Muldoon's power was most definitely not "pretend" ! He held a press conference, and the law de facto changed around his words. 

However, I also term this a 'Coronation' in a far more archaic sense than we would often think of such a thing today. In the old days - indeed, it is right there in the earlier Germanic conceptions of the ceremony - the King was an elective position. Under 'Democracy' - Your Vote Counts. Under Feudalism - Your Count Votes. And it was a matter of a personal loyalty, a personal engagement between the electors and the figure vying for the position. Who could say, looking at the crowds of people who have flocked into the streets and the town-hall meetings' aftermath to snap their personal selfie with our near-sainted Prime Minister - that there is not at the very least the simulacra of such a personal relationship, personal engagement. We feel, especially in New Zealand, as if we know many of our representatives directly - that clip from The Simpsons wherein an outraged Australian man goes to his local MP ... and then both go to the Prime Minister ... and everybody is on a first-name basis, literally talking in-person? That is also the Kiwi way. And it is one of the things which renders our form of democracy something more sacred, more pure than the American loosely fitting equivalent. 

And yet - what this picture is 'missing' is a pseudo-aristocratic 'middle class'. And by that I do not mean "middle class" in the economic sense - I mean what it used to mean, some two to three hundred years ago, if not more. The layer in the cake between the Monarch and the People. The Middle-Management of Empire. With all the unresponsivenesss and obstructionism that this 'middle-management' term would more modernly, customarily imply. 

This is not to say that they do not exist, of course - only that the last six months have rendered them increasingly irrelevant in practice. Who are they? Well, they are the people who seem to believe that they are 'born to rule'. The National Party, for example, the self-declared 'natural party of government'. The Media, too, contains more than a few self-appointed scions and arbiters of what is 'proper' , the gate-keepers, the key-shelvers who must be appeased if not downright assuaged upon the pursuing pathways of the road-network to power. 

That is partially, I presume, why for some months mid-way through this year there was both such frank incomprehension and active tearing down of the Prime Minister's putative popularity by these sorts. Because they at first subconsciously and thence self-consciously came to realize that they had been .. marginalized. There was now a direct line between the Prime Minister (and never mind even most of her party) and the People. Both in terms of the appeal, the emotional resonancy - but also in terms of speaking directly to the nation during the 1 pm press conferences. As somebody put it , we all collectively felt reassured by Jacinda and Dr Bloomfield as a sort of ersatz 'Mother' and 'Father' of the Nation. [In essence, I would actually say that it is the Dumezilian 2nd and 1st functions respectively - the Warrior-Aristocracy / Monarch , and the Priestly / Academic castes, to speak a little figuratively; rather than what would otherwise be connoted by a Mother and Father of the Nation - a Queen and King ... but I digress] 

So, for weeks it seemed, we had a situation of the poll results being frankly disbelieved. An almost embarrassed tone by media reporting upon them. The succession of "Rogue Polls", as National put it. Because this was Not How Things Were Supposed To Go. It turned out that the Nats were not, in fact, the true 'natural aristocracy' after all. And nor were the Media the genuine 'Anointers'. It was as if Napoleon had taken the Crown from the hands of the Pope and placed it upon His own head. And therefore, the constant attempt on the part of both some Media and the other, official Opposition - to force their way back into proceedings, barge their way back into not merely relevancy, but actual, active saliency into the bargain. 

At the time, I speculated that this would have the opposite-to-intended impact, the converse effect to that which was looked for. Recalling the 2014 Campaign, when Dirty Politics came out and was all the Media could talk of in their harrying of the Key-led administration then in power ... it was precisely this which helped to tip the scales ever further in National's determined favour. New Zealanders like an underdog, and have an innate sense of fairness, fair play. So when we all collectively saw John Key being seemingly harrassed (however righteous that scrutiny actually was), many people therefore concluded that it was some sort of unfair beat-up. And rallied behind the then-incumbent Prime Minister and his colleagues as a result. The pudding, in short, was over-egged, and the Government's critics wound up with egg upon our collective faces as a result. It happens. It especially happens when we are playing the pop-cultural version of Canute - endeavouring  to stand against and thence turn back the onrushing, indefatigable Tide. 

There is another factor, as well - albeit a closely related one. 

During the course of Simon Bridges' latter tenure as National Party Leader, what we saw was a terrier yapping at the pant-leg of democracy. And that became the 'democracy', in practice. Instead of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition , we were treated to the choleric spectacle of "Opposition For Opposition's Sake". And seemingly upon the most spurious and flimsy of matters. 

