It’s hardly news that Prime Minster Scott Morrison is in trouble. The bushfire crisis has two running themes. The first is climate change. The second is ScoMo’s mishandling of the crisis. Today I wish to explore the second.
We all know the political motivations behind the ScoMo failure. He won his election purely by attracting the preferences of the coal hungry and climate change skeptics of QLD. His “quiet Australians”. He doesn’t want to alienate this vote.
But the scale of the disaster, both natural and political, goes far behind this explanation now. How has a supposedly astute politician so buried himself in ash, so fast?
Observation of Scomo gives us one possible answer. Every time he has spoken or acted in this crisis he has only raised his personal ash cloud higher. Whether it was the Hawaiian jaunt, the coal-love, the underplaying of crisis, the wooden responses to personal abuse, the slow motion roll out of resources, the failure of planning, the hosing off of climate change, the mooted solutions or the politicking, at every turn ScoMo has said the wrong thing, in the wrong way, at the wrong time.
The aggregated impression is of a man incapable of understanding trauma and suffering. A bloke without empathy; out of touch with the way that Australians think and feel. This is the complete opposite of the studied sausage-stuffing, daggy dad routine so carefully rolled out for the election. Such a disjunction between a seamless, rehearsed role and cracking up under pressure suggests a deep fracture within the PM himself.
From time-to-time, MB has mused upon the personality disorders of recent PMs. For instance, the narcissististic traits of Kevin Rudd and the borderline tendencies of Malcolm Turnbull. Both of these disorders are often a part of the makeup of the”snake in the suit”, the psychopath at work. ScoMo’s recent behavior is consistent with similar psychopathic states.
Such conditions pathologically inhibit empthy while at the same time enabling the sufferer to appear high functioning. A clever psychopath can choreograph a real personality and thrive within the limelight.
But it is trap for them over time. Their responses give them away. They smile when they ought to be somber. They giggle when they ought to be serious. They are confident when they ought to ask for help, dismissive when they should engage. So on and so forth. They can spin a message, but the delivery of it is always a little off, lacking the right tone, the appropriate colour and feel. That’s been the ScoMo of Australia’s Black Summer.
Such disorders shouldn’t be considered hard and fast categories. They all exist on a continuum of anti-social habits. But they are real enough.
I raise this discussion because the implications go beyond the academic. If ScoMo is disassociated in this way then it has repercussions for how his own party and Labor should treat him, as well as for the national interest and economy. The Coalition will need to keep ScoMo on a tight leash. He must be kept away from people wherever and whenever possible. If he can’t read them then the chances of serial public relations blunders is obvious. Keep him in the Canberra bubble.
Labor should do the opposite. It should bring everything back to the personal. Wherever and whenever possible it should connect policy with people. This will set ScoMo up for repeated dislocations and help elevate the Albotross in his place as the people’s champion.
For the nation, such a leader at such a time might be good or bad news. The narcissist can go one of two ways. He can react swiflty to criticism in order to restore his self-image as reflected in those around him. Or he can dig in and defend his bubble, dismissing all evidence that he is wrong. So far ScoMo appears more of the latter.
If so, he will refuse compromise, stick to bad ideas for far too long (I’m thinking here especially of budget surpluses) seek excuses instead of solutions, dissemble not explain, and make a lot of self-destructive calls, except to his image of self.
He will back himself over and again as his world goes to hell and flip you a “hang loose” all the way through it.
He is also a former gold trader and economic commentator at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, the ABC and Business Spectator. He is the co-author of The Great Crash of 2008 with Ross Garnaut and was the editor of the second Garnaut Climate Change Review.