As the leader of what we once called the Free World, now the Land of Indefinite Airport Detention, issued his executive order banning travellers, immigrants and refugees from seven predominantly Muslim countries, the rest of the globe reacted with a mixture of shock and dismay.
Protests sprang up in America and abroad. A petition asking that Trump be banned from visiting the U.K. picked up over 1.5 million signatures (still counting). Tech companies set up multi-million dollar funds to fight the travel ban. And lawyers flocked to airports with hand-lettered signs offering to work for free (now there’s something you don’t see every day).
Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., Trump’s spokesperson, Sean Spicer, cited the deadly attack on a mosque in Quebec City as proof that the president needs to be proactive to keep America safe. The president’s adviser, Kellyanne Conway, had more pressing matters on her mind — like bemoaning the fact that none of the journalists who “talked smack all day long about Donald Trump has been let go.” And Trump himself continues to insist his Muslim ban is not a Muslim ban, despite having campaigned on a Muslim ban and asking supporter-in-chief Rudy Giuliani to come up with one.
The world has turned upside down, backwards and inside-out. It’s as if we have fallen down a rabbit hole and emerged in some bizarre dystopia where facts have “alternatives,” only the president can be trusted to tell the truth, and Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four seems more like prophecy than fiction.
And until the violence in Quebec City, it seemed like Canada was one of the few sanctuaries of sanity left. Now the ugliest incarnation of prejudice — an armed attack against defenceless people — has shattered that image as well.
Some have been quick to blame the attack on Trump’s rhetoric south of the border, bleeding into Canada.
“I believe it cannot be isolated at all,” said MP and Conservative Party of Canada leadership candidate Deepak Obhrai. “I do believe … that the anti-Muslim feeling has arrived in Canada. When you start politics, play divisive community-based politics, the consequences are what we saw in Quebec City.”
Until we know more details about the accused shooter and his motivation, we cannot make that link with certainty. We know more today than we did yesterday — that, according to those who knew him, shooting suspect Alexandre Bissonnette liked Trump a lot. He was also known to a local immigration group for taking positions in favour of French anti-immigration politician Marine Le Pen and against feminists on social media.
The charged nature of our political climate, particularly in the past few days, will naturally lead people to speculate to those ends. A cursory glance at social media show that Trump’s policies do find some support in Canada — support that is being actively courted by some of Obhrai’s fellow candidates.
That act took a vulgar turn this weekend when Kellie Leitch’s campaign chair, Nick Kouvalis, called Emmett McFarlane a “cuck” on Twitter in response to McFarlane’s charge that he is “mimicking Trumpisms” in an “atrocious campaign.” “Cuck,” of course, is short for “cuckservative,” the new favourite insult of the American alt-right to describe conservatives who ingratiate themselves with liberals, thus becoming “traitors” to their cause.
(Maybe you thought political correctness was only for the left. In the Canadian alt-right-wing version, anyone who doesn’t hate Muslims, doesn’t love Trump and doesn’t send alms to The Rebel is now The Enemy.)
Whether Leitch finally has the guts to let Kouvalis go and resume her former Red Tory identity is yet to be determined. But she is not the only contestant in the race to be Canada’s Trump, as Kevin O’Leary also bears a resemblance in style, if not substance, to Trump’s populist anti-politician persona.
With regard to Trump’s ban on Muslim travellers, both Leitch and O’Leary have been oddly quiet, with Leitch tweeting that “the USA is a democracy. They had an election & made their choices. I wouldn’t want them interfering, and I won’t do the same to them.” O’Leary failed to comment at all, directly or indirectly.
This stood in stark contrast to other prominent Conservatives, such as Michael Chong, Jason Kenney and leader Rona Ambrose, who tweeted: “Immigrants and refugees from all over the world have greatly added to Canada’s success and prosperity … it is a proud part of our history and built this great country … Countries like Canada and the US need to shelter ISIS persecuted groups from genocide. Yazidis, Assyrians, Christians and Muslims alike.”
Will the fallout from Friday’s EO represent a watershed point in the CPC race, one that turns candidates off a pro-Trump path? Or will it simply be another step toward a polarization of the party along right, populist and possibly alt-right extremes?
Four more months to go …
Tasha Kheiriddin can be heard between noon and 2 p.m. on Toronto Talk Radio AM640. She’s also a columnist with Global News and iPolitics.ca, where this piece first appeared.