After yesterday’s rant…

Feeling much better today. Partly because I realised that given we’re back on two incomes in a few short weeks I can give myself more leeway with the outings and treats budget. Today we did the library sing along session then had a fluffy and hot chocolate respectively. Tomorrow, Chipmunks. Living the high life! 

(“We mixtz chips and muntz and dat’s how we make Tipmuntz!”)

Thoughts on going back to work soon

The baby started crawling last week. Aannnnnnnndddd he’s OFF!

Eight months is a great age.

As soon as they start crawling there’s the shock of seeing the kid they will become. Babies grow up so fast! Isn’t it amazing, this time last year I was pregnant with him and had no idea who he was, dream baby, the unknown sibling. Now, he’s this total personality! He’s such a cool baby. He’s SO HAPPY. He meets the world with joy, just smiles and laughs and chills out. Though, now he’s crawling, there’s another side of him emerging, he’s going to want to get into everything – like his big brother.

The past month, it feels as though bub has picked up his invitation to join the party. Look at you, not a little baby anymore! Sitting in your high chair concentrating on picking up those pieces of avocado. Feeding yourself! You are halfway to toddler, my bubba!

I remember the little dude at that age. It was about the time I started to want to go back to work, and also, it was when I started to really properly enjoy him. I felt sad the phase would pass so quickly, he was so much fun, he was so FUNNY, his bubbly laugh and the way he wanted to play games with me. But, I was eager to rebalance my life. Being at home alone with him all week was driving me round the bend. We have a lovely photo of the first week back at work, I got a haircut in my lunch break and then met up with my husband (who was home that week with the little dude), and we took a photo. I look so happy in that shot. Phew, made it through the year!

Right on cue, that EXACT SAME FEELING now. Oh kids you are so cute, oh kids I really need to not be with you all day because the overexposure is robbing me of the joy in your company. 

Before I had kids, I didn’t understand the mums who said “going back to paid work made me a better mother”. Now I’m totally on board with the sentiment. Ok, so it’s part-time, which is a really big caveat, and I’m not sure how I’d feel if it were longer hours. I loved our afternoons, picking him up with enough time for a trip to the park on the way home, enough time to go to Te Papa on a rainy day. It truly was the best of both worlds. You might notice, reading these blogs, that 2015 has a markedly more up-beat feel than the two rounds of maternity leave either side.

It’s such a dirty little secret of parents with jobs we enjoy, the little sly in-joke oh, I love being back at the office, are you serious, the kids all the time?!?!  We know we’re not representative of all caregivers, but still – the Monday morning relief! Someone I used to work with said he loved hiring parents because on Monday mornings they were fresh and bright and eager. I wrote him off as a bit strange at the time. Then when I was on maternity leave with the little dude, in that summer holiday before I went back to work, people would ask me how I was feeling about going back and I found myself GUSHING about how excited I was. LUNCH BREAKS, FOLKS! LUNCH BREAKS!!!

And not just the lunch breaks. The ability to finish measurable tasks. Being out of the house unencumbered. I’m lucky I like my work, I loved switching off the mum brain and switching on the legal brain. I loved having adult conversation unrelated to chores or children on a daily basis! I loved the whole shtick, put the work clothes on – look at me, not in old maternity leggings, not in sneakers! I loved picking him up from creche knowing that he’d done cool activities and had a cooked lunch and none of it was my responsibility. Here I am gushing again.

I also like that going back to work makes other people value my time more. It’s bullshit this is true, but it is true.

I like that it gives me a focus outside of home and kids, so I don’t end up directing my intellectual energies at making the chores more efficient. ‘Cause that’s a bit of a downer, really.

Mostly though, going back to the office meant that suddenly life with the little dude became pretty solidly enjoyable time spent with my rascally giggle bundle, something I treasured, something that made me smile through the day at work and grin ear to ear when I picked him up – not endless groundhog-day slog, like it feels when I’m at home full-time.