It got so bad that when Todd Muller took over, one of his first acts as part of his 'sales pitch' was that he would be bringing to an end exactly this kind of performative pantomimicry in our Parliament. Which lasted all of five minutes before we saw a spate of National functionaries capitalizing upon a literally imaginary homelessness problem (as in, not our real homeless problem - an imaginary homeless man being housed in a real hotel, I mean) , the ethnic surnames of New Zealanders returning to quarantine here, and the improper use of a position of trust with an emergency service provider ... amidst inter many alia. 

The National Party also then demonstrated its effusively strong enthusiasm for Democracy by having its second Leadership election in a little more than two months. You could perhaps be forgiven for presuming that all this 'practice' at voting for their figurehead meant they were warming up for the big one later this year (the General Election, I mean - not the internal party contest for who gets to replace Judith Collins and have a crack at the next one). Although the fact that National MPs seemingly kept taking their lead from their new leader(s) and undermining the leader would appear to suggest that they're vastly more interested in "struggling together" than they are in struggling together. 

All things considered - if a relatively strong level of support for the National Party is thought to be vitally necessary to our Democracy ... it is difficult indeed to blame the ordinary voter for thusly concluding that this oppositional "democracy" thing may, in practical terms, be a bit overrated. 

Now some may suggest that this is dangerous. Certainly, a few voices in the media stated as much, saying that because they did not feel free to criticize Ardern without getting a negative response from their audience - that this was a stifling effect upon their freedom to report as they saw fit ... an effective pillow 'pon the face of our democracy. We saw this particularly following a certain 1 pm press conference where the Prime Minister was relentlessly harangued on some matter she'd already answered in pursuit of a 'gotcha' moment. And I say "we saw this", because we quite literally did - it was all broadcast live. And people weren't particularly enthused by the spectacle. What did this result in? Media claiming that it was our fault for being unimpressed - that we didn't understand how a press conference was "supposed" to work , and that we should stop broadcasting the pressers so that the only accountings of what happened which voters would get ... would be the media's own reporting of what happened, shorn of all context and just a gutsful of 'Gotchas' all the way down. 

This is NOT to attempt to suggest there's no place for scrutiny of a Government, especially during a crisis scenario - such as that we've implicitly been grappling with for seemingly all of 2020. It's just to state the obvious: that what people saw, from both the Opposition and the Media, often seemed much more like a vested interest in tearing down the Government rather than helping it to meaningfully do better in its execution. Is it any wonder that we progressively began to tune these voices out? 'Jacinda Under Fire' became a sort of avatar-cum-apotheosis for every elector who'd felt themselves unfairly critiqued, complained about, harassed, harangued, beleaguered, blamed, and battered. We really did start to empathize and identify with this evidently hard-working figure apparently surrounded by idiots and egotists upon a daily basis. 

Except it was not only the vehicle of our major putative Democratic Alternative that turned out to be a clown car. It was also what they were actually endeavouring to push for most of that time that fit that description. During a period of significant success for our home-grown elimination strategy, National and various voices in the Media instead pushed for opening the borders or 'having the conversation' about what an 'acceptable' death-rate would be relative to the economic harms of continuing to ensure our populace are kept safe. To say it was unpopular (except with a certain narrow sector of the business world and, apparently, certain universities who are seemingly entirely dependent upon masses of foreign students to be economically viable), would be an understatement. But they kept at it 

It was only relatively recently that National finally chose to move away from such short-sighted rhetoric, under Collins of all people, and even then they STILL semi-frequently descend into "whatever Labour is for, we want the opposite!" style contrarianism. We also STILL occasionally hear from the "Plan B" advocates, along with other such fringe voices who've all-of-a-sudden discovered an enthusiasm for Swedish Social Democracy .. but only for the certain style of "interventionism" that's delivered greater restrictions than present New Zealand for markedly inferior virus control.

At best, as applies National during those months, you could read their rhetoric as being pig-headed and pig-eared (in the form of a purse) stubbornness ; a lack of flexibility and responsiveness because they're both out of touch and not used to having people question the economic Received Wisdom which has prevailed here since the mid-1980s. More cynically, as well as more recently, you could interpret their actions as being driven out of a desire for "Power for Power's Sake" ; a willingness to say or do absolutely anything in pursuit of the scepter and the crown. Ironically, exactly what many people would find most repugnant about a certain sort of monarchy - or, more aptly, a tyrant. And a petty, tin-pot tyrant certainly would seem to aptly encapsulate their present leadership in both style and (lack of) substance. 

If you want something "Dangerous" for our democracy - for our society! - that, I would humbly submit, is it.

