LIN­COLN SPARK

Barry Jones of­fers a 21stcen­tury Get­tys­burg Ad­dress

The Saturday Paper - - Front Page -

His­to­ri­ans and po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists have clas­si­fied re­cent world his­tory into two dis­tinct pe­ri­ods, with the end of World War II as the di­vid­ing line.

The pe­riod from 1901 to 1945 was marked by ag­gres­sive na­tion­al­ism – trade wars, high tar­iffs, bru­tal colo­nial­ism, World War I, to­tal­i­tar­ian rule in Rus­sia, Italy, Ger­many, the Lenin­ist–Stal­in­ist model of Com­mu­nism, Fas­cism, Nazism, the Great De­pres­sion, World War II, the Holo­caust.

From 1945 to the present, as Christo­pher

Brown­ing re­cently put it in The New York Re­view of Books, “the post-World War II struc­ture of in­ter­lock­ing diplo­matic, mil­i­tary and eco­nomic agree­ments and or­ga­ni­za­tions ... have pre­served peace, sta­bil­ity and pros­per­ity”. Peo­ple are liv­ing far longer, even in the de­vel­op­ing world. Life ex­pectancy, glob­ally, is now 70.5 years. In­fant mor­tal­ity has fallen, fe­male lib­er­a­tion still has a long way to go but is much im­proved, and the threat of global war is re­mote.

This lat­ter era has not been with­out con­flict, of course – wars in Korea, Viet­nam, Afghanistan, Iraq, civil wars in parts of Africa, the Mid­dle East, Asia and the Balkans, the Cold War, nu­clear threats and Stal­in­ist con­trol of East­ern Europe un­til 1989, Mao’s purges and famines in China, ter­ror­ism, mass dis­place­ment of refugees. Cor­rupt regimes re­main com­mon­place. In­creased con­sump­tion lev­els are de­stroy­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and pol­lut­ing air, sea and land.

Cen­tral among the threats we face in this post-World War II era, though, is the wreck­ing ball ap­proach United States pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has taken to the United Na­tions, the Eu­ro­pean Union, NATO, the Paris ac­cords on cli­mate change, the G8, the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion, the In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change, the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and any other or­gan­i­sa­tion that at­tempts to ad­dress global is­sues. We can ob­serve the rise not of to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism but of “il­lib­eral democ­racy”, a model that op­er­ates in Rus­sia, Tur­key, Hun­gary, Poland and now Brazil. It may well be en­trenched in the US. China is a spe­cial case, mix­ing the worst el­e­ments of cap­i­tal­ism with au­thor­i­tar­ian one-party rule.

Of course, there are ex­is­ten­tial strug­gles, too. Vested in­ter­est and the short term are pref­er­enced above the long-term pub­lic in­ter­est in the US, Aus­tralia and many other na­tions. Homo sapi­ens has been trans­formed to Homo eco­nomi­cus. All val­ues have a dol­lar equiv­a­lent. If politi­cians can­not place an eco­nomic value on main­tain­ing the rule of law with refugees or tak­ing strong ac­tion to mit­i­gate cli­mate change, then they are not worth pur­su­ing. Uni­ver­si­ties have be­come trad­ing cor­po­ra­tions. With “fake news”, peo­ple can choose their own re­al­ity. Science is dis­counted. Opin­ion is more im­por­tant than ev­i­dence. The pol­i­tics of anger and re­sent­ment dis­places the pol­i­tics of ra­tio­nal­ity and op­ti­mism.

In Aus­tralia, both the Coali­tion and the La­bor

Party have demon­stra­bly failed to show lead­er­ship on im­por­tant is­sues. We are still re­liant on coal for our elec­tric­ity, de­spite the fact it’s a cen­tral fac­tor in global warm­ing. Tran­si­tion to a post-car­bon econ­omy, re­ject­ing puni­tive, pop­ulist and op­por­tunis­tic poli­cies about refugees, re­ject­ing racism, in­volv­ing the par­lia­ment in de­ter­min­ing for­eign pol­icy and de­fence, restor­ing con­fi­dence in our pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions, de­vel­op­ing a bill of rights, pro­mot­ing com­mu­nity co­he­sion, un­der­stand­ing the causes of ter­ror­ism and propos­ing ra­tio­nal ways of han­dling it, cor­rup­tion in our sys­tem, and the cor­ro­sive im­pact of lob­by­ing by gam­bling, coal and junk food vested in­ter­ests – all in­tractable in our po­lit­i­cal deadlock.