And, I became more peaceable in the frustrating moments. I wasn’t overloaded with the constant need for attention all the time. I could enjoy mornings more, enjoy evenings more. I didn’t mind so much when he needed extra attention before bed, I had it to give.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been more short-fused with the little dude and less playful. There are still plenty of good times – the swings, especially, now that I can push them both side by side. It’s not really the lack of good times that bothers me. It’s how irritable I am the rest of the time, how thin-skinned to the realities of toddler wrangling, how impatient I’ve been lately. I’ve had time away from them every weekend for a few weeks, but it’s not enough. I’m emotionally fatigued from eight months of long days, eight months of tested patience. It’s a horrible feeling because I don’t trust my reactions to the little dude when I feel like this. I have to consciously review them, and that’s another layer of emotional work, and I’m just too over it to know whether I’m pitching things right. I’m self-aware enough to recognise, last week when I was yelling at him for flinging nappy balm everywhere all through the clean washing, that he’s just two and two year olds are just like this, and getting shitty doesn’t help. But it’s so hard not to snap at the provoking behaviours.

Because fucksake.

I mean c’mon.

Five bloody minutes unsupervised is too much to ask apparently.

He’s been jumping on the baby and STOP JUMPING ON YOUR BROTHER, HE DOESN’T LIKE IT, THAT HURTS HIM.

GET OFF HIM RIGHT NOW.

THAT’S IT, YOU WILL STAY IN YOUR ROOM BY YOURSELF UNTIL YOU’RE READY TO BE GENTLE.

Every time I snap, I feel like it’s points deducted from the day and we need to try and redeem it, and at the end of the day I’m just sinking down with the weight of the clamouring, always clamouring, and ARGHHHH just LEAVE ME ALONE. Today was meant to be a creche day but, long story short, he didn’t end up going. I think he saw it as ok, he cutely sang me a lullaby when I said I was tired, right before pulling my hair and jumping on the bed. Grroooooaaaaannnn.

I want to enjoy the next three weeks because I’m going back to work right before Christmas and it’s so soon! But honestly I just think, shit, tomorrow I have to do it all again and I have no faith in my own fortitude for the day at the moment.

It’d be different perhaps if there were more people around during the day to spend time with, people who don’t have their own children to wrangle, but there’s no-one.

Anyway, nice to be clear on it eh? Different strokes and all that, if some people don’t want to do paid work outside the home when kids are little, good on them. But wow I’m going to DANCE into the office on 15 December. If you see a woman grinning ear to ear like she just won the lottery waltzing down Lambton Quay that morning, it’ll be me.

Our favourite kids TV shows

The little dude loves watching videos. He gets 30 minutes in the afternoon when bub is asleep, my downtime, and then whatever else I feel like allowing depending on weather, my tiredness levels, etc.

When selecting videos, my criteria are simple:

  • Am I able to watch this without being irritated?
  • Does he enjoy it?

Here are our favourites shows:

1) Puffin Rock

Puffin Rock sets a new standard in kids entertainment. Puffin Rock is everything you could possibly want in a children’s show. It is charming. It is beautifully animated. The storylines are simple and pleasant. It has nice little asides to adults, but done in a very subtle way (“puffins and seagulls don’t quite see eye to eye”). Puffin Rock is my favourite.

2) Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom

This has been the little dude’s top pick for a while. I give it big points for narrative pacing and interest, and good comedy value for adults. It could definitely be better on gender – it’s a mystery how there are so many more girl fairies than boy fairies and more boy elves than girl elves, when most species have fairly even ratios. But I like the boy/girl friendship pairing of Ben and Holly and the child-friendly introduction into fantasy lore.

3) Mouk

Mouk and his friend Chavapa are slightly indeterminate humanoid animals with massively oversized heads. They are backpacking around the world on their bikes. One gets rather the uncomfortable feeling they’re trust fund kids seeking cultural enrichment without leaving their upper middle class bubble. But if you compartmentalise that adult critique, it is a pretty cool show. Though I don’t know how they manage to avoid overbalancing on their bikes, given the size of their heads. 

4. Peppa Pig

Sticking with humanoid animals, we come to Peppa, the little pig changing our expectations about bossy girls. Peppa has been a favourite for a while. I’m impressed by the level of character development they manage in a show compiled of five minute episodes, and I have a real soft spot for Pedro Pony. My husband likes it because Mummy Pig is patient with Daddy Pig’s foibles.

