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The coronavirus and Morrison's 'trust me, I'm the PM' approach

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Cartoon by Mark David / @MDavidCartoons

In the absence of leadership when we most need it, it is not surprising that people are resorting to stockpiling toilet paper, writes Dr Jennifer Wilson.

ON THE FACE OF IT, the panic purchasing of toilet paper as a national reaction to the coronavirus, or COVID-19, is entirely baffling.

However, the humble paper product satisfies a deep human need in western society: the ability to control the private clean up of the body’s shameful wastes and flush them away as if they’d never existed. It makes sense that, faced with the possibility of the loss of this fundamental control, some people might panic and take every available step to avoid the anxiety such loss inevitably entails.

And so we’ve witnessed an apparently inexplicable run on dunny rolls by people contemplating the possibility of 14 days in self-isolation without the ability to efficiently dispose of their excrement in the manner to which they are accustomed.

The coronavirus is all about the loss of control. Over one’s health, daily routines, social life, work-life, travel — in short, practically everything we depend upon to help fashion our sense of self and identity. These matters are now determined by others, firstly whoever may inadvertently infect us with the virus and from then on, the authorities.

There are few among us who will not struggle to maintain our equilibrium if everything we depend on is taken from us for a few weeks. Being able to properly clean our bums may well assume a level of importance particular to the circumstances, as the run on rolls indicates is the case.

What populations desperately need in times like these is to be able to trust the authorities and, most of all, we need to be able to trust our political leaders who have the ultimate authority over us and our institutions. Yet sadly, we have a Prime Minister who continues to prove himself entirely untrustworthy in things great and small.

As the sports rorts saga continues to unfold, we see revealed the deep involvement of Mr Morrison’s office, strongly denied by him as he foists the blame on former Minister, Bridget McKenzie. The PM has now admitted his months-long obfuscation on the matter of the inviting of his mentor, Pentecostalist preacher Brian Houston, to the White House. Why did he not simply tell the truth in the first place and admit when asked that he did indeed request that Pastor Houston be included on the guest list?

Then we have the bizarre behaviour that surrounded his trip to Hawaii at the height of the bushfires. Denials from his office, refusals to reveal the PM’s whereabouts, refusal to admit the Deputy Prime Minister was standing in for him — it was the most extraordinary and doomed attempt to convince Australia that the PM was not where he actually was and, we may well ask ourselves, to what purpose?

In Morrison we have a man who not only engages in obfuscation and lies, he does it when nobody can see any reason for the behaviour, which must be a symptom of a certain psychological eccentricity. Politicians lie – this is a given – but surely only the most incompetent politician lies when they don’t have to.

A solipsist lies and obfuscates and does not expect to be called to account, because disbelief and questioning from others have little or no validity for him. Morrison’s porkies must make sense in his tortuous inner world, to which we the punters are not privy. The Prime Minister seems to believe that we will believe him because his is the only mind that matters and he attaches little or no credence to the thoughts, emotions and experiences of anyone other than himself.

How can we trust a leader who has Morrison’s dodgy relationship with the truth to guide us through the perils, health and economy of a pandemic? The man has proved he will say anything he feels he needs to say at any given time, regardless of the usefulness or veracity of his speech.

The one common factor in all his lies and obfuscations thus far has been his conclusion that owing to negative public feedback, he ought to pretend to cover his arse. In attempting this duplicitous feat, he’s only managed to make matters much worse. A country led by a man whose prime motivation is covering his own arse, no matter what deceit that entails, is a doomed country.

 It’s no joke to find oneself unable to trust, on a personal and a political level. Without trust, the social contract is irrevocably broken. Being unable to trust those who have control over our lives can lead to anger, hopelessness and depression. Not only can we not trust the Prime Minister, but we also can’t trust those who stand with him either, as they endorse his untrustworthiness and enable his obfuscations. In the abyss created by the loss of trust, fear flourishes.

At a time when we most need leaders, we have none. Small wonder then, that many of us resort to stockpiling toilet paper and any other resources we hope might permit us some individual control over our fate, or at least, the illusion of control. We cannot trust our leaders. We can’t trust the institutions those leaders control and whose decisions our leaders can override.

Perhaps it is not so bizarre that many of us should seek to control something, no matter how ignominious, in the face of overwhelming loss of trust in our Government and our highest officeholder, Prime Minister Morrison.

 You can follow Dr Jennifer Wilson on her blog 'No Place for Sheep' or on Twitter @NoPlaceForSheep.

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