The IT rev­o­lu­tion, with ca­pac­ity for in­stant re­trieval of the world’s knowl­edge, might have been ex­pected to raise the qual­ity of po­lit­i­cal en­gage­ment and de­bate. In­stead, so­cial me­dia has de­based it. Cru­elty and ig­no­rance have be­come trade­able com­modi­ties in Aus­tralian pol­i­tics and many politi­cians are com­fort­able with that. De­bate has been over­sim­pli­fied and in­fan­tilised.

Prime Min­is­ter Scott Mor­ri­son could be de­scribed as Trump Lite plus a com­bi­na­tion of toe-curl­ing folksiness, condescension and re­li­gios­ity. Like Pres­i­dent Trump, he is fun­da­men­tally in­cu­ri­ous. On is­sues raised with him, he ei­ther knows the an­swers al­ready, or has no de­sire to hear the case for and against a propo­si­tion. He is es­sen­tially a door-to-door sales­man, a Willy Lo­man, who re­lates as well as he can to each client, tells them what they want to hear, then moves on to the next door.

“Boy! Have I got an of­fer for you. Mov­ing the Aus­tralian em­bassy in Is­rael to Jerusalem! Of­fer ex­pires on Satur­day, Oc­to­ber 20 at 6pm.”

“Link­ing the drought with cli­mate change? Well, that’s not an is­sue I have thought about very much. My main in­ter­est is get­ting your power bill down…”

“Or you can have a set of steak knives…”

It shouldn’t be this way. Aus­tralia to­day has a for­mal level of pro­fes­sional qual­i­fi­ca­tions in­com­pa­ra­bly higher than any co­hort in our his­tory since Bri­tish coloni­sa­tion. Ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Bureau of Statis­tics, there are more than 6.5 mil­lion grad­u­ates now liv­ing in Aus­tralia, 27 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion – nearly 14 times more than in the 1970s.

That ought to mean that the level of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment and com­mit­ment to work­ing out com­plex is­sues and find­ing so­lu­tions ought to be at an un­prece­dented level. Right?

Well, no.

It could be ar­gued, de­press­ingly, that there is an in­verse re­la­tion­ship be­tween the growth of uni­ver­si­ties and the level of com­mu­nity en­gage­ment in pol­i­tics. In fact, the level of po­lit­i­cal dis­course was far more so­phis­ti­cated in 1860s Amer­ica than it is to­day in 2018 in ei­ther coun­try.

In 1860, Abra­ham Lin­coln be­came the first Re­pub­li­can Party can­di­date to be elected pres­i­dent of the United States. At that time, ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion was rather prim­i­tive, ex­cept in some cities on the east coast, with lim­ited com­mu­ni­ca­tion by rail­ways, roads, canals, tele­graph, news­pa­pers and postal ser­vices.

Lin­coln was re­flec­tive and self-doubt­ing. He talked in testable propo­si­tions, ev­i­dence-based, with sen­tences, para­graphs and chap­ters. He ap­pealed to “the bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture”. He never used his own name in a speech. He never talked down to his lis­ten­ers. He wrote won­der­ful let­ters.

On Fe­bru­ary 27, 1860, six months be­fore his elec­tion as pres­i­dent, Lin­coln de­liv­ered a very com­plex speech about slav­ery and its po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions at the Cooper Union in New York City. It was his first speech in New York and its im­pact was dra­matic.

Four New York news­pa­pers pub­lished the full text – 7500 words – and it was reprinted in hun­dreds of dif­fer­ent for­mats through­out the na­tion. The speech rapidly trans­formed Lin­coln from be­ing merely a “favourite son” from Illi­nois to a na­tional fig­ure. It was a ma­jor fac­tor in se­cur­ing him the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent.