5. Sarah and Duck

Sarah is a little girl who lives alone with her pet duck. It’s a bit strange, and the premise is absurd, and it has a slight air of melancholy (where are the parents? Is a duck her only friend?). But if you want your kids to watch off-beat film festival movies with you when they’re teenagers, this is probably good training material?

Making a fuss

I don’t know about your two year old, but my two year old makes fusses. Ridiculous fusses. Here are some recent triggers for major upsets:

  • A friend left Tiny Town without saying goodbye.
  • I turned the dishwasher on without inviting him to push the button.
  • Another child picked up his hat and gave it to him when he dropped it (he wanted to pick it up himself).
  • The iceblock broke in half.
  • Someone else flushed the toilet when he wanted to do it himself.
  • I told him he wasn’t allowed to sniff people’s bottoms because other people don’t like it and we need to respect everyone’s boundaries over their own bodies.
  • The baby was on my knee when he wanted to be on my knee and for the baby to be on the floor.
  • His dad waved goodbye from outside but he wasn’t right up next to the window.

And each time, the fuss is… hilarious. It’s so hard not to laugh at the disproportionate response. Screaming, hysterical, because another kid picked his hat up and handed it to him in an obviously helpful way?! Oh, come on!

The knee-jerk response, other than laughing, is to tell him not to fuss.

But then.

I’ve been seeing a lot of people immediately try and damp down concerns over Donald Trump’s election, minimising the risks of a registry of Muslim citizens and other travesties.

Don’t make a fuss.

And we just had earthquakes, and several buildings are cordoned off, and there is discussion about whether to red-zone the CBD and do more checks, and some people want life to go back to normal straight away, but the advice from Geonet is that there is a 93% likelihood of another quake between 6 and 6.9 in the next month. Today we got the camping stoves out to assemble our quake supplies in one place, and I was talking to my husband about this and he said maybe I was fussing a little bit.

Don’t make a fuss.

And also my 11 year old nephew had a scary encounter with stranger in a van on his way home from the park last week, but he sprinted away and the van stopped following him. The following day, there was this news item (worst nightmare scenario for any parent). The timing doesn’t seem right for it to be the same guy, but the van sounds similar and it was in a same part of town. There is the terrifying possibility that it was the same man, and the other young boy was in the van when the driver approached my nephew. The guy hasn’t been apprehended yet.

On Wednesday I lost it at an unfortunate phone operator who was not to blame for the incompetence of her organisation or the BLOODY HOUR I’d been on hold. I apologised at the end of my rant, and felt so silly and sheepish, and awful for the person on the receiving end who was just the lightening rod for a whole lot of unrelated stress about constant aftershocks, and totally shouldn’t have to deal with irate customers raving about abysmal customer service while their kids yell in the background. Sigh. The little dude was aghast “no gwumpy talking on da phone Mummy! I not yike it when you do dat gwumpy talking!”

So I explained to him that even grown-ups get frustrated sometimes, but that mummy had an over-reaction, and shouldn’t have been grumpy at the person on the phone, that wasn’t very considerate or thoughtful. I thought about it in relation to him making a fuss about things, and felt a bit more empathetic to those little tizzies.

While, also, pondering the message we send in saying “don’t make a fuss”.

What we mean, is don’t make a fuss at people who don’t deserve it. Don’t make a fuss about inconsequential things. Don’t be like Mummy was on the phone last week. Don’t blow off steam in unproductive and harmful ways.

But what we say is – don’t make a fuss. Several times a day I’ve been saying “no need to fuss”, or “calm down”. And I’m thinking, maybe it’s the wrong thing to say. Maybe it’s a missed opportunity to teach him to think carefully about his reactions. Because sometimes, he should make a fuss. I don’t want to inadvertently tell him to ignore his internal warning signals that things are going wrong – one day, he might need them.

