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Jane Caro: The World Is Run By Right-Wing Bullies Useless In A Crisis

When then Treasurer Scott Morrison brought a lump of coal into Federal parliament, he thought he was being really clever.

It was an aggressive, downright scornful gesture designed to bait and outrage his political enemies, both inside the House and outside it. Now that he is Prime Minister it is worth looking back to that moment -- not just for what it says about his attitudes to climate change -- but for what it says about the man and his leadership style.

If that defining moment is any guide, our Prime Minister is a member of the macho school of leadership. It has many aficionados at the moment -- Trump in the US, Duterte in the Philippines, Modi in India, Johnson in the UK, Erdogan in Turkey and Balsonaro in Brazil for example.

We often call them right-wing leaders, and they certainly fit that definition, but what strikes me most about them is their machismo. They strut and smirk, bellow and mock, bait and ridicule.

They are at their most comfortable on the attack and so must always have an enemy to fight and defeat -- whether on the world stage or on Twitter. If no enemy is immediately obvious they will make one up so they can continue to confront the world with their jaw jutted and their dukes up.

That time Scott Morrison carted a lump of coal into Parliament. (Image: AAP)

Macho leaders thrive in election mode. Then the enemy is clear and all bets are off. To them winning is not just everything, it is the only thing. To lose is not just disappointing, or even devastating -- it is worse than that -- it is an existential threat. Trump is open about how much he despises ‘losers’ even to the point of refusing to accept Senator John McCain as a military hero because he had been held captive. "I’m not a fan," he said about the decorated Vietnam vet. "I like people that weren’t captured."

Macho leaders like simple answers, black and white, goodies versus baddies, right and wrong, us and them, my way or the highway. They are not just daunted by complexity, nuance and shades of grey, they downright despise them.

Ban them, shoot them up, grab them by the p***y, nuke them, run the bastards over, lock her up, stop the boats -- it’s all invigorating, exciting stuff, and entices many who still think that a big daddy and a bit of biffo can solve everything.

But when a macho leader hits a situation where aggro and belligerence are not just useless but actually damaging -- not to anyone else, but to themselves -- they are lost.

Trump never looks more foolish (and that’s saying something, that bar is low) than when he is attempting to comfort the bereaved. He unerringly says and does exactly the wrong thing. Sadly, we can now see our current Prime Minister also has no clue. No idea of how to offer comfort to someone in pain. If you practise the macho style of leadership, you literally have no language for this, no guide.

Remember the $190,000 empathy consultant Morrison hired? We can now see why his advisors thought it necessary, but he still seems baffled by the concept. If you are macho -- which is a mask and a pose, after all -- you aren’t just uncomfortable with what you probably privately call ‘touchy-feely’ stuff (some now call it virtue-signalling), you despise it and see it as weak and not manly.

Vulnerability, the recognition that we are all losers one way or another, terrifies the macho. Other people’s tears, suffering and grief remind them of their own deeply buried and shameful pain. A macho leader can’t accept your refusal to shake his hand with grace and humility because then he must admit he is only human -- not a winner, not one of the chosen, or the special. He must acknowledge that he does not have all the answers and sometimes simply does not know what to do.

Many of the world’s voters seem to have fallen in love with macho leaders recently, mostly, I suspect, because we live in jittery and -- given the fires that just go on and on and on in Australia -- occasionally terrifying times. We hope that the big, loud, confident-seeming blokes can protect us, drain the swamp, maintain the borders, get Brexit done, keep foreigners out, bring back Christian -- sorry -- Islamic -- sorry -- Hindu -- sorry -- white -- sorry --  traditional values.

US president Trump and Prime Minister Morrison at the opening of an Ohio paper plant in September last year. (Image: Getty)

But when the chips are down they fail us, because machismo is not strength; it is not smart; it only has one answer: authoritarianism; one tone:  belligerent; one style: scorn. Macho leaders must have an enemy to fight. They win by dividing people into us (the good guys) and them: greenies, gays, inner-city elites, Muslims, African gangs, Jews, dole bludgers, noisy Australians, feminists et al.

This is the polar opposite of what is needed right now. To maintain a livable climate -- the single biggest and most pressing task that has ever faced humanity -- we must come together in a way that we have never managed before. And know this: many of our current leaders will fight collective action as hard as they can, because if unity wins, machismo must lose.