Monday, March 20, 2023

A Very Bad Place

Michael Harris writes that populism is destroying our politics:

Opposition politics has always been the process of casting the appropriate lights and shadows over the other guy’s record—and the facts.

No surprise there.  

The job of opposition is to oppose, so the characterization of incumbent governments has almost never been what might be called “good-faith” criticism. There is little credit for the good things a government does, and a hyperbolic focus on its clunkers. That’s fair enough: politics isn’t Sunday school.

But things have changed:

Something fundamental, and dangerous, has happened to the normally partisan world of politics, with all its warts. Populism has arrived like an 18-wheeler crashing into a bridge abutment, scattering its ugly cargo of racism, xenophobia, and trumped up distrust of government and government institutions all over the road.

Now incumbent governments are not just incompetent boobs who are mucking things up and ought to be shown the door. They are now the “enemy,” who must not only be replaced, but wiped out. Now the frontal attack on incumbent government is not simply a matter of offering voters a skewed version of its record. Now it is about whipping people into a frenzy of hatred and distrust of the status quo—and of individual politicians. It is rage set to political slogans, it’s anger on steroids.  

Donald Trump invented what could be called the “everything-is-broken” narrative, which has been picked up in this country by Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre.  

Poilievre has characterized Justin Trudeau as the foppish son of privilege, who has led the country into massive decline across the board, from the economy and national unity, to the loss of personal freedoms.  

There is no mention of Trudeau’s considerable successes as one of the longest serving leaders in the 37-country Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development; no mention of the government’s landmark national deal on funding for health care that even Alberta endorsed; no mention of the government’s $10-a-day national childcare initiative; no reference to Canada’s stalwart support of Ukraine in its life and death struggle with Russian invaders; and not a word about the Investing in Canada Plan, which will pump billions of dollars into infrastructure over the next decade.  

In Canada, there is a stubborn problem with Poilievre’s patently false claim that everything is broken. It is called the facts. 

Here’s one of them. Every year, U.S. News and World Report assesses 78 nations and comes up with a Best Countries list. They clearly didn’t get the Poilievre memo. Canada was rated the No. 1 country in 2021, and the third best in 2022. The assessment is based on quality of life and social purpose, a good job market, concern for human rights, and non-corrupt governance.

Modern populism eschews facts and replaces them with anger:

Despite its obvious and massive intellectual dishonesty, populist politics persists. Sadly, it even prospers. That’s because many political operatives see it as an effective tool for winning power. At the recent Progress Summit at the Broadbent Institute, the former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid had some advice for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh. Capitalize on the righteous anger of working class people.

According to one academic who attended the conference, it was a call to “speak a common language about what resonates” with regular Canadians. That’s one way of putting it. But it sounds to me a lot like  telling them what they want to hear. Go after the same people they are angry at. Fan the flames of their grievances. Make it emotional, not rational.

That's what it's all about -- emotion over reason. That path has been trodden before and it leads to a very bad place.



Marie Snyder said...

George Monbiot explained the process three years ago (can only find it here on Twitter). The necessary path to disrupt the system has been found and replicated around the world. His solution: much better tech ed on how to discern fact from fiction.

Owen Gray said...

That seems to be the central problem, Marie. Lots of us can't tell the difference between fact and opinion.

zoombats said...

I like Harris writings but I can't help feeling that he is a little partisan in his accolades of the Prime Ministers time in office. Alluding to the "foppish son of privilege" comment, Skippy didn't have any bering on my opinion. As for inciting anger, well I was already angry long before that spurious little malcontent came along. Harris is right on in his general assessment to be sure but I think he gives him far too much credit for doing anything but "gas lighting " any who would waste their time in taking him seriously.

Trailblazer said...

, the former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid had some advice for NDP..
Big fail!
Why the NDP or Broadbent Institute would request for a US ( failing state) adviser opinion is mystery!
The USA has been in a perpetual state of anger ever since they dumped a load of tea into Boston harbour.
indeed the original white settlers were angry at their European origins and moved on.
Why oh why cannot todays angry mob move on to new pastures; the Antarctic is little settled?

@ Marie; better tech education in this age of CHAT GPT is not going to cut it although less efficient predecessors have been creating anything from geniuses to PhD's for many years!


Owen Gray said...

I continued to be bothered by the number of people who don't recognize who and what Polievre is, zoombats.

Owen Gray said...

Taking our cues from the United States is not a good idea, TB.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, our PM has turned himself into an easy target. The lack of PR in the 'China influence' scandal is destroying his reputation, even though an inquiry would likely find that Conservatives have benefited more from Chinese influence (and influence of many other companies and lobbyists from the US and elsewhere).

Also, I don't know about you, but I feel like the CBC is creating a very fertile commenting zone for 'old men that want to yell at clouds'. Any time I check out a story with commenting enabled, there are THOUSANDS of comments that feel like a copy-paste from a social media farm somewhere in east Asia with a script designed to 'blame Trudeau' for everything, including the sun going down each day. Are the Cons using these tools to spread lies and support the alt-right anger that simply may not be as ubiquitous as they say it is?

- LW

John B. said...

Poilievre has gained a lot of support among potential voters who think that watching YouTube videos is “research”.

Owen Gray said...

Good question, LW. There are lots of bots on the loose these days.

Owen Gray said...

It strikes me that a lot of Polievre's support comes from low-information folks, John.