By Danielle M. Cameron.
‘For some must watch, while some must sleep. So runs the world away.’ (Hamlet, 3.2.)
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but it’s your words that cut right through me. In the wake of Donald Trump’s ascendance to the highest office of his land, and arguably the world’s, words have taken on new meaning – or rather, he’s reminded us how dangerous they can be. For a candidate who campaigned on being about “law and order,” he’s certainly found a way to kick the leg from underneath what had seemed to be the sturdiest chair. Like an ugly donnybrook breaking out in the middle of the shadiest bar this side of awful, he and his ilk managed to shake the very core of democracy, common decency, and civil society itself.
Trump’s rise is not the apex, but the beginning, of this global shift toward populism – this surge is only gaining momentum. This shift is lending an unofficial “legitimation” to the otherwise unthinkable and fear-driven rhetoric that has become commonplace – a normalization of bigotry. What has traditionally been hidden deep within the imaginary of a far-right political fringe has now come to the fore – and it’s angry.
The next four years are shaping up to be a tumultuous tirade against liberalism. People around the world are latching onto politicians who promise on delivering the usual tenets of routine conservative platforms; the survival of international trade agreements has become dubious, and borders are being squeezed by tighter controls on immigration; despite crime levels largely declining, law and order is back on the menu.
The far-right is on the rise in Europe – this is fact. Sweden’s Nordic Resistance Movement (NMR) recently held one of the biggest neo-Nazi rallies in its history. Before local bookstores swap the post-apocalyptic section for current affairs, it’s absolutely crucial to take this matter very seriously. Worryingly, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a centrist, won’t be around forever – she’s been heralded by Foreign Policy’s Paul Hockenos as the “main guardian of the norms, values, and institutions that make up the Atlantic alliance,” ushering in the new dawn of Pax Germanica.
Say what you will about Britain’s former prime minister, Tony Blair, but he hit the nail on the head this week. As Blair recently said, when he sat down with CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, “it’s been an extraordinary time” to live in the days post-Brexit and during the rise of Trump – he described these kindred events as political earthquakes. Where France is also set to vote in a far-right leader, like Marine Le Pen, there needs to be a serious discussion. He attributed to the success of these separate, but not dissimilar, campaigns to Western governments’ failure to address people’s concerns regarding immigration.
Why deferred maintenance isn’t a solution
Though many have immediately warmed to the lackadaisical ‘let’s just wait and see’ mantra, the problem is that this is happening right now – like, today. It’s real and it’s unfolding before our eyes. I believe it’s become apparent the Trump administration intends to use the West Wing as a bully pulpit to advocate for its discriminatory rhetoric and divisive policies.
Many fear what life will be like under President Trump Inc., and with justifiable reasons. Women, racialized minorities, members of the LBGTQ community, Muslims, liberals, students, journalists, and disabled people have all felt the sting of Trump’s vitriolic attacks, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. But, just like any silly rumour, hate can spread like a seemingly inextinguishable wildfire – only the purge it shalt bringeth might look more like the movie than of one of fiery biblical justice.
So let’s prepare ourselves for the next episode of Lobby Swap, for Trump’s crusade to swat Washington “bloodsuckers” away is really more about him replacing them with his own. It’s been said, sometimes, draining the swamp reveals a whole lot of garbage. So, before he and his horsemen attempt to repeal the great republic, we dwelling north of the 49th parallel must remain ever-vigilant of our own Trump-esque tendencies.
The media’s ability to effectively operate as the fourth estate is at stake, where Trump and his followers have been very firm on where they stand, in relation to the mainstream media. Why, even at his rallies, the controversial term Lügenpresse (lying press) was used to describe the industry – a term dating back to Nazi Germany, and presently associated with far right-wing sentiments of xenophobia and anti-democratic ideals. This is but one reason why we must be concerned right now, not tomorrow.
Many will disagree with me on this next point, and that’s okay. But, to admit “I voted for a candidate that espouses bigoted and hateful rhetoric,” but at the same time also claim “but, I am not a racist,” is to truly disclose “I dismissed the blatant sexism, racism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism; disassociating myself from that inconvenient reality to cherry-pick instead and cast a ballot for my single issue mandate.” This is dangerous. The divisiveness of an election like this has clearly obfuscated the facts and blurred all lines.
A warning to Canada
In the aforementioned interview, Tony Blair explained “If people think that their communities and their societies are being changed without them being part of the debate about it, without them being engaged, then they will feel angry and fearful.” Accepting and recognizing these concerns, that many share, is important; however, the notions of anti-immigration put forward by Nigel Farage and the pro-Brexit U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) is not panacea for unrest. Blair suggests that the political centrists must act decisively and coherently to address these growing fears to prevent others from coming along and exploiting this anger.
Lastly, he offered a word of both admiration and caution to Canadians, and he’s speaking from experience. He said, “The 21st century belongs to the open-minded. Why is Canada a great country? Why is Canada a country that I would say is one of the most admired countries in the world? It’s not just that you’re reasonably successful, if you look at your economic figures. It’s because the spirit of the country is openness to the world.”
Hate in a can
Canada must remain ever-vigilant against the smooth evasion of bitterness. Since the election, civil-rights organizations have identified a dramatic uptick in hate crimes across the United States, notably targeting Mexican immigrants and Muslims. Though there is no bona fide way to measure these claims, it’s worrisome nonetheless. Troubling still, is that fury finding its footing in Canada. Now, we can discuss the latent racism and intolerance already dormant in our own communities, but what cannot be denied, perhaps, is that these people feel emboldened to act more openly in the wake of Trump-o-mania.
