The Empty Smirk


Every possible fuck has now been clustered. The empty smirk from marketing stands before us as Gratiano before Antonio to speak “an infinite deal of nothing.” Or as The Smirk would have it, “I’m not not telling you to not get the AstraZebra thing. I’m just saying you don’t have to not get it if you’re not one of the ones who wasn’t or shouldn’t now.”

Of course we’re less than one news cycle away from Chris Uhlmann explaining that last night’s open mic debacle was actually a cunning jujitsu move to turn the attacks on the government’s woeful vaccine rollout back on the PM’s detractors.

After all, it was just a week ago that everybody was crying over their vegemite toast every morning we woke up without a Covid jab. And with one stunning pivot and flip Smoko has the whole country suddenly running like hell away from the millions of free AZ jabs that weren’t even available anyway.

Or, perhaps, you know, just hear me out guys, it could just be that Scott Morrison has been a disaster at pretty much every job he ever took on, including the capture, imprisonment and abuse over many years of thousands of asylum seekers. By using the military to interdict boat arrivals, and imposing total control over all access to and information about his remote island gulags, one of the few hard data points evidencing his grotesque moral failure as Immigration Minister was that stupid little boat trophy he had made for himself…

And even that uncomfortable display of performative psychopathy invites comparison with the five star, fur-lined ocean-going balls up he couldn’t hide away from public view.

When Morrison was able to work in secret, his decisions unchallenged and beyond review, he was able to craft the image of himself he most wanted. Tough, competent, not even a little bit of a bumbling cockwomble. As soon as he had to face scrutiny however, it all went sideways, hard.

But how does he keep getting away with it?

Writing in the Harvard Business Review way back in August of 2013, one month before Morrison imprisoned his first refugee, Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, wondered at the paradox of terrible men rising to positions of great power for which they were manifestly unsuited. “Good leadership has always been the exception, not the norm,” he wrote.

Chamorro-Premuzic thought of the Big Swinging Dicks’ Club of complete douchenozzles and pathological fuck ups at the senior levels of both politics and government everywhere as a category error to which we as human beings are all prone. As a species we “commonly misinterpret displays of confidence as a sign of competence” and thus fool ourselves into believing that a gormless, glad handing sack of shit in a Cronulla jersey leaning out of an army helicopter to give himself a big thumbs-up for not falling out has real leadership potential.

Morrison has always been more interested in controlling imagery than outcomes because for marketing guys the imagery is the outcome.

It’s tempting to hope that it finally caught up with him last night, but why? It’s never really caught up with him before. Not when he tapped out of his job running New Zealand’s tourism and sport office a year early, not when he screwed up the 2003 NSW election as the Libs state director, and not when he trashed Tourism Australia in 2006. It almost caught up with him when half the continent caught fire and he pissed off to Hawaii for a beach party with Jen and the kids. But he survived that and moved on, trying his hardest to bugger up the federal response to Covid, resisting the early lockdown which all but eliminated the virus from Australia and squandering the states’ successful management of the pandemic by designing a worst-in-class vaccine roll out.

That flopdick goat rodeo was already morphing into a disaster with the promised four million doses missing-in-action as of a week ago, the PM’s goons blaming the states, the PM blaming the EU, the states swearing a blood oath to defend each other against these vile slurs, and the EU straight up blading ScoMo as a teller of untruths whose trousers had combusted.

So of course he defaults to his bogus operandi of blame shifting and back stabbing when it becomes obvious his only vaccine rollout strategy is staring out the window, whining, “Where the bloody hell are ya?”

Hubris — masked as charisma or charm — is often mistaken for leadership mojo according to Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. And while you might recoil from finding anything the Prime Minister does charismatic or charming, you’re not the audience. The 68% of male voters who approve of his handling of the Brittany Higgins horror show are. Where by ‘approve’ I mean ‘enjoy’, and by handling I mean something worse.

Writes Chamorro-Premuzic:

The paradoxical implication is that the same psychological characteristics that enable male managers to rise to the top of the corporate or political ladder are actually responsible for their downfall. In other words, what it takes to get the job is not just different from, but also the reverse of, what it takes to do the job well. As a result, too many incompetent people are promoted to management jobs, and promoted over more competent people.

People like this guy.