COMMENTARY: Donald Trump didn’t light Canada’s political dumpster fire
Once upon a time, in an era before Trump was elected president of the United States, Canadians were innocently unaware of the notion of deceitful political tricks, there were no dog whistle politics, and everyone got along wonderfully. Then Donald Trump came along, and all of a sudden our political sphere took a sharp turn into the dumpster, where it quickly caught fire.
At least that’s what some seem to be claiming in Canada — that our political discourse was completely benign until the malignancy of Trump metastasized its way past the border, infecting our politics.
In fact, Americans have made a similar argument with respect to their own political discourse: Trump came along and simply changed the game for the worse. And while I’m certainly not blind to the fact that Trump has single-handedly eroded certain political norms, and has a penchant for saying and doing things no other president would have ever done, the reality is that Trump is the natural progression of where American politics had been heading.
We witnessed the demise of the GOP’s principles as year after year of Republican campaigns placated an aging, predominantly white voting base with thinly-veiled racism and xenophobia. After years of alienating key voting blocs, such as single women, Hispanics and African Americans, the Republican Party has now been freed from having to resort to dog whistle politicking under Trump.
And while it can be tempting to blame our own current political climate on a man who launched his way into the Oval Office with no respect for the truth or facts, the reality is that our own politics have been headed toward that burning dumpster for a while.
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Trump didn’t come to Canada before he was elected president and bully the federal Conservatives into coming up with the barbaric cultural practices tip line, or into making the niqab an election issue. Nor did Trump force the contenders in the Conservative leadership race to shore up support among Islamophobes by attacking a non-binding parliamentary motion condemning Islamophobia, weeks after six men had been gunned down in a Quebec City mosque for the mere fact that they were Muslim.
And as far as I know, Trump had no hand in forcing many Conservatives to appear on The Rebel multiple times or the party to appoint The Rebel’s founding director to manage the next Conservative campaign. No, this has all been the genius of Canadian conservatives themselves.
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We don’t need to compare our politicians to Trump or other outrageous American politicians in order to recognize that our own political discourse is becoming poisoned, and social media is making it exponentially worse. I don’t for a second deny that Canadian political history is rife with examples of low blows, hysterical hyperbole, and misleading campaigns, but our future is faced with polarizing algorithms, decreasing face-to-face communications, and a frightening predilection for anti-intellectualism.
Earlier this week, Chantal Hébert noted in the Toronto Star that we have reached a point in our politics wherein misinformation is spread regularly, and more frighteningly, with seemingly willful intent: “Over (Andrew) Scheer’s first year as leader, the Conservatives have become more and more comfortable with misrepresenting major government policies. They are not just taking short cuts with reality. They are leading their target audience astray.”
It’s certainly true that politicians of all stripes can massage facts in a way that is ultimately advantageous to their own political goals or partisan agenda. But we should all be concerned when run of the mill partisan spin delves into the willful promotion of objectively false information.
So when the leader for the official opposition tweets something that can be disproven with a working knowledge of Grade 6 math, it should be disconcerting for anyone that values truthful discourse.
Don’t get me wrong, I am more than sympathetic to a simple math mistake, and I think we can all admit that we’ve made at least one glaringly embarrassing math error at some point in our lives. Usually, though, when it’s simply an error, once it is pointed out, the error is corrected.
Yet despite having multiple people point out many times that the numbers simply do not back up what Scheer is saying, the tweet is still up, and no correction has been issued. What are we to make of the leader of the official opposition having absolutely no qualms with tweeting out objectively false information?
Canada certainly didn’t need Trump to erode our norms of political discourse; we managed to do that all on our own. But in looking to the U.S. we start to get a picture of just how much worse it can get, and our own issues can almost seem quaint by comparison.
We might not have needed Trump to get to where we are today, but we might just need him to make us realize how we ought not to be.
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