Here are some things I will try and remember to say instead:

  • Use your words to tell Mummy what’s wrong.
  • I understand why you’re upset, that’s really frustrating/disappointing.
  • Next time we’ll try and remember to do it the way you prefer.
  • Is this something we should try and fix? How could we do that?
  • Would a cuddle help you feel better?
  • Is part of this reaction because you’re hungry/thirsty/too hot/tired/need quiet time?
  • I know it’s hard, but I think this is a time when we need to practice being patient.

 

 

Kid eating stuff

Several months ago we saw a dietitian/nutritionist for the little dude, and I meant to write a summary of some of the stuff. We did a food log for a week and had it analysed to check if his failure to gain weight was due to any nutritional inadequacies. It wasn’t, it was caused by sleep apnea from swollen tonsils and adenoids, which interfered with release of growth hormones. Completely unconnected to diet! And the food log showed he ate a good diet for a two year old, but the dietitian’s views on toddlers and eating were really interesting and useful anyway.

The file of notes and info fell off the shelf in the earthquake, and I looked over it again and decided to write it up today as a distraction from worrying that another big quake is going to happen any minute and/or Donald Trump is going to turn the USA into a fascist dictatorship.

Starting point: food empathy

Before we talked about her advice on kids and eating, we started with some food empathy exercises. For example, think of a time when you’ve been in a situation where there’s huge social pressure to eat something you find disgusting. Think of a time when you’re really really hungry but the only food available is something you strongly dislike. Think of a time when you take a bite of something and it’s completely different to what you expect it to be. Think of something you don’t like, despite having had plenty of opportunity to learn to like it, and imagine someone cajoling you into having a bite. Think of a time you’ve been full, but pressured to keep eating. It doesn’t happen often to adults (which is the first insight!). You can probably think of a few times though, maybe you’re travelling, or at someone else’s house. Maybe you even have to think back to your childhood. For a kid, it could happen several times a day. One of these experiences could be happening at every meal. Yeah – let that sink in. Wow.

Kids can self-regulate their food intake

Most kids aren’t as picky as their parents think they are. It’s normal for little kids to prefer a few foods. That’s not a worry.  We’d done the food log, and based on that we did a list of the little dude’s “safe foods”, things he will usually eat. Then the dietitian pointed out that even if he only eats his safe foods, he’s getting a balanced diet. It seems so hard to believe because adult dietary advice hammers the point of variety! But kids need energy-dense foods and they like familiarity. Their dietary requirements are quite different from adults, they need more fat, less fibre. So she was like, look to be honest if he has porridge for breakfast and a piece of fruit at some stage in the day, you don’t need to worry about how much he’s eating for lunch and dinner, he’s pretty much covered. And I’m like, really? I mean I know porridge is good, but really? And she’s like yeah, really – so long as he’s not filling up on low-nutrient food, you can trust him to decide when he’s had enough lunch and dinner, it’s important for him to listen to his cues for feeling full.

Attitude towards presenting food

Based on the food empathy stuff, and the trust that they will self-regulate, she recommended that adults need to massively lay off kids when presenting food. You know that thing you see in tv and the movies all the time, “just one more bite”, etc? Don’t do it. No need to do it. Leave them be. Here’s how she framed it: whatever he’s eating, and however much of it he’s eating, and at whatever time of day, have the same attitude you’d have if it was a few nuts and raisins for morning tea. Something a bit boring but also appealing, that he might finish, or not, and you wouldn’t care either way, because it’s not a main meal time and you didn’t put any effort into preparing the snack. Tempted to try and coax them to eat some of this or that or the other? Just don’t! Tell them what it is, offer it to them, but then leave them be.

What to do: This one is watermelon, you haven’t had that since last year. It’s sort of juicy and crunchy.

What not to do: Do you want to try some of this watermelon? It’s REALLY YUMMY!! Here, try some of it. Just one little bite? You’ll like it! It’s delicious, try some! It’s watermelon, everyone likes watermelon! I’ll put some on your plate. You haven’t tried any of your watermelon, c’mon, don’t you want to try some? Watermelon is the best! If you try some watermelon, I’ll give you a strawberry as well!

