Selling ‘Freedom’ Is Victimization At The Heart Of Morrison’s Election Strategy
Scott Morrison might be resigned to his religious freedom bill going to a Senate committee – even a joint committee – and therefore not passing before the election, but there is no doubt that this is personally important to him. Not for anything to do with religion or his own faith, however. It’s a central part of his re-election strategy of appealing to the discontented right wing and fabricating a narrative around freedom against the government.
Morrison’s “freedom” narrative is a rebadging of an existing right-wing strategy of the United States that has served Donald Trump, Republicans and even more extreme elements very well: convincing socially privileged, powerful, generally white people, generally male, that they are the victims of a powerful progressive agenda aimed at harming them in favor of ‘minorities’, that is, most of the population – women, people of color, LGBTIQ people, people with disabilities .
It’s a variation on a long-standing conservative tactic of using cultural, racial, and social issues to distract from the structural causes of inequality and economic discontent, which has been successful for over a century. Nowadays he is no longer clothed in the language of the pre-Civil Rights South, but uses a more modern baggage – the anti-Semitic trope of “cultural Marxism”, the fiction of “critical race theory”, the myth of ‘feminist aggression against men, warnings that religion is threatened by secular forces (or, in the United States, where such adjectives are taken seriously, “satanic” forces) on the left.
As this list shows, this is a tactic that, in its current form, is imported entirely from the United States, where aggressive religious groups have suppressed fundamental freedoms much more effectively than in Australia, but presented themselves much more aggressively as victims.
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Donald Trump used this tactic so successfully that large numbers of religious Americans were prepared to ignore and support his own deeply irreligious behavior, as he cultivated an image of the savior of Christian America, ready to gas Black Lives Matter protesters to “defend” a Washington church he could pose before.
At the heart of the concept sent by Trump / Heaven was the lie that religious freedom in the United States was under attack. Scott Morrison is negotiating the same lie here, that there is some sort of threat to religious freedom. There are no restrictions or threats to religious freedom in Australia; indeed, although to a lesser degree than in the United States, religion occupies a privileged place in society, ranging from billions of dollars in tax breaks to public funding of religious education and exemptions from anti-religious laws. -discrimination. And clerics are overrepresented on both sides of politics compared to the Australian population.
Morrison’s bill would further strengthen this position of privilege, overriding state laws aimed at ensuring non-discrimination in employment and protecting offensive speech on religious grounds. As in the United States, legislation designed to protect religion from attack actually strengthens its already privileged position.
The legal consequences of the government’s bill, however, are less important than the message Morrison wants to send with him. This is the same message he sends when he tells extremists and those who threaten politicians with death that he “understands their frustration,” when he says it is time for governments to step back. people what they need to do (while running the biggest government since WWII and the heaviest since the Howard years) and that it’s all about freedom as opposed to work.
This message is that people with considerable privilege and power – tax-protected churches that have broken sexual assault laws and community norms for generations with impunity, Pentecostal religious groups operating as corporations and exploiting their ties to the top of politics, religious pressure groups with entry rights to the ministerial wing of Parliament despite a history of defamation and demonization of LGBTIQ people – are the real victims in Australia. That they are attacked by a wave of secularism which destroys not only the freedom of religious Australians, but civilization itself.
The other deep lie of the government’s bill is that this so-called exercise of freedom actually restricts freedom (in the same way that the government’s response to terrorists who “hate us for our freedom” is to restrict our freedom) . Freedom of employment without discrimination for LGBTIQ people, for women; the absence of abuse and fanaticism for anyone who triggers the hostile instincts of a religious person, the freedom for professional groups to establish standards of conduct for their members.
Straight from Trump’s playbook, it’s about selling victimization to some of the most powerful in Australian society and selling God-sent Scott Morrison as the savior – capitalize it or not, as you wish – who will protect them.
It has worked well elsewhere. Don’t overlook how it works here.