Therefore, while you can argue that it's "dangerous" for us to be moving in the direction we are electorally - wherein a system expressly designed to ensure that there would never again be absolute / majoritarian governance is now prospectively going to deliver us up exactly that - I am not sure that I agree. In this instance, anyway. And that's for one very simple reason. 

The idea that a lack of choice is dangerous - requires that there actually be a lack of choice. This situation is not that. Rather, it is precisely that there IS choice, and people are overwhelmingly choosing one party, one leader. 

The opposition to this sentiment - and you mark my words, the Mike Hoskings and Leighton Smiths of this world shall be absolutely breathless in their turmoil of an "It Can't Happen Here" piquant texture and flavouring - is effectively tantamount to suggesting not that absolutism or 'monarchy' should be avoided for its own sake ... but rather that democracy in and of itself is a bad idea because it may, every so often, produce a rather remarkable out come. 

Some might opine that this view could just as easily be affixed to Donald Trump ... and yet I don't think that's right either. Not least because Judith Collins is presently doing an admirable job of demonstrating just why Trumpian pseudo-"populism" is rather ill-fitted and seemingly quite seriously unpopular here in little old Lilliputian New Zealand. But also because, properly considered, the Jacinda phenomenon is, in essence, the mirror image of Trump - and that is why everything is exactly the other way around. Proving, I suppose, that being right is not mutually exclusive with being popular - and that populism can be the wind in a progressive ship's (flying boat) wings. 

There are valid reasons, to be sure, to lack a certain enthusiasm for Labour governing entirely upon its own - and this helps to explicate just why the two horse race at this year's Election is apparently between Labour and Labour-Greens for the Government. But to bring things back to the jurisprudential matters which provided the active inspiration for this piece - the legal challenge to the first Lockdown, and that most curious of statements by its presumptive prosecutor that it did not matter whether the lockdown was 'necessary' , only that it was pro-forma legal ...

While, again, there are legitimate and valid reasons for looking into the legality of state actions here in New Zealand (and we should be thankful that we have a system, a society wherein such a thing can take place with relatively swift expedition, it would seem); it also feels that various of the people most up in arms about such things are less concerned with heading off some illusory Road to Fascism - and more with actively diverting us down the Road to Freedumb. In the American sense. Where all manner of strange and counterproductive proscriptions as well as prescriptions are left inviolate due to a slavishly hidebound adherence to certain 'letters of the law' (quite literally judiciously reinterpreted to suit) and a largely feigned fear of Tyranny. As in, the historical specter of the King of England, rather than the currently-festering, present-day proclivities of their pseudo-democratically empowered despot in the person (or should we perhaps phrase - 'persona non grata') of the President. Not just the income-bent one, either. A situation which has sadly come to its ultimate fruition through precisely the kind of internal and internecine division into multiple semi-literally armed camps that Jacinda as a sort of 'grand uniter' [capable, it would seem, not only of welding together coalitions - but also of drawing votes from both Labour and even National's usual supporters] is again a diametric opposite to. 

That, too, speaks toward Jacinda as a Hobbesian figure - an avatar of the collective pooling of our individual sovereignties. An Over-Sovereign, if you will [Chhatrapati] - a monarch. 

Or, in short: 

Leviathan Is Coming 

Get Out Of The Way 

Monday, October 5, 2020

On Judith Collins Curious Posturing At Her Rendezvous With The Other JC


A wise man once noted that the essence of successful political presentation was authenticity. Once you could fake that, you'd got it made. 

Now, as applies Judith Collins' apparently entirely unscripted and totally sincere church-visit en-route to vote over the weekend ... well, reasonable minds may differ as to whether the above quote applies. Many are certainly suggesting that the motivation for Collins' apparent Conversion On The Road To Oblivion (via way of Clevedon) is to head off the prospective growth of the New Conservatives , Advance NZ , and other such fringe-right parties who tend to be big on 'politicized Christianity' in pursuit of an Evangelical-esque appeal. Because while these vehicles are unlikely to hit five percent apiece - every percent they DO get comes at National's likely expense. Particularly due to the prospect of various splinters of National's own base decamping (or simply staying home) due to their possible lack of desire to support a leader who's voted in favour of abortion and euthanasia. 

But that's not what I'm here to talk about. You can read elsewhere those sorts of analysis for the strategic impetus for WHY Collins may have chosen to engage in a performative posture of prayer en-route to a polling place (in Kohimaramara, oddly enough). 

Rather, it's the very concept itself - that of public piety in politics - which interests me here. 

