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Divisiveness is the game, no matter what politicians may say

Last week’s minority win by the PEI Progressive Conservatives was the fifth straight by a right-leaning party in one of the provinces. And that’s just in the last year alone.

Some will attempt to connect this to a shift in public sentiment, while others will see it as simply another case of vote-the-bums out. The Green Party’s ascension to official opposition status in the country’s smallest province aside, governance has typically seesawed between  a couple of parties, one nominally right (some more so than others) and one nominally centrist or perhaps left-leaning.

Nominally is the operative word, as none of those elected has really lived up to its own billing, be it conservative or progressive. What we get here is typically a less-vitriolic version of the two-party farce south of the border: lies, paternalism and a whole lot of abiding by the corporate agenda.

No matter what the ideological position, parties attempt to gain power by saying what they think will win them enough votes. Sometimes the effort doesn’t matter much, as voters are eager for a change – look to Ontario’s election last summer for a clear indication of that. But mostly what we get are platitudes, misdirection and a whole lot of saying-one-thing-and-then-doing-the-opposite, the latter patently obvious with one Donald J. Trump.

Conservatives, in particular, have been guilty of speaking untruths to hide their true intentions, a pattern that long predates Trump’s administration, though it does take the cake for outright lying. Those who vote for right-leaning parties usually do so against their own self-interest, so it requires a great deal of lies, appeals to base instincts (racism, sexism, etc.) and fear-mongering, with the three usually tied together into a package, augmented by fraud, voter suppression, gerrymandering and a host of other anti-democratic tricks.

Fear-mongering is especially effective. It’s responsible for Republicans being elected in the U.S., for the Brexit fiasco and rise of fascist-inspired populism elsewhere in Europe. Anti-immigrant attitudes are the basis of the fear fomented by politicians. Such concerns are widespread enough to result in electoral victories, as right-wing parties are typically the beneficiaries. That’s true even in Canada, where Terry Glavin, writing last week in Maclean’s magazine, notes the problem is less about a rising surge in bigotry, but in the consolidation of such votes.

“For the first time since EKOS began its tracking in the 1990s, dyspepsia about the pace of immigration has coalesced with resentments about the rate of non-white newcomers to Canada. And that bloc of public opinion is consolidating for the first time behind a single political party – Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives,” he writes.

“This is happening whether Scheer’s Conservatives want it or not. Whether or not voters with unfavourable and in some cases decidedly unseemly views about Canada’s current immigration policies are being actively drawn to the Conservatives, or are simply being repelled by the annoying, not-racist-like-you histrionics of the Liberals, something unprecedented is happening.”

While Canada hasn’t succumbed as deeply to dog-whistle politics, such issues are another strike against right-leaning parties … or should be, if voters weren’t as gullible to manipulation as they are.

Decades of history in this province and across the country – and more disastrously to the south – have shown us that ersatz conservative governments routinely abandon good fiscal management, streamlined government and the long-term public good in favour of electioneering, misguided ideology and payoffs to corporate backers. Just like pretty much every other mainstream political party, though often with more self-righteous hypocrisy.

But fear, anxiety and uncertainty can be used against voters. We’ve seen that repeatedly in the States, but U.S. voters aren’t the only weak link. Those Britons who voted to leave the EU were overwhelmingly those who felt marginalized economically and culturally, the result of a weakening economy, lack of jobs, poorer prospects and lack of affordable housing, much of the blame for which was heaped on the EU and, rightly or wrongly, on visible minorities – plenty of people aren’t happy with the changing face of Britain.

On a larger scale, the “Leave” vote was an indictment of globalization and neoliberalism. People no longer trust politicians, bureaucrats and those labelled elites to serve the public good – rather, those in charge serve themselves and their paymasters.

A certain number of voters are realizing they’ve been conned – by politicians of all stripes, actually,  but the con has been more insidious on the right. A few have cottoned on to saying-one-thing-and-then-doing-the-opposite technique, realizing the populism was bs-ism. All talk and no action – certainly not any action that was beneficial to the deluded masses.

“Conservative populism has utterly failed to translate the political impulses behind them into a plausible governing agenda. It is a visceral reaction against multiculturalism and modernity that has not only failed to produce concrete solutions for its supporters, but doesn’t even know what to ask for,” writes Jonathan Chait in New York magazine.

“The political phenomenon of conservative populism has created a demand for philosophical treatises to justify it. The conservative intelligentsia has been engaged in a comic process of backfilling in high-minded arguments to support the rise of Trump. The pro-Trump media is dominated by lowbrow right-wing infotainment, like Fox News and Breitbart — media that are simple and accessible enough for Trump himself to enjoy.

“[It] fails to acknowledge Trump won these voters in large part by distancing himself from the right, promising universal health care, lower prescription-drug prices, cracking down on Wall Street, ending the carried-interest loophole, and other ideologically unorthodox moves. But he has abandoned all these ideas in favor of a rehash of George W. Bush’s domestic agenda. This has helped persuade Republican legislators to overlook his misconduct, but taken a toll on Trump’s popularity.”

As long as you can fool enough of the people all of the time, politicians will get elected despite the lies and the harm they do.

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