It’s that time of year again when people’s huge mugs are printed on big boards and plastered on fences and front yards and busy street corners. Their name, big and bold, with a ‘1’ somewhere, striking, against bright colours.
They’re usually ‘fighting for you’ or ‘looking to your future’ as they do their best to project a friendly, trustworthy smile into the camera, causing immediate suspicion.
The local elections have rolled around bringing with them the self-promotions.
‘Trust me, I’m a politician,’ must be the most oxymoronic statement possible.
It’s no surprise that trust in politicians is at an all-time low; we’ve lost trust in most public institutions.
Every year, new polls record the plummeting faith we have in our elected representatives. Ipsos recorded an all-time low last year; 14% of people trust politicians.
Running for student leadership in high school felt like a popularity contest. No one cared what your values or mission was (unless your mission was to put a chocolate machine in the canteen).
I joined student leadership as a prefect and even at 16, remember feeling how the role was a bit of a sham. I would represent the school at events, have the cleanest uniform and be able to smile into the camera, my red prefect badge gleaming.
But when it came down to actual decision making, all it took was the supervising teacher’s shrug and, ‘you’ll never get the money for that’ to shatter our dreams of creating a more sustainable bubbler system, or stocking the canteen with sushi instead of Chiko rolls.
We believed we were making a difference, but the realisation quickly set in, we were less politics and more beauty pageant queens (just don’t ask us for an opinion on world peace).
Now I watch the local elections in Australia with a thrum of lethargy. Sure, some candidates are passionate about addressing climate change. Been there, done that. Like a lover who makes all the promises then dumps you for Ashley White (hypothetically..)
Our faith in the political system has eroded. No candidate can ever fix the system from which they were spawned. It’s like trying to get a Big Mac to address wage inequality at Maccas.
When did we get so jaded?
As the presidential election unfolds as a ‘hot mess inside a dumpster fire inside a train wreck’ as one commentator noted, we sit back in Australia and watch with horrified awe.
We can’t look but we can’t look away.
Are these the two best candidates the country leading the Western World have to offer?
Perhaps the answer lies in our misplaced faith.
‘The idea of a god has been part of the human story since the very beginning…throughout the ancient world, religion was an ever-present feature of daily life’. Hugh Mackay
We have turfed most of what religion has to offer in our fast-paced, technology-driven world. We don’t need mystery because we have the answers. Certainly, many religions have done themselves no favours being plagued with scandal.
But we lose the experience of awe, of faith in something greater than ourselves.
As David Foster said in his iconic commencement speech: ‘There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship’.
Or GK Chesterton: ‘For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything’.
Whether it’s our self-image (hello Instagram), material wealth, our intellect or our political ideologies.
Politicians sell us something to believe in: a brighter future, better environment, more prosperous lifestyle, equality.
‘The wildly irrational faith we sometimes place in political leaders reminds us how vulnerable we are to our desire for something to believe in… how easily we forget that leaders are human and therefore frail, flawed, conflicted and corruptible’. Hugh Mackay.
Are we disappointed in our politicians because we expect so much from them? They should be the very embodiment of our values and ideologies. But humans, as we know, are messy contradictions; full of darkness and light.
We say we want a leader but we’re looking for a saviour.
‘Unlike religious faith, faith in leaders can neither console nor comfort us in our disappointment, let alone in our struggles to make sense of our own lives’. Hugh Mackay
I wish I felt less apathy about politics. Cynicism is over-rated.
As Trump was diagnosed with COVID, among the brutal tweets wishing for his literal demise, there were many offering their best wishes to one of history’s most controversial Presidents.
They were little lights of humanity shining in the cesspool of an ugly political battlefield.
Whatever the outcome of any election, perhaps we should look to our own humanity for hope, not the people elected to power.
Small daily kindnesses show us that a better future is possible, and maybe it will come from the groundswell of the everyday people, not the leaders.
There will always be good and bad leaders, and our cynicism will never change that.
Hope in our own power to make changes for good is a much greater motivator.
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