Manitoba·Opinion

Trump trouble not limited to the United States

It’s true that the American political class has to ask itself why a huge number of its constituents want to support a man who treats bigotry not as a means to an end but as an end in itself, but Canada may have to ask the same question one day if the political centre doesn’t quickly improve the country’s circumstances.

The distance between Trump and Canada's new liberal government is a superficial one

Trump's right wing base is so dangerous, not just for the U.S., but also for Canada and the rest of the Western world, which has experienced a surge in ethno-cultural xenophobia following the tragedy of 9/11.

In his recent endorsement of a Donald Trump presidency, former newspaper publisher and convicted felon Conrad Black wrote on the National Review's website that, "For the first time in its history, the United States has had four, and arguably five, consecutive terms of unsuccessful federal government, from administrations and Congresses of both parties."

This is why a Trump administration in the White House makes sense to him — because Trump's the only guy capable of effecting radical changes to America through his "iconoclastic techniques."

This is about as articulate a summation one can expect from the pro-Trump base, which has propelled the billionaire demagogue into a leading position in the polls among Republican candidates.

His supporters, like many ordinary Americans, represent a disenfranchised segment of the population.

And like many on the left, these underserved Americans reject the mainstream status quo when it comes to certain political and economic norms.

But, instead of arguing for more inclusion and equality in the electoral and economic processes, Trump's supporters prefer channeling their frustrations through a voice that blames immigrants, Muslims, and gays for the country's systemic problems. 

Anti-Muslim sentiment exists in Canada, too

This is why Trump's right wing base is so dangerous, not just for the U.S., but also for Canada and the rest of the Western world, which has experienced a surge in ethno-cultural xenophobia following the tragedy of 9/11.

Instead of reflecting on the country's own systemic failures to go beyond a neo-liberal framework of political and economic governance, many on the right have chosen to externalize their frustrations on the "other."

Donald Trump knows this, and thus his unprecedented call to deny entry to all Muslims into the U.S., a position espoused only by the likes of Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian and perhaps the most Islamophobic European politician in recent memory.

Meanwhile, with the election of Justin Trudeau's newly minted Liberal Party and the subsequent promise to accept and integrate 25,000 Syrian refugees, Canada seems a world away from the Trump-obsessed American political circus.

But, this distance is a superficial one. 

Data from major polling centres like Angus Reid have shown that anti-Muslim sentiment is significant in Canada and especially in the province of Quebec.

The latest numbers show that 58 per cent of Canadians surveyed believe that "Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence," while 44 per cent say that they have a negative view of Islam overall.

These are significant percentages that represent sentiments and attitudes, which can be exploited and capitalized upon for political and electoral gain. The United States is more pronounced in this way (Islamophobia and its myriad variations have become staples in just about every Republican candidate's playbook), but the rhetoric and debate around the niqab issue (especially in Quebec) during the 2015 election cycle has shown that Canada isn't immune from this kind of demagoguery.

Trudeau could steer Canada away from U.S.-style politics

It's true that the American political class has to ask itself why a huge number of its constituents want to support a man who treats bigotry not as a means to an end but as an end in itself, but Canada may have to ask the same question one day if the political centre doesn't quickly improve the country's circumstances.

This is because the rise of Donald Trump was paved by the failure of American liberal centrism. 

Political leaders who portrayed and marketed themselves as the paragons of progressive inclusion and liberal governance failed to deliver the United States out of economic stagnation and pushed for an electoral structure that allowed more corporate money to be pumped into the country's politics. 

The total embrace by Democrats and Republicans alike of dogmatic neo-liberalism led to the complete deregulation of Wall Street (like when Bill Clinton repealed the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act) and thus to disasters such as the global financial meltdown of 2008.

In the face of such failures and the subsequent presidency of Barack Obama, which hasn't led to significant changes or solutions, the majority-white segment of America's disenfranchised class has sought to project its losses and insecurities onto a mainstream liberalism that they see as the culprit of their despair.

They perceive this coastal liberalism as having rejected them as the "backward part of America," and are seeking to issue their own kind of rejection.

In a country awash in guns, the prospects are unsettling. 

That the Liberal Party has a majority in the House of Commons indicates a great opportunity to steer Canada away from the political dysfunction that characterizes the United States at the moment.

If Trudeau and the Liberals seek to match their policies with the progressivism that they've marketed themselves with, then they'll have to put their money where their mouth is. 

This means seriously re-evaluating Bill C-51, moving away from fossil fuels, and creating a jobs program aimed primarily at those under the age of 30.

A systemic failure to do these things will alienate a large segment of Canada and, as the US example shows, bring the worst out of its citizens.

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