Features Australia

Engineering Club Sensible

3 December 2016

9:00 AM

3 December 2016

9:00 AM

If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it is that the times are changing. When news of the Trump victory unfolded across the world, we watched from Sydney University’s Manning Bar. Never had it been so packed. Students piled in to watch history, all-consumed by the bright red map of America flashing on the screen.

My engineering friends bought me a beer and together we observed the room. On one side were slumped shoulders, ashen faces and tears from tragic left-wing students, whose world-view had suffered the rejection of the ballot box. The other side was a sea of red caps and raucous applause with each Trump gain; the unmistakable ecstasy of a formerly ostracised group, finally on the ascent.

The engineers are sensible people and don’t really belong to either extreme. Instead, they drink to democracy and are glad that a blow has at last been struck against political correctness. They talk excitedly of how they’d improve the data analysis of flawed polling and have a purely factual discussion about how the construction of the wall might be done. The upending of the status quo means the engineers, typically outsiders who stick to an isolated building on campus far away from frenzied student politics, are now invigorated to participate.

Leading up to Trump’s victory, one could sense change in the air. Doomsday articles threatening stock market crashes, polls that placed Trump firmly behind; all had a Brexit parallel about them. When Joe Hockey addressed the US Studies Centre the week before Trump’s election, he said that 70 per cent of Americans felt the country was heading in the wrong direction. ‘This is normally a game changer in politics,’ he remarked.

So it was. Trump’s victory completed a year of tectonic political shifts. His campaign, Brexit and even Australia’s election all show that now, it matters not whether you are Left or Right, but if you are an Insider or an Outsider.

Hillary Clinton, despite her working class background, was the Insider incarnate. Her résumé was perfect, her political-speak was on point. She subscribed to the pernicious identity politics ideology, which separates society into minority groups and only cares about you if you belong to one. The words ‘love’ and ‘together’ in her campaign slogans practically made her the perfect candidate; the establishment bowed down. The urbanised, educated, often wealthy Insiders felt at home with her cultural view. On voting day, nearly every city in each state was a blob of blue.

Trump, despite his wealthy background, was by comparison, the rabble. The media employed a special kind of viciousness in its coverage of Trump’s campaign. In doing so, they unwittingly created the ultimate Outsider; the underdog, the game-changer. His slogan was electric, his catchphrases quotable and his mannerisms so bizarre they’d be mimicked during nights out at the pub. Beyond the cities, the American map was a swathe of red. The regional working class, Outsiders who felt irrelevant in the former paradigm, told the media where to go and voted for Trump.

Everywhere around the world, the divide between Insiders and Outsiders is shaking the political order. It’s ricocheting through all levels of political parties. It’s even awoken within universities. Years of articles about PC-enforcing students, using outrage to silence debate, made many believe it would never change. However, right now at university, you can see the dust rising on the horizon as the Outsiders amass; willing to challenge the Insider’s orthodoxy of political correctness and identity politics.

I first noticed it earlier in the year, after some engineers who took part in a Mexican-themed party, (complete with hats and tequila shots) suffered a torrent of abuse online, accusing them of extremely offensive cultural appropriation. The response was a short letter from the Engineering Society’s President, suggesting that next time engineers encountered such political correctness, it should be ignored completely; a waste of everyone’s energy. He concluded pointedly that ‘the engineer’s path is one that creates real positive change for humanity.’

Shortly afterwards, having had multiple pieces rejected by the student newspaper Honi Soit, two second year boys became fed up. Fed up with a newspaper so drenched with identity politics, that it was barely readable. Fed up, also, with their views being ignored on the grounds that they were ‘privileged’ college students, and other views should be heard instead. To the absolute horror of the campus Insiders, (law students, debaters, student politicians etc.) the boys from college got together with an engineer, an anti-identity-politics Lefty, a Liberal and a number of sensible student journos. They ran in the election for Honi Soit’s editorship, proudly declaring ‘We are a coalition of common sense.’ Remarkably, they won on first preferences, but lost on the second. The Insiders were smug in victory, but they shouldn’t be. It seems clear these changing times will not suit them.

Although uncertainty is trending, one thing we can be sure of is that Outsiders everywhere are on the rise. In general, they are a broad alignment of people across all parties and factions who share a love of common sense and find themselves more consequential to politics now than they have been for some time. Perhaps they find themselves on the Left, but feel isolated due to the dogma of political correctness and identity politics. Or they are of the Right and have become angry with the authoritarian Insiders who appear to restrict personal freedoms. Either way, they are all members of what the late Christopher Pearson might have termed ‘Club Sensible’. While major parties appear to fragment and shrink in these changing times, Club Sensible’s membership base steadily grows.

The consequences of 2016’s great revolt are, like the Trump presidency, completely unknown. However, we do know that the tide has turned. Triggs is dethroned; 18Cs has lost its lustre; Turnbull’s polling sinks; One Nation rises; engineers watch election results; sensible students run to edit newspapers; surely, it is a new world.

This year has exposed some ugliness, but it has also been a hitting of the reset button. Club Sensible’s rejection of authoritarian Insiders has brought a sense of liberation. The divide between Insiders and Outsiders will force major parties of both the Right and the Left to reinvent themselves, else become unelectable. The Insiders may try to dig their heels in and cling to the rejected ideology of political correctness and identity politics. However, democracy will demand they change their ways and listen to Club Sensible.

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