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Signs of our fractured times in PM’s exit

The range of reactions to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s resignation is an instructive example of the peculiarities of partisan perceptions and the way we’re increasingly living in our own parallel realities.

On one end of the spectrum, Ardern’s loyal acolytes [the Jacindamaniacs, if you will] are mourning the political passing of someone they believe is the best leader Aotearoa has ever had the privilege of being governed by.

At the other extreme, those afflicted by Ardern Derangement Syndrome [the sufferers of which exhibit very similar symptoms to those who loathed John Key] are rejoicing at the departure of a disastrously divisive PM.

While both views are too black and white, international media’s assessments are even more simplistic, painting Ardern as either a paragon of progressive leadership or a prime example of an uptick in authoritarianism in Western democracies.

As Wairarapa MP Kieran McAnulty notes elsewhere in this issue, it’s important to acknowledge that politicians are as human as the rest of us, with their individual strengths and weaknesses.

One shouldn’t need to be an Ardern fan to acknowledge she is a world-class communicator, a skill she used to shepherd the country through several crises and to convince a majority of the population to share her vision for our collective future.

By the same token, I really don’t understand those who took umbrage at the observation of my former TVNZ colleague Jack Tame that Ardern’s government has earned an A for aspiration but only deserves an E for execution.

It’s too soon to accurately assess the legacy of Ardern’s premiership, and, despite the cliche about journalism being the first draft of history, it seems absurd to try.

What we can be certain about, though, is Ardern always operated with the best of intentions, even on those occasions when the outcomes were far from ideal.

It also pays to ponder how much we can realistically expect our leaders to achieve – it often appears to me that our society has become so complex and is changing so rapidly that politicians can merely hang on for dear life and try to prevent the world’s wheels from falling off.

I wish our political class were a great deal more upfront about the challenges of that complexity. It’s deeply unfortunate that lawmakers’ typical response to complicated issues is to rely on simplistic slogans that merely simulate solutions, treating the public like slightly stupid children in the process.

It’s a tendency exacerbated by much of our mass mainstream media. The devil is always in the detail, but in an attempt to attract the widest possible audience, broad brushstrokes are all too often offered up instead.

There’s also the recent trend of some media outlets abandoning their role of providing “the first draft of history”, instead trying to pick “the right side of history” and then providing only that point of view – an approach that ultimately, inevitably, erodes trust.

Rebuilding that trust involves the media presenting the facts, and nothing but the facts, having faith in the ability of the public to make up their minds about what “the truth” actually is.

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