Shaping the food environment

So how do you create a positive eating environment? Here are the tips. (We’re still working on some of these things.)

The big picture

  • Parents are responsible for what is on offer and when, kids are responsible for whether they want to eat it and how much.
  • If they ask for food, including asking for a specific food, try and bring the next snack or meal forward slightly and offer something substantial.

Some specific things

Focus on breakfast

  • Most kids wake up hungry and it’s relatively easy to create a good routine for breakfast. We normally eat porridge together anyway, so this was a free shot for us. And now bub is bigger he can join in with the porridge! Ah, porridge, such a comfort food for me. My husband hates porridge and he rolls his eyes at us every morning.
  • If you struggle with the timing of sitting at the table to eat with your kids at dinner, breakfast together is a good opportunity for a meal where they can see adults eating.

Focus on snacks

  • Kids need snacks. Kids who don’t get regular, reasonably big snacks will want to graze constantly between meals, and that means they’re less likely to be filling up on nutritious food and more likely to be filling up on whatever is to hand when they want to graze. So either you embrace the grazing but try do it without over-reliance on things that are high in salt and low in protein, or you boost the snacks and have a mini meal at morning tea and afternoon tea (she recommended the second option).
  • Snacks are a good opportunity to try new foods – for example a plate with three things, two familiar, one unfamiliar, and they can choose how much. Snacks are also a good time for treats, because then the treat doesn’t detract from a main meal.
  • A “supper” of a cup of milk can be a good way to make sure that they have enough to eat before bed without worrying too much about dinner.

Offer some of the “safe foods” at every meal

  • This is a mid point between the option of “that’s your dinner, I don’t care if you don’t like it, it’s all you’re getting” and “ok fine I’ll make you scrambled eggs”. It’s something we’ve been doing, and it takes the stress away nicely. It’s not complicated, it can be as simple as a dish of nuts, some cut up apple, and some bread on the table with whatever else we’re eating. So if he decides that he doesn’t want falafel tonight because it is too spiky, that’s ok, he can fill up on bread.

Don’t expect them to like everything

  • If they say they don’t like something, don’t make it a big deal. You don’t even have to comment! But if you do, make it low-key, e.g.”Maybe when you’re bigger.”

Role-model convivial enjoyment of food

  • Give them the option to join in on what the adults are eating, when the adults are eating.
  • Eat as a family. Obviously this is a good thing to do. We don’t do it for dinners very often because my husband gets home too late – but all the more reason to prioritise it on weekends. I try and eat something with the little dude when he eats during the day though and this is increasingly possible now that bub eats solids too.
  • Be aware that every role model is important. She really emphasised this point, that it is common for kids to see only the main caregiver eat, and then when they get to adolescence and they are pulling away more from the main caregiver, they stop eating well because they haven’t seen other people eat regularly.
  • It’s good to have kids eat with adults at family events, etc. We always did this in our house when I was a kid, and I expected it and felt indignant whenever kids were (in my mind), ostracised from the real action. Once a friend’s dad tried to give me tinned spaghetti when the adults were eating salmon and several years later when he separated from the friend’s mum I was like “yeah well he was always a dick, remember the tinned spaghetti?!” (Harsh, twelve year old me. Very harsh.)

Eating at the table, rather than snacking on the run.

  • Meh, yes, this is a good idea, and I aspire to do it most of the time but it’s not yet a priority.

Similarly: not having meals in front of a video as a general rule

  • Fail grade. I do this at least once a day. If he has a snack and a video, he will stay in one place for 20 minutes and I can give bub a breastfeed and put bub down to sleep.
  • But yeah, it’s obviously a good idea for meals to be their own activity most of the time. But also, done better than perfect. Let not the child starve because I want him to turn off Peppa Pig.

