Schadenfreude is the German word for the joy you take in the misfortune of others. It doesn't have a simple English translation, but we've all felt the joy of watching an office bully come unstuck.
In Australian politics, there is plenty of schadenfreude on offer for those who think that conservative political and business leaders have lorded it over the rest of us for a while. Take the Nationals, for example.
Most people in National Party electorates support same-sex marriage, oppose subsidies for new coal mines and want Australia to have a much bigger renewable energy target. It's not One Nation that's a threat to the Nationals; it's Nationals MPs' determination to push for deeply unpopular popicies.
But rather than reflect on the fact that their views are out of touch with those they seek to represent, the Nationals doubled down on the strategy that made Queensland LNP leader Tim Nicholls even less successful than Campbell Newman, and that made Malcolm Turnbull less successful than Tony Abbott. The day after the Queensland LNP suffered a 7 per cent swing against it, George Christensen promised to work harder to prosecute his conservative agenda. This is despite the fact that most the overwhelming majority of Queenslanders just voted to support equal marriage, including his own electorate.
It's not just the Coalition's right wing that seems to have lost the ability to read a room. Conservative business and church groups show a similar lack of self-awareness. Let's start with the banks.
The big four banks wasted the last two years fighting against a royal commission into their behaviour, though the commission was always going to happen. In an environment in which the Coalition launched royal commissions into both Kevin Rudd's pink-batts program and the union movement, the idea that Labor wouldn't push for something as popular as an inquiry into the big banks was naive. And it was absurd to think the public could be persuaded that the existing regulatory agencies were working well.
When the reality that Labor would likely win the next election finally dawned, the banks did what big business with a problem always does in Australia: they employed a former politician to try to solve it. We'll never know what advice former Queensland premier Anna Bligh gave the banks when she took the role of leading the Australian Bankers Association, but we do know they kept trying to hold back the tide of opinion with a broom made of lobbyists. It failed. Worse, the strategy backfired badly. In trying to avoid a royal commission, the banks copped a bunch of other inquiries, new regulations on executive remuneration and a $6 billion bank tax. Now they're getting a royal commission anyway. Ouch.
Then there's the Business Council of Australia. It spent the last few years demanding a big cut in the corporate tax rate, a proposal as toxically unpopular as it is unlikely to become law. At precisely the point when public acceptance of the claimed benefits of trickle-down economics dried up, the self-anointed leaders of the "business community" wasted what was left of their credibility telling the public that the best way to get a pay rise is to give big business a tax cut first. The council even tried to use the fact that Donald Trump supports big corporate tax cuts to convince the public it's a good idea. Who is advising these people?
Which brings me to the Minerals Council of Australia. Once led by the hard-headed Mitch Hooke, this council spent the last couple of years shredding the public's perception that the mining industry was run economic rationalists. After years of denying that the industry received or needed taxpayers' subsidies, the council has led a debate on the need to subsidise the Adani coal mine and new coal-fired power stations in North Queensland.
While coal mining only accounts for a small portion of the mining industry, and only 40,000 of the 13 million jobs in Australia, the council succeeded in using coal mining to damage the entire industry's reputation and political capital. Things got so bad that BHP Billton reportedly stepped in to have Hooke's replacement replaced. But two years chasing public subsidies for projects the public hates undid decades of work to shift the public's view of mining companies away from foreigners who take our resources towards investors who pay us taxes. Whoops.
Finally, the Catholic Church. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has chipped away at the church's credibility and political power ever since Julia Gillard announced its creation in November 2012. Churches do play a positive role in Australian debate and their impact can be substantial. John Howard, for example, was completely wrong-footed when conservative church leaders criticised his WorkChoices laws for being unfair to the poor. But at a time our biggest churches are in the spotlight for repeatedly protecting repeat child abusers from justice, it's delusional to think those same churches can credibly talk about the morality of equal marriage or dying with dignity.
Much has been written about what is wrong with politicians these days. There is no simple explanation for why the last five prime ministers struggled to turn their ideas into legislation and their legislative agenda into votes at the ballot box. But one thing is clear: the old boundaries of left/right, conservative/progressive, protectionist/internationalist now cause more confusion than clarity.
The business community once said it wanted to fix the budget deficit; it now wants a $65 billion tax cut. The mining industry once said it wanted to prop up the budget with all the taxes its new mines would pay; it now wants tax exemptions and subsidies to get new mines built. And the Catholic Church once said it wanted us to all live by its moral code; it now admits it did little to protect children from predatory priests.
Australians hate hypocrisy more than they love any particular ideology. So it's unsurprising that, after years of hearing that we need to cut spending on health and welfare to reduce the budget deficit, the public is calling bullshit when the business community says its tax cuts are more important than the deficit. It's not complicated.
But there are none so blind as those who will not see. Just two weeks ago, Turnbull said he was happier than he had ever been and he enjoyed winning. If the banks can admit they need a royal commission, perhaps Turnbull, the Nationals, churches and mining companies can take a dose of the same reality check. If they admit they have not just made mistakes but have lost touch with the community, there is some chance they can build a bridge back to relevance.
Alternatively, they can keep trying to wield the power they once held while declaring victory to a smaller and smaller group of followers. I know which choice my money is on.
Richard Denniss is The Australia Institute's chief economist. Twitter: @RDNS_TAI