Despite the aspirations of pretty much every party I've mentioned thus far (National, the New Conservative party, and Advance NZ, for those of you playing at home) inter alia, New Zealand is not that much like America. And by this, I do not just mean that religion is a far less active and overt portion of our public life here than it is over there - the quantitative metric. There's also something qualitatively different about it, as well. 

While it's definitely and demonstrably true that we have American-style Evangelicals operating here - including prospectively within our next Parliament assuming one of their number beats a certain Seventh Day Adventist in Botany later this year (that's Christopher Luxon and Jami-Lee Ross, respectively); we also have always had something else, as well. Older style, and dare I say rather 'left-wing' strands of Christianity that are unafraid of taking directly political stands on things which affect their parishioners and the broader country. Michael Joseph Savage famously described the work of the visionary First Labour Government as being 'Applied Christianity'. The Methodist Church here regularly overtly opposes neoliberal developments, such as the TPPA. For comparison, the most prominent Methodist saliency in American politics of recent times was probably George H.W. Bush. 

This is not to suggest, either, that community-oriented and economically progressive religious bodies are unknown across the Pacific (or, for that matter, across the Tasman - which has its own Evangelical Christian political projection within the corridors of power). Only that those groups tend to be marginalized and shoved/crowded out both in the popular imagination, as well as the political hublands of power, by the more happy-clappy or otherwise 'performative' (seemingly at the expense of substance) varieties. 

And in THAT situation, I tend to think that EVERYBODY suffers. Both because the more 'right-wing' amenable  Christianities tend to have some rather funny ideas which thence find forceful expression through the political system (some might say 'infliction'); and as a direct result of all of this, the 'crowding out' effect continues apace. So whether you're secular or religious, there's something to be concerned about. People come to think that the ONLY form of religion in politics is the right-wing iteration - leading to a negative perception of these by those not keen on the (neoliberal/neocon) right, and an increase in support for the (neoliberal/neocon) right by genuinely religious people who think that this is now the only legitimate political expression for their beliefs. 

We've seen this in India, wherein the BJP has sought quite effectively to 'monopolize' the political expression of Hinduism - an effort that has occasionally lead to bad theology being promoted upon occasion; and also to a certain level of people reacting to the BJP by either distancing themselves from their ancestral faith, or seeking to redefine it in opposition to the BJP 'brand'. Which, not coincidentally, also occasionally leads to some rather bad theology. 

All of which brings us back to Collins' stunt on Sunday. 

Now, as I have said - there is some debate as to just how 'authentic' Collins' performative piety in fact was, upon that day. On the one hand, everybody seems to agree (other  than Collins - which is perhaps unsurprising) that she has never before in her political career been this overt about her faith. On the other hand, Collins herself counters this by claiming that she's always had it as a guiding principle, citing the remark in her 2002 maiden speech: "I believe in God, and I believe that every human being is created with free will to do either good or evil." Which is ... not exactly a heavily Christian perspective, to my mind, even if some important fundaments are there. Fundaments, I would argue, shared with many other religions - and which, importantly, do not actually directly qualify what Good or Evil actually are other than words upon the page. 

And that goes to the heart of why I'm feeling so iffy about this whole thing. Because it is, in the most literal sense, "virtue signalling". And, with what is meant by the term in its idiomatic context - a potential lack of actual, tangible, deeply-held 'virtue' to be signalled. Instead replaced merely by the words, the forms, the exterior-perceptible symbols so as to disguise the lack of substance. Which is also a bit of a risk, because again - some may then have their perception that ALL religious expression in politics is like this .. performative in a pantomime sense rather than rolling its sleeves up to be performative in a potent one ; and others may take the opposite view - that as it is 'genuine' expression, this means that all that goes with it is suddenly sanctified into the bargain. Because, as we all know, JC (the *other* JC - not the two-letter sign-off Judith Collins has begun appending to all her tweets these past few weeks .. presumably entirely coincidentally) was obviously all about supporting small business and deferring the Rendering Unto Caesar with a temporary tax-cut so as to stimulate the economy. 

Now don't get me wrong. I do think that there's a place - and quite a strong one - for religion in our public sphere. Partially this is because, as a religious fundamentalist zealot, I would be entirely hypocritical if I suggested anything to the contrary. But also because it enables one to get a better sense of who a politician (or a voter, an institution) actually is and what they really stand for. Politics, as with religion, is about the immanentization of values out into our mortal world. And I quite like that we know who the potentially-fringe Evangelical sorts are BEFORE we might vote for them and find out the hard way through their conduct in office - precisely because they tend to directly tell us that this is what they are, themselves. 

