Tue, Sep 17, 2019 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Politicizing the mundane

After a Chinese man threatened to burn down an 80-year-old shrine in Pingtung County, local residents said they hoped the shrine and issues related to it would stop being politicized.

Gaoshi Shrine (高士神社), which was built during the Japanese colonial era, has also been attacked by former Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator Alex Tsai (蔡正元), who criticized it as an insult to Aborigines and lambasted the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) for allowing its restoration in 2015. Under normal circumstances, a lawmaker’s concern for Aboriginal communities would be noble, but in this case, the restoration was commissioned by young Paiwan locals.

Last year, Minister Without Portfolio Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) called on former premier Simon Chang (張善政) and other members of the KMT to refrain from politicizing “non-partisan issues, such as nuclear safety, food safety and disaster prevention.” This begs the question of what it means to politicize, why it is bad to politicize and what issues should not be politicized.

An April 4, 2017, opinion piece on the National Review Web site said that politicizing issues is a function of a healthy democracy. “Elected representatives fight and negotiate and make speeches and politick the issue until some sort of resolution is reached (or isn’t), and then the electorate goes to the polls to render judgement,” it said.

Many would agree that issues such as the best way to regulate health insurance, where abortion should stand under the law or the best way to raise revenue for the federal government should be debated by opposition and ruling party lawmakers, but what about using privately raised funds to restore a shrine? If the shrine is on public land, it might be appropriate for the central government to take notice, but even then it would seem that the local government would be in the best position to render a decision.

The problem with deciding things at the polls is that people tend to adopt a group mentality and overlook arguments that their party does not support. “Tribalism is more powerful than analysis; voters are no more likely to be virtuous citizens than are their representatives,” the National Review piece said.

This is why political parties should be held strongly accountable for their words. Food safety is undoubtedly the responsibility of the government, but whether, for example, food imported from the disaster-struck areas of Japan is safe should be determined by experts, not by opportunistic opposition-party legislators who have not properly investigated the issue.

A piece published by the National Review in June 19 last year said that politics’ invasion into every aspect of people’s lives is detrimental to cultures and social cohesion. “The problem is not that politics are wicked or pointless... It’s that politics have seeped insidiously into every aspect of our lives,” it said. “Much of our modern political polarization is the result of this politicization of everything.”

The article raises the example of National Football League players who kneeled during the US national anthem during the 2017 season to protest racial inequality and police brutality. “[US] President [Donald] Trump’s reaction blew the controversy so far out of proportion that both sides now have gone and politicized sports,” it added.

Arguably KMT politicians’ politicization in March of whether to include the Republic of China flag on new national ID cards was equally unnecessary. “Not even China has its national flag on national identification documents,” Minister of the Interior Hsu Kuo-yung (徐國勇) said at the time.

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