In 1860, the tech­nol­ogy was prim­i­tive but the ideas in Lin­coln’s speech were pro­found. His po­lit­i­cal views, pub­lished on broad­sheets through­out the na­tion, were extremely sub­tle and nu­anced, with­out bit­ter­ness, per­sonal at­tack or ex­ag­ger­a­tion. He could al­ways see the other side of an ar­gu­ment and of­ten set it out, fairly. He was widely read but kept his re­li­gion (if any) to him­self.

As he told congress in 1862: “The dog­mas of the quiet past are in­ad­e­quate to the stormy present … As our [chal­lenges are] new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must dis­en­thrall our­selves … We can­not es­cape his­tory. We ... will be re­mem­bered in spite of our­selves …”

Lin­coln de­liv­ered his fa­mous Get­tys­burg Ad­dress in Novem­ber 1863 at the ded­i­ca­tion of a Civil War ceme­tery.

I have long spec­u­lated what Lin­coln might have said in 2018.

Lin­coln’s speech was only 272 words long. My draft is ex­actly the same length. There are 12 echoes of Lin­coln’s text in mine, the words in in­verted com­mas are Mar­garet Thatcher’s from 1988:

Eigh­teen years ago, hu­man­ity en­tered the 21st cen­tury, fac­ing un­prece­dented chal­lenges. Global pop­u­la­tion ex­pands, life ex­pectancy – both in rich and poor na­tions – and con­sump­tion lev­els rise un­sus­tain­ably.

Earth’s raw ma­te­ri­als are fi­nite. Wa­ter, forests, arable land are un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure, com­pounded by “a mas­sive ex­per­i­ment with the sys­tem of the planet it­self” caus­ing cli­mate change and ex­treme weather events. Rich, pow­er­ful na­tions ex­ploit weak, paral­ysed states.

Now we are en­gaged in a great global con­flict of val­ues. Gaps be­tween in­con­ceiv­able wealth and des­per­ate dis­pos­ses­sion cre­ate po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, en­cour­ag­ing ter­ror­ism and fun­da­men­tal­ism.

Al­though science and tech­nol­ogy an­ni­hi­late bound­aries, na­tions turn in­ward, re­in­forc­ing tribal val­ues; po­lit­i­cal lead­ers retreat from global goals of com­pas­sion, rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and mu­tual un­der­stand­ing. There is wide­spread racism, na­tion­al­ism, mil­i­tarism, re­li­gious ha­tred, demo­cratic pop­ulism, sup­pres­sion of dis­sent; we’re us­ing pro­pa­ganda, re­solv­ing prob­lems by vi­o­lence, pro­mot­ing fear of dif­fer­ence, at­tack­ing or­gan­ised labour, weak­en­ing the rule of law, us­ing state vi­o­lence, tor­ture, ex­e­cu­tion. Ev­i­dence-based poli­cies are dis­placed by ap­peals to fear and anger.

The great tasks be­fore us are to ded­i­cate our­selves to recog­nise that en­vi­ron­ment and econ­omy are in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked, and act ac­cord­ingly. The hu­man con­di­tion is frag­ile, and we must aban­don rigid think­ing, con­fus­ing prej­u­dice with prin­ci­ple.

We must con­se­crate our­selves to sav­ing Planet Earth, our home, where our species, Homo sapi­ens, lives and de­pends for sur­vival. All na­tions, and all peo­ple, must ded­i­cate them­selves to pro­tect­ing our global home rather than the short-term na­tional, re­gional or tribal in­ter­est. We must highly re­solve to save the air, save the soil, save the oceans to guar­an­tee that our species, and the no­blest as­pects of its cul­ture, shall not per­ish from

• the Earth.

SCOTT MOR­RI­SON COULD BE DE­SCRIBED AS TRUMP LITE PLUS A COM­BI­NA­TION OF TOE-CURL­ING FOLKSINESS, CONDESCENSION AND RE­LI­GIOS­ITY. LIKE TRUMP, HE IS FUN­DA­MEN­TALLY IN­CU­RI­OUS. ON IS­SUES RAISED WITH HIM, HE EI­THER KNOWS THE AN­SWERS AL­READY, OR HAS NO DE­SIRE TO HEAR THE CASE FOR AND AGAINST A PROPO­SI­TION.

BARRY JONES was a min­is­ter in the Hawke gov­ern­ment and twice served as the ALP na­tional pres­i­dent.

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