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.