Treats

  • Don’t be a food puritan. Let them enjoy sweet things or fried salty things, while being mindful about how often they’re on offer.
  • Don’t use negative words about treats. There are no “naughty foods”. We enjoy different foods in different ways and should be able to enjoy them all without baggage.
  • Double no no: don’t make treats conditional on eating something else first. This puts treats on a pedestal and it is pressure to eat, both of which should be avoided.
  • The big issue is for us is how to manage treats that aren’t really treats – we spent a while talking about this because the little dude is a fiend for fruit. He LOVES fruit. To the point where he’ll give himself diarrhoea and he’ll still want more frozen berries. So far, he’s still too little to learn from that experience, maybe next year! Lots of kids have something in this category, a food that is great in moderation, but they like it so much they don’t moderate their intake. A common one aside from fruit is something high in fat and salt like cheese. Some tips include cutting things up small, to help them pace themselves (remembering that children are small – a banana is the size of his forearm!); and making sure that there are other things on their plates as well as the favoured item.
  • If they ask for treats, a good neutral-ish response is “that’s not what’s on offer this time”.

Solid, boring blog post that isn’t about disasters, natural or political.

Bedtime now.

Big tent democracy

I wrote a post after Brexit, and then I deleted it later, thinking “meh, no-one wants my random takes on something happening far far away, why am I joining the chorus of reckons.” Now I regret deleting it, because some of what I wrote seems important after the Trump victory. Not like “WOW I AM SUPER INSIGHTFUL”, just like, “hmmm, this seems kinda a thing to me but I don’t see other people saying it, so maybe I should say it?”

Here goes then, and this time I’ll spend a little bit more time than I did on the Brexit piece.

Ok, so the basic idea is that there is inherent compatibility between conservatism and liberalism, and they are the twin pillars of democratic engagement, and the danger is posed by their opposites: radicalism and authoritarianism.

People keep thinking conservatism is the opposite to liberalism, but it’s not! It can be opposed to liberal change, but it can also be opposed to illiberal change.

The opposite to a conservative is a radical. And radicals, well, um, they can be good or bad, depending on how we feel about the status quo! If the status quo is good, conservatism is a good protection against unwanted change. In a New Zealand context, opposition to asset sales is conservative, opposition to charter schools is conservative. The insight behind conservatism as a political theory within democracies is that we should be cautious about upending something which is currently working OK (“sure, there’s room for improvement, but we could also lose out if we change too much too fast”).

Radicalism isn’t a political theory. You can’t be a radical all the time. You get one shot at big, sweeping change, and then, presumably, you want to keep the thing you achieved.

Conservatism is part of the political legacy of everyone who believes in democracy, because democracy can’t work without conservatism. Let’s not have a revolution and counter-revolution every few years, that sounds horrible, let’s build enough support from the ground up through democratic processes so that when we achieve the change we want, it’s durable. That’s the progress we need.

Conservatism is an important part of left-wing political ideology. The desire to rein in the industrial revolution and protect human interests? That’s a conservative impulse. The battles fought by indigenous people to retain their cultures in the face of colonisation? That’s conservative too. When we talk about progress, and the desire to make things better, it’s in the context of protecting the things that we want to retain. This is important to ordinary people living their ordinary lives, people with a stake in the status quo because its predictable and familiar (for example, New Zealand needed a dab more conservatism back in the 1980s when Roger Douglas decided to build a new economy from scratch).

On any issue, there might be some people who want change and others who don’t. Erring in favour of the status quo is a respectable default setting, because people come to the conclusion that something is an improvement at different speeds. If you’re part of the vanguard on an issue, you want progress, of course you do! You want to make the world better as soon as possible, it’s urgent, people are suffering in the meantime. I get that, I really do, I’m not minimising it. But if you believe in democracy, conservatism is a necessary compromise. It is ingrained into democratic systems to prevent instability, by ensuring that change occurs gradually, at the speed of shifts in the views of the majority. It can seem like a bad thing, until we consider the alternative: radical change that we don’t want.

Democracy requires change to come through popular support or not at all. This doesn’t mean we should be reticent in our push for making the world better, definitely not! It means we direct our efforts at the hearts and minds of people who disagree with us. It means we keep trying, despite resistance, to explain why this change is justified. It means we embrace their standard for change – that the case for improvement needs to be strong – and then we work to convince them that what we’re fighting for meets that standard.

