New Zealand has become a fascist state. Lockdowns, a law change allowing warrantless house searches (due to expire last month), an illegal lockdown (the first nine days until Parliament passed an order), mask mandates, and police involvement in monitoring Kiwis who aren't complying with Covid-19 health directives are proof Aotearoa is run by a cabal of brown-shirted elites bent on ransacking our rights.
I don't believe that's true but some people do. There's a notion the Labour-coalition Government is conspiring to loot our liberties, using the pandemic as an excuse to bend 5 million sheep to their will. Some people call it fascism.
The term fascism gets thrown around so much, it's lost meaning. The Oxford Learner's dictionary defines it as 'an extreme right-wing political system or attitude that is in favour of strong central government, aggressively promoting your own country or race above others, and that does not allow any opposition'.
Oxfordreference.com adds: 'Fascism tends to include a belief in the supremacy of one national or ethnic group, a contempt for democracy, an insistence on obedience to a powerful leader, and a strong demagogic approach.'
Fascism was first used to describe the totalitarian right-wing nationalist regime of Mussolini in Italy (1922–43). The regimes of the Nazis in Germany and Franco in Spain were also fascist.
New Zealand's current government can hardly be considered right-wing. While we have a strong central government, regional and local governments also have budgets, extract rates and make rules.
Do we promote our own country or race above others? Only if you consider disseminating data as self-promotion.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responded last month to United States President Donald Trump's assertion New Zealand was having "a massive breakout" during our recent Covid second wave by saying, "New Zealand is among a small number of countries that still has a low rate of Covid cases and one of the lowest Covid death rates in the world".
"To give you just one example, the United States has 16,563 cases per million people. We have 269 cases per million."
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The United States has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide - around 191,000 - while New Zealand (as of Friday morning) had 24.
Yale philosopher Jason Stanley, in his 2018 book How Fascism Works, argues fascist politics is about "smashing truth and replacing it with power".
Stanley said, "Fascism is not a new threat, but rather a permanent temptation".
Judging by Stanley's definition and historical ones, Trump and fellow leaders Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Vladimir Putin of Russia and Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines are more likely candidates for the title of fascist leader than Ardern.
Trump has separated children from parents in migrant camps while touting his America First policies; called Nazi protesters "good people", and has told federal military agents to "dominate" Black Lives Matter protesters.
Bolsonaro is hostile towards democracy and has a history of promoting torture and offending women, black, gay and indigenous people; Putin is an authoritarian suspected of poisoning and murdering political rivals; Duterte says he personally shot and killed three men in the street while mayor of Davao.
All four leaders have replaced truth with power while convincing the dominant cultural group in their respective countries they've lost something to minorities. Only they - Trump, Bolsonaro, Putin, Duterte - can return their nations to greatness.
Fascism has become an epithet to hurl at your opponent. But if you're reading this in Aotearoa and want to experience a fascist state, you're in the wrong place.
Our government is a parliamentary system, not just in word but in deeds, too. Courts matter. Opposition matters. Parliament matters.
Other countries with similar systems such as Germany and Finland have been held as models for how they've handled the pandemic.
These countries also have strong public health systems and a general willingness by residents to adhere to new restrictions including lockdowns and mask-wearing. Have all these governments made mistakes? Absolutely.
In New Zealand, not testing border workers was a huge screw-up that may have allowed a second wave of coronavirus into the country. Still, compare our death rates and per capita Covid rates to other nations and we emerge as tall, relatively healthy poppies.
We can still speak out against the government. We share facts. And lies. We go to work, school, religious services and events in ways people in other lands can only dream of.
Yet some people still think Jacinda and her team are jackbooted, vaccine-worshipping marmots deserving of smarmy memes.
"I'm moving where government won't tell me what to do!" they cry. They need a place that prizes individual liberty over public health. Somewhere conspiracy theories are enshrined at the highest levels. Somewhere like the United States.
There, you can do what you like, depending on where you go. Some cities have mask mandates. Others don't. If you happen to encounter such a rule, you can protest alongside hundreds of unmasked, assault-rifle slinging 'freedom fighters', some of whom will carry Covid-19 along with extra ammunition rounds.
Freedom isn't free. United States healthcare prices are unregulated. A Covid test in America ranges from gratis (if funded by local governments or non-profits) to more than US$2000.
One study found the average charge per Covid-19 patient requiring a hospital stay was $73,300. That's without insurance.
Unhappy people can flee our (non) fascist nation of Aotearoa. It probably won't be cheap and it might not be safe. But maybe they'll sleep better knowing their new country is incapable of a co-ordinated government response to the pandemic, or anything else.