11 C
Sunday, October 13, 2019
Connecting Our Communities

When it comes to culture wars, we ain’t seen nothing yet in these parts


Meet the candidates

By Veronica Reiner & Aneta RebiszewskiFive candidates are vying for your vote in...

Kitchener-Conestoga too close to call

With less than five percentage points separating the Conservatives and Liberals in the riding, Kitchener-Conestoga has become too close...

Organizers aim to put environment at the forefront of election

The federal election underway, environmental groups are looking to make issues such as climate change a central part...

Harold Albrecht back to MP’s duties after suffering a minor stroke

Kitchener-Conestoga MP Harold Albrecht is back to work after recovering from a stroke earlier in the month.Albrecht, 69, was...
Steve Kannon
Steve Kannonhttps://www.observerxtra.com
A community newspaper journalist for more than two decades, Steve Kannon is the editor of the Observer.

Legalized marijuana (this very week); gay marriage; endless apologies for past sins and grievances, no matter how slight. Canada is no slouch on the progressive front – or at least what passes for trendy progressiveness that ignores the underlying anti-democratic oligarchic trend.

That’s true despite the likes of Doug Ford and Jason Kenney intent on reversing progress – and the clock – on a number of fronts, particularly as it applies to social issues.

We’ve not seen anything like the culture wars south of the border, where partisanship and irrational tribalism have all but destroyed the notion of a civil society, but we could end up following suit. Canada usually trails the curve when it comes to such things. That’s certainly true of the lessening tolerance for change and the (in some cases justified) scapegoating of “elites” and immigrants, among other targets of growing anger.

As with dog-whistle politics and resentment elsewhere, we’ve reduced some large, systemic problems to often ill-informed screeds about the likes of abortion, gender rights, immigration, sexuality, race and even governance itself. The very mention of words such as “refugees,” “climate change” or “CBC” are now codes for a subtext that takes valid discussions into the worse forms of us-versus-them identity politics.

Much of the degeneration of civility is intentional, a divide-and-conquer distraction from the real crimes against our collective humanity.

We’ve fallen into the trap here, though Canada hasn’t gone as public with its extremism. In the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, the political victories of more extreme elements have prompted those even more removed from mainstream thought and civility to become more outspoken about their views.

The rise of such politicians comes from an underlying resentment and anger, some of it related to race, immigration and rapid, visible change. You can say these people are wrong – people are people, why can’t we all just get along? – but that doesn’t make the issue go away.  Instead, we’ve seen the rise of the likes of Donald Trump, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey and Nigel Farage in the UK.

Closer to home, Stephen Harper employed the dog whistle in the 2015 election, a model adopted by Jason Kenney, now attempting to take power in Alberta, and the people that brought Doug Ford to the head of the Ontario PC party and the premier’s seat.

In Ontario, an uptick in the culture wars came early and often under Ford, who was overt about it on the short-lived show he and his late brother Rob did on the late and unlamented Sun News channel.

Writing shortly after the Ontario election for the Washington Post, Canadian political commentator David Moscrop noted a change in tenor.

“Wittingly or otherwise, Ford has declared a culture war in Ontario. During the campaign, he launched predictable volleys. He opposed supervised injection sites for heroin addicts. He railed against elites. He praised police services and vowed to restore law and order,” Moscrop wrote.

“Marinated in plain-spoken, folksy ‘common sense,’ and drawing on an American playbook, Ford has brought a dangerous populist politics of cultural resentment and revenge to Ontario. We can expect outrage and self-righteousness. Regression and oppression. A slip back to an imagined never-time of cultural rigidity and economic retrenchment. And this at the moment when inclusiveness, environmental responsibility and a commitment to decent deliberative politics are needed to advance a just and pluralist democracy.”

Decent and deliberative are a big ask for today’s brand of politics. Deliberation long ago gave way to sound bites an kneejerk reactions.  Anger and divisiveness are nothing new, chipping away at decency over many years.

The actions of our politicians follows a general decline in society, not just civility. In the course of a couple of generations, we’ve undone centuries of efforts to create a society based on the common good. Much of the we’re-all-in-this-together ideals that came out of the Great Depression and the Second World War, for instance, has been replaced by relentless individualism.

Rapid urbanization whereby we no longer rely on family, friends and the broader community – indeed, we may not even know our neighbours – makes us forget just how interdependent we really are. A consumer-based society, pushed by marketing, focuses on individual pleasure. This comes at a cost to the collective ‘us,’ especially when it discussing matters of financing the common good: taxes are seen as taking money away from ‘my’ enjoyment. Increasingly, we’re encouraged to give rein to our natural tendency to look after number one. Couple that with an individual’s capacity to seek immediate gratification, and long-term planning for our collective future becomes even more difficult.

There’s nothing wrong with looking out for personal interests, but we’re in danger of forgetting that most of the middle-class gains of the postwar years stem from socially-driven ideas. In purely economic terms, the collective efforts are the rising tide that lifted all boats – some more so than others, certainly. Today, however, there’s an element that seems hell-bent on undoing precisely the conditions that allowed for the great prosperity now under attack.

And it’s so-called populists – the ones who prove you can fool many of the people all of the time – who are aiding and abetting the decline.

In being duped, we’re on a downward trajectory.

Pointing to global shift to this current version of populism, University of Toronto political scientist Peter Loewen, also writing in the Post, notes the decline in pluralism.

“To be sure, the world is experiencing a populist wave. It represents a shift in both citizens’ preferences and the practice of politics. Across Europe and North America, support is higher for candidates who express both anti-system and anti-pluralist messages,” he wrote.

Anti-system messages share a common feature. Populists argue that political systems are unresponsive, corrupted and captured by a small elite. They are not entirely wrong in this.

Anti-pluralist messages show more variation. There is often racism and xenophobia. Take Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s anti-Semitism, or President Trump’s antipathy toward Hispanics and Muslims. These are nativist sentiments, pitting the national “us” against some ethnic or religious other. A milder but still detectable nativism is found in the appeals of Nigel Farage, the British politician and architect of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union.”

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to The Observer's online community. Pseudonyms are not permitted.By submitting a comment, you accept that The Observer has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner The Observer chooses. Please note that The Observer does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our submission guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.


Program encourages Girls to give it a Go

Whether you’re a girl in need of a new friend or just someone to hear you out, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Waterloo Region (BBBSWR) is offering a seven-week GoGirls mentoring program at the...

In Print. Online. In Pictures. In Depth.

You obviously love community journalism. Thanks for visiting today. If you have a great local story, let us know.

Music that’s designed to give you a lift

Audiences can expect an authentic atmosphere, soul-stirring ballads, and plenty of interaction with the cast in Drayton Entertainment’s latest offering.Now...

Scoring aplenty as Kings post a pair of wins

A pair of convincing wins saw the Elmira Sugar Kings pick up where they left off when a five-game winning streak was snapped...

Wellesley council declares a climate emergency

Wellesley has officially recognized that the municipality is facing a climate emergency, a situation that requires bold action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A mixed-bag for Jacks as streak ends

The Wellesley Applejacks suffered their first regulation loss of the season last Friday, bouncing back to post a tie and a win as...

Young Breslau martial artists continue to excel, collect hardware

It’s been another successful run for a pair of Breslau siblings, who crushed two martial arts tournaments in the past month.
- Advertisement -