I did my dissertation on the repeal of the defence of reasonable force for purposes of child discipline. When I started, I planned to focus on the rights-based case for the law change, the child’s right to be free from violence. But it changed shape as I was writing it. I became more and more interested in the question of how representative democracy should respond when there is a tension between protecting rights and upholding popular opinion. I reached the conclusion that to accommodate this tension, we need a deliberative legislative process, that seeks to convince people of the substantive merit of a proposal as part of the system for achieving change. Parliamentary democracy for the win, folks!

What about liberalism? I said above that conservatism’s merit depends on what is being conserved. Liberalism isn’t like that. Liberalism is the bright shining idea that people should be as free as possible to live life in accordance with their own values and desires. Many political philosophers see equality as integral to liberalism: it’s gotta be liberty for all, you can’t go selecting one group to live in freedom at the expense of others, nothing liberal about that. Liberalism without equality is supremacy. The opposite to liberalism, by the way, is authoritarianism.

Trump is a extreme radical traditionalist reactionary, not a conservative. He’s also authoritarian. So it’s terrifying that he’s the president of the world’s most powerful country.

Liberalism and conservatism hold democracy up, and provide the terms of engagement. In a democracy based on these principles, we will have:

  • A system of representative government with diffuse power underpinned by popular support;
  • Respect for the limits of legitimate government and protections for individual freedom;
  • Ideological and practical disagreement on issues of substance, played out within the boundaries of respect for the processes of the political system;
  • Widespread acceptance of a result even when there was significant disagreement, because people respect the process;
  • Neither stasis nor revolution, but iterative change, with modulating back-and-forth between successive governments, avoiding major unstable swings in policy.

For the past two centuries, we’ve been working to build this system. This is the story of democracies. Democracies enable us to resolve disagreement and govern effectively, to avoid radicalism and authoritarianism. The liberal revolutions that we lionise, they had the goal of creating conditions that eliminate the need for future revolutions. They sought to establish a new order that protects everyone’s interests, then maintain that order, integrating conservatism into the structure of the government.

And what of questions of the left and the right, the nature and extent of the government’s role in the economy, the competing interests of capital and labour, regulation to protect the environment, those other things – surely those are big democratic questions too?!

Welllllllll…. not really. Those aren’t questions about system design or the boundaries of engagement. Those are questions of substance. Don’t get me wrong, they’re important questions – but we have had radical, authoritarian right-wing governments, and radical, authoritarian left-wing governments, and they both lead to people against the wall. If there is a common enemy, we should be able to agree it’s authoritarianism. If there’s a common goal, we should be able to agree it’s democracy.

Which is not to say that question of left-vs-right are unimportant. They’re really important. It’s just, we need a big tent in support of democratic processes. I’ve seen things popping up among many of my lefty friends about the need for a revolution and my eyes are popping while I think, wait, did you all not get that the terrifying part of Donald Trump is that he ran on a RADICAL, AUTHORITARIAN platform and WON?! Are you using “revolution” as a term of art for a concerted attempt to convince people of your views? You don’t mean an actual revolution, right, with all the killing and stuff? Trump is an enormous threat to stability, we need to position ourselves in favour of stability!

I’d like to see US opposition to Trump rally around electoral reform. Elections shouldn’t be as high-stakes as this one was. When your preferred candidate loses, you should feel disappointment, not horror and despair. By definition, this outcome demonstrates that the system is flawed. And did you see voter turnout, ye gads! But what do I know, I’m not over there.

So for our own context, here is my take. I find it disquieting when I see people in New Zealand say that, post Trump, we need a “real left”, we need to “channel anger against the establishment and the elites”. Taihoa e hoa mā! There is a time for progress and a vision for the future, but there is also a time to fight to retain what we have. We are not the United States, or the United Kingdom. We have our own history and our own political legacies. A left-wing activist in the USA might look at the features of our political consensus and weep with envy. We have our own problems, but they’re solvable. When we look at the mess the USA is in, we should be heartened by just how solvable our own problems are! For starters, I know a whole lot of National Party voters who were posting their dismay at the Trump election on Facebook on Wednesday night. We have a solid platform for productive democracy in New Zealand: let’s make sure we keep it that way.