Justin Trudeau rose to power on The Politics of Hope. An old political trope is that Hope defeats Fear. But sometimes, Robin Sears writes, the politics of hope backfires:
Such moments delivered us Mike Harris, Stephen Harper, Doug Ford and Donald Trump. Why? The thread which seems to run through the triumph of angry, divisive and fear-promoting politics is an often sudden loss of belief in the hope promoters — especially if they are long-term liberal incumbent parties, and seen as not having delivered.
Kathleen Wynne, Paul Martin and even Barack Obama were all recent victims of this judgment by their former supporters. Justin Trudeau seems to be on the precipice of becoming the latest hope merchant to overpromise and under deliver. Anger and fear — and the attack politics successfully pioneered by Stephen Harper — work best when there is widespread disillusionment. Governments do defeat themselves, and the impulse to “throw the bums out” can be effectively torqued by savage wedge politics.
As in all things political, the key is timing. That, and reading your target electorate’s mood, expectations and appetite for red meat over what one American friend dubs “gospel politics” — an appeal to unite and fight together to a higher ground.
Sears assumed that hope would once again work for Justin:
Until just days ago, my assumption — and that of most observers — was that the Tories would once again dip into their angry wedge playbook, their comfort zone for more than two decades, and that Trudeau would once more roll out his claim of “sunny ways.”
But, this time around, it's Justin who's angry:
Well, it only took two weeks of campaigning to show how wrong we all were. It is the prime minister who is angry, overhyped and almost wilfully off-putting to some of his most devoted supporters. Astonishingly, it is Erin O’Toole who appears to have mastered the politics of hope and change, stunning his opponents with one more sunny optimistic policy proposal almost daily. He has seized the beau risque strategy, reaching to the centre and ignoring the grumbling of his aggrieved base in Western Canada.
Another trusted axiom is proving its power: Do I believe you? Do I think you are sincere? Do I trust you to fight for me and my family? In other words: who leads in the “authenticity” contest? Jagmeet Singh appears to be winning this matchup hands down. His life story and his powerful advocacy on Indigenous issues, health care and housing appear to ring true to more Canadians, especially the bloc crucial to Trudeau in his first two campaigns: younger voters.
Then there is the contest of affinity, appeal, charisma and modesty. In other words, who wins “likability.” Justin Trudeau appears to be losing it; improbably Erin O’Toole appears to be gaining it, but again Singh is the clear early winner. His cheerful, breezy campaign style, often with his newly pregnant wife at his side, has been infectious.
But it is beginning to feel like Canadians, determined to put their COVID nightmare behind them, are deciding who they will trust to build back better for their families. Humiliated and ashamed by our betrayal in Afghanistan, many are demanding an accounting. Perhaps most important of all, many young Canadians are laser-focused on climate performance, and feel deeply let down by the Trudeau government’s record. They are hungry for an authentic new leader on this file.
There's still a long way to go. But it's happened before. The conventional wisdom could be wrong.
Image: The Guardian