Shaken and readied, the cylinder harbouring this pressurized liquid hate was given aim, and in one fluid steady stream, you’ve projected your own fear, hate, and intolerance onto someone else. Some of the most shocking displays have been splattered on numerous Jewish centres and Islamic houses of worship and an elementary school in Ottawa – the incidents just days apart. The graffiti depicted “KKK” markings, swastikas, and other ethnic slurs.
Furthermore, a man was documented lobbing racial epithets and insults on a Toronto streetcar, and reportedly shouted “Go, Trump!” But, what’s a hate movement without its ready-to-go pamphlets? Anti-Asian flyers were distributed in Vancouver suburbs and in Toronto, posters were put up urging white people to join the “alt-right.” Just one day after Trump appointed alt-right saviour – Breitbart’s king, Steve Bannon, as his chief strategist, these posters surfaced near an elementary school and admonished immigration, multiculturalism, political correctness, and even flashed a link to an alt-right website just for Canadians.
What simply cannot be proven is whether these events are directly linked to Trump sympathizers; though many in these targeted communities have expressed that his campaign had created an atmosphere propitious to such acrimony. What can be said, however, is how recent events like Brexit, Trump, and others have lent the alt-right not just credibility, but a certain degree of tenability.
It can happen to us
Bad ideas don’t need a passport to travel, and our political GPS really can’t handle another right turn. As Canada’s Conservative Party dukes it out to choose its new leader, Canadians must be careful to not fall prey to the same Trump-style fear mongering. Ontario MP Kellie Leitch drank the kool-aid and latched onto Trump’s victory, even saying it was an “exciting message that needs to be delivered in Canada as well.”
She’s been dishing out blows to the Canadian elite and it’s cost her the backing of her Conservative colleagues and the CPC establishment itself. Most of the attention she’s grabbed has been negative, but she’s sticking to her idea that new arrivals to our country must be screened for “anti-Canadian values,” a term she has yet to clearly define and bears striking resemblance to Trump’s proposed “extreme vetting” of potential newcomers.
She’s been accused of being a racist, but publicly denies the accusations; unconcerned with Bay Street, she’s got her ear finely tuned to main street. Yet, she’s also publicly said she is unconcerned if racists support her campaign – citing she is no judge of other individuals. Which is curious as she sees herself quite fit to say what is “Canadian” and what is not, but is not willing to denounce racism. The current CPC leadership race has reopened non-starters as actual platforms, like abortion or gay marriage, fostering a competition as to who can out-conservative the other.
Despite Canada’s reputation for prosperity, diversity, and this openness to the world, we must not get smug about our position. So much, as we’ve seen, can change in a single day. But, as so many nations begin to grapple with the fires that started, Canada has an unique and wonderful opportunity to assert itself. To come out as one of the last true Liberal bastions in the West, as The Economist described, and be a bigger player. Resist hate and fear through policy.
But, to achieve that, we must now look inward at ourselves and demand better for our own people. We mustn’t get comfortable merely considering ourselves more liberal or safe than our counterparts – that isn’t enough. We, as citizens, must learn to become our own champions and no longer be afraid or complacent in our affairs or regarding the welfare of our neighbours. For as much as we love our country, there is work to be done, and that call to action is urgent.
We have our share of racism (overt and systemic), sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, islamophobia, and more. We have communities who, in 2016, do not have access to safe drinking water, people living in tents and slums, people starving on the streets, kids going to school without lunches, the sick and disabled waiting months for medical assistance or unable to find full time work though they seek it, and previously middle class families finding themselves reduced to the working poor.
We also have entire populations of First Nations, Indigenous, Inuit, and Métis citizens who are living in deplorable conditions and continue to face seemingly impossible odds to merely get by. Though our current federal government has been taking steps to even the playing field, progress is slow and people continue to suffer. When do we decide that this is just not acceptable?
Don’t be a bystander
I’m writing this with a fire in my gut, wrapped in a blanket of battered and bruised millennial idealism. It’s important to appreciate the level of effort, dedication, and compassion it takes to not only get involved in a community or a cause, but to stay motivated and continue to be the change you want to see.
Where 2016 has shaken our faith by bringing us Brexit and President Trump, it can also teach us an invaluable lesson: we cannot sit back and rely on others to build our communities, to maintain our societies, and we must do our fair share to bear the burden of creating a better world. You need to understand how just how fragile our society is.
I grew up revering FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s Great Society, the words in JFK’s first and only Inaugural Address, I felt the “Bern,” and I fell for Justin Trudeau’s invocation of Wilfrid Laurier’s “sunny ways.” I still like to go to bed at night thinking that good will conquer evil, that love will trump hate, that civility will outclass indecency, and if you work hard and keep your nose clean, you’re going to be okay. My devotion to these ideals forces me to believe in the power and innovation of the so-called New World and that this is not a failed experiment, by any stretch of the imagination.
We will see what happens in the next four years. But in the meantime, we cannot allow this dangerous rhetoric to penetrate Canadian politics and populace any more than it’s already present; what people like Kellie Leitch et al. need to learn and accept is that this type of rhetoric is itself un-Canadian. This hate-filled “spy on thy neighbour” will not replace empathy for our neighbour. In politics, there should always be room for debate, dissent, alternatives, but not irresponsibility and bigotry. As J.R.R. Tolkien put it, “There is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”
Danielle M. Cameron is East Coast-born and returned after having lived in Ottawa. Besides crash-coursing in journalism at the City University of New York (CUNY) in N.Y.C., Danielle holds a B.A. Hon. Human Rights from Carleton University, B.J. Journalism from University of King’s College, and is currently working towards an M.A. in Political Science at Acadia University. Former intern at The Coast — Halifax’s Weekly.
Canadian and American politics are more precious to her than air – will watch anything on PBS American Experience and has probably read every presidential biography, twice. “New Deals with It” on a daily basis, and also recently discovered coffee is not a food group.