Which does not mean  that religious values, religious expression in our politics is above criticism, above contention, above reproach. I mean, both Tony Abbott and Simon O'Connor would hardly be criticized for being 'inauthentic' with their religious adherence - both were, if memory serves, in-training to become Catholic Priests prior to their lives in politics. However, as applies Tony Abbott's recent remarks about how Covid-19 should effectively be allowed to go unchecked because of the cost of preserving the lives of the elderly ... both myself and the Rev. Rolinson were rather chagrined that this apparent lack of regard for life in favour of coin was coming from a man so vocally "Pro-Life" in his other political enthusiasms. 

Similarly, when Donald Trump had protesters cleared from near a Washington D.C. church so as to carry out a bible-wielding photo-op - I think many quite justifiably looked in askance at this Election-year (re-)discovery of America's majority symbolism. Noting the degree of divergence between what's actually in said book and building and the way Trump's generally conducted himself both in politics and in personal life. 

Trump's maneuver is quite relevant for Collins, however - as what he had sought to do, was portray Christianity, Christian Values in America as being under attack, under threat, under siege during the waves of protest and rioting going on over there at the time. Positioning himself, perhaps, as a self-appointed 'Defender of the Faith' [a title more usually held by the Kings of England ... and ironically referring to the *Catholic* Faith, despite the well-known Protestant allegiance of these men; Prince Charles, interestingly enough, is considering amending this to "Defender of the Faiths", plural] - and disregarding all of those people of the faith in question who were actively participating in the collective outrage as to America's race-relations situation at the time. 

Collins may have anticipated that she'd receive a wave of criticism for her gesture on Sunday - and factored that into her calculations. She'd have seen the commentary from various vectors in relation to her sudden frequency of "As a Christian ... " remarks in the course of the Leaders' Debates. She'd know that being photographed in an about-as-stereotypically-"Prayer" posture as you can possibly get would generate criticism. And that sentiment - of people attacking both her for acting in a religious manner in politics, as well as the occasional opposition to religion in our politics full stop - is part of the 'mobilization' strategy. It portrays both Collins - and, via surrogate-proxy, Christianity - as being the 'victim'. As being under siege due to the perceived 'incompatibility' of her pointedly declared faith and politics. And therefore, in addition to garnering her some sympathy from certain sorts of Christian voter (who may, themselves, feel a bit under glowering cloud due to their adherence, from time to time), also positions her as both sword and shield against this negativity. 

In the same way that you find people in America (and, to be fair, here too) voting for Trump or other Republicans in order to "trigger the Libs" (regardless of whether he or they are almost an opposite to what the voter would usually prefer) - so, too, may you find some rallying behind Collins in order to "trigger the Sickulars", the left, the "Woke" (and thus, apparently, the Reserve Bank) or whatever it is this week. 

Having said that, there are other possibilities to consider. I know, better than many, how a sudden outpouring of religiosity during a difficult time can in fact be quite genuine. It is for the same reason that there are rarely to be found many 'Atheists in Foxholes'. Perhaps Collins' prayer prior to voting on Sunday was, as somebody on Twitter put it, a "Hail Mary". 

The real test of this, is the extent to which the religiosity in question persists after the the cessation of the immediate crisis correlate with its promulgation. Whether, following the Election, we still see Collins conducting herself in a manner that might be thought of (or perhaps 'confused for') as religious. 

That might not be such a bad thing, as it happens. It would be good if the implicit coterminity between Collins and Bill English - extended beyond the prospects for an unsuccessful election result (the 2002 one, I mean), and on to some of the man's values. The same ones which saw him describe our prisons as a "moral and fiscal failure" during the same term which saw Judith Collins wanting to escalate this failure via shipping-crate cells and double-bunking for 'deterrent value' (well, more what would likely come with the double bunking as the deterrent value). 

In line with the Hindu axiom - "Hands that help are holier than lips which [merely] pray", it is the actual conduct that goes beyond the prayer via which commitment to religious values (in politics or without) ought be meaningfully assessed. 

Although there is one further consideration Collins may wish to bear in mind. 

Last week, a day or so prior to his Covid-19 circumstance, Trump invited a Hindu Priest to the White House to carry out a puja for peace and protection. It would not seem beyond the bounds of possibility that this prayer was answered - in a rather more general sense than had perhaps been intended by the President. 

Or, phrased another way - Collins may find that endeavouring to call upon (the) God(s) may lead to Divinity Answering. And doing so in a manner that serves a Plan, an intent, other than one's own.