Voters of the Western world are more ticked-off than usual. Facing wage stagnation, underemployment and diminished social services, they have made their frustration with the political class plain.

Some of them refrain from voting, or maintaining any faith in the idea of democracy at all. Some of them refrain from thinking and lend their support to the crude nativism of Nigel Farage, Donald Trump or Pauline Hanson. Some of them, somehow, resist the fiction that equality can trickle down and have joined Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn and Syriza.

The chief political correspondent for Fairfax could analyse a growing dissatisfaction I’m hardly the first to note. Or, he could just say some very mean things about besser blocks.

Last week, Mark Kenny railed against low-spec masonry and senators David Leyonhjelm and Malcolm Roberts. While the correspondent does concede this overuse of adjectives is “unbecoming”, he continues in any case. You see, with his use of terms like “little”, “smart-alec” and “angry white man”, Kenny is making a point. Which is that 18C is an excellent idea.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act may point to an excellent idea — only an angry little smart-alec would argue against good manners — but it is not, in my view, legislation worth defending per se. Nor is it legislation worth opposing. What is worthwhile, however, is the pursuit of hard analysis by political correspondents that could move us from the busywork of these persistent culture wars. And there’s none of that from Kenny, who, following Leyonhjelm’s declaration that he would make an 18C complaint against Fairfax, makes the claim that “the point of my piece” is proven.

[There is a great hunger for Trump’s vulgar speech, and for good reason]

The only “point” that Kenny has made is that chief political correspondents might have had their faculty for analysis dulled by years of neglect. Now, a journalist of note can believe not only that the conditions that produce racism can be assuaged by a law — and let’s not forget that this section of the RDA was introduced by a government who made detention for asylum seekers mandatory — but that calling politicians stupid and mean is sufficient “analysis”.

Whatever Kenny’s claims about his cynical use of pejorative style, we all know this stuff plays well. A few colourful insults about personal character and, perhaps, a reference to cheap building materials serve very well as a progressive Fairfax snack. But such fare merely stimulates the appetite for a culture war Kenny claims to abhor.

The question of free speech notwithstanding, there are some vital questions that politicians like Leyonhjelm and Roberts pose. Not with their mouths, mind, but by their popular presence. Surely, we must address the appeal of such “gormless” “hate-speech apologists”, and not just go on placing our faith in some minor legislative relic from the Keating era. Surely, at some point, our best writers must quit their habit of moralising about individual members of the policy class and start asking who put them there.

It’s okay for your Greens-voting uncle to post an assessment about the poor morals of others on his Facebook page. It is absolutely not okay for a correspondent to do the same. It is lazy, crowd-pleasing tosh to say, “people are racist because they are stupid” in a newspaper. It is no better than the first-year philosophy claims made by the IPA that “people oppose expressions of racism because they hate freedom”.

If the political minds we have appointed as our best and most progressive are to continue to upchuck explanations no better than “people are no damn good”, we are stuffed. If we are to continue flouncing about as though the nation is a high school debate club and not a place inhabited by persons with real frustrations and fears, we are rogered. If Fairfax continues to meet the real and terrifying emergence of nativism with nothing more than a moral answer — “people need to be better and respect 18C” — then they should really just repost your nice uncle’s compassionate status updates and save themselves a bundle.

Voters of the Western world are more ticked-off than usual. In Australia, we are without a Corbyn or a Sanders or any political figure who addresses our material frustrations in a material way. Instead, we have Hanson and Leyonhjelm whose faith in the restitution of an already vanished privilege (wrongly) answers the question moralising correspondents like Kenny fail to.

[Some people just can’t reach: give up on Pauline and her ilk]

The stark vanity of Leyonhjelm or the populist irrationalism of Hanson should not be topics for analysis. The rise of anti-establishment politics must be. To make believe that these people are themselves the problem diminishes its size and makes its resolution appealingly possible in the impoverished pages of Fairfax.

It’s great for page views. It’s not good for the nation.

Peter Fray

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