Advice for anxious liberals — tone down the snark: Neil Macdonald

While every condescending shame-tweet might help you feel superior, it really just empowers Trump's pretenders


My guess is that older white conservatives are feeling pretty empowered as Jan. 20 approaches. (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)



Having for years assumed their road to social justice is inevitable, and that conservatives are just on the losing side of history, progressives are now peering anxiously through a pall, awaiting war wagons of gibbering horribles — perhaps led by a Dennis Hopper character decorated in human bones — screaming for revenge and the slaughter of the weak.

At protests and over drinks and at dinner tables, liberals are arguing over the proper response. Some have for weeks been yelling through bullhorns that "Trump is not my president," which is just loopy. If you're an American, Donald Trump will be your president as of Jan. 20, and he and his elite billionaire friends will almost certainly, in the name of the common man, set about reducing the liberal china shop to a knee-high pile of crushed eggshell porcelain.

'We double down'

Others argue liberals must never flag, never give an inch. "We double down," a friend defiantly declares.

Well. Certainly the rise of Trump nation, a bizarre place where anti-Semitic white supremacists comfortably cohabit with evangelical Christian conservatives and Jewish pro-Israel absolutists, is no reason for liberals to waver on values like protection of the most vulnerable among us, or helping those fleeing genocidal wars, or equality regardless of gender, sexuality or race, or curbs on the rapaciousness of unshackled capitalism.

But with all due respect to my earnest friends on the left, a bit of advice: stop being so damned irritating about it.

U of S protest

Consult a few university speech codes for elaboration on prohibiting free expression. (Rachel Bergen/CBC)

Particularly on campuses, the left has developed a prissy, hectoring self-righteousness, which is what happens when a bunch of people who think the same way get into the same room and congratulate one another endlessly on being right. ("Herds of independent thinkers," as columnist and author Nat Hentoff so beautifully puts it).

Not only do they block out any opposing viewpoint, they begin to shout it down and censor it (because, you know, it's wrong), and ultimately try to regulate it, writing rules and laws prohibiting its expression. Consult a few university speech codes — particularly those drafted by student unions — for elaboration.

To many social activists, free speech (except when it protects their speech) is just another tool of patriarchal suppression. All debate is just false equivalence.

And because any other viewpoint is patently valueless, perhaps even dangerous, they almost immediately go ad hominem, rather than engaging on the issue.

Rally Against Sexual Violence

Anyone who suggests that someone accused of sexual assault deserves due process is immediately accused of being pro-rape. (Associated Press)

Anyone who suggests that someone accused of sexual assault deserves due process — because due process is the only thing standing between a falsely accused person and punishment — is immediately accused of being pro-rape, or promoting rape culture, or helping rapists punish their victims.

Author Margaret Atwood, of all people, has been branded a "rape-culture enabler" for criticizing the University of British Columbia's secretive handling of a professor accused of sexual assault and then cleared by the university. Possessing the most elite of urban liberal credentials, Atwood simply dismissed it as yelling and bullying. This is, after all, the author of The Handmaid's Tale.

Denouncing as racist

But as the media repeated and amplified the story, which the media loves to do (nothing like lefty infighting to sell papers) you can bet a lot of non-urban Canadian conservatives were reading, just as they read the vicious attacks by progressives on Marie Henein, Jian Ghomeshi's brilliant lawyer, for doing her job so well.

You can bet they're listening closely every year at Halloween, when progressives reliably denounce as racist anyone allowing their children to dress up as a member of any other culture. Like, say, sending a little girl out dressed as Mulan.

Or when they're denounced as Islamophobes for even discussing the question of why so many people who commit mass murder of innocents do it in the name of Allah. Or as transphobes for using the pronouns "he" or "she" without explicit permission. Or as homophobes for obeying their priest or imam. Or as some sort of uninclusive-o-phobe for uttering the phrase "Merry Christmas."

There are millions of people out there who aren't terribly interested in a lecture about the difference between "cisnormative" and "heteronormative," and how both words supposedly describe something shameful.

Until now, all those people have just rolled their eyes and stuck ever more closely to their own communities, reckoning Canada is actually a pretty decent place, rather than a tyrannical hegemony of various phobes.


Right now, there's not much of a Trump nation to join in Canada. But there could be. (Alex Wroblewski/Reuters)

But last November, they discovered a pretty effective reply: join Trump nation. My guess is that older white conservatives are feeling pretty empowered as Jan. 20 approaches, and not because they're fond of the vulgar boor who'll be sworn in as president that day.

Right now, there's not much of a Trump nation to join in Canada. But there could be. Certainly a couple of rather opportunistic Conservative leadership contenders are trying to create and lead one.

Just watch: their every speech will contain an invitation to those who are "sick of political correctness." We're already hearing recycled Trump-tropes about insiders and elites and left-wing media.

So, liberals, tone down the snark. Because while every starchy little condescending shame-tweet might help you feel superior, it really just empowers Trump's Canadian pretenders.

'Postnational' Canada

It isn't needed anyway. Canada, as the Guardian pointed out recently, is becoming the world's first "postnational" country. This country is so ethnically diverse now that there is no longer such a thing as a typical Canadian. It's happened slowly, and it's a good thing. Canadians soundly rejected Stephen Harper's xenophobic snitch-line and niqab-ban ideas.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talks a lot of pablum, but he does preach live and let live, wear whatever hat you like, worship your god or no god at all, just as his father did. He is in fact more laissez-faire than several leading Conservatives, for whom laissez-faire is supposed to be a core value.

"Self-righteousness is a path to disaster," one of his most senior officials told me the other day. Small and large-L liberals would do well to keep that in mind.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

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