Some people who regularly read this blog might have noticed that it’s been relatively quiet over the past month. Honestly, I’ve been busy with work but also, I’ve taken some more time for myself. It’s been a stressful year for so many of us, myself included, and that’s why I haven’t had as much to say. I fully expect to be writing more in the near future, but yesterday I read something that was not only great, but prompted me to get back to the keyboard to knock this piece out. Here is the good work of Ken Boessenkool that came out yesterday from “The Line”:
If the past month has shown us anything, between what’s happened after the election in the United States and here at home as the fight against COVID continues, it’s that we do have a problem as a society with populists. In that, I agree with Ken. I don’t agree that it’s an equally problematic situation between the “Right” and the “Left”, mostly because I don’t see anyone on the left in the United States calling the election that just happened rigged. I don’t see the left there calling for martial law, or for the undemocratic overturning of the will of the people, just because they don’t like the result. And I don’t see people on the left leveling death threats against faithful civil servants whose only “crime” is doing their job evenhandedly and following the law. That is all coming from the right, so I can’t call those two sides equivalent because that equivalence gets lost when only one side is taking things as far as we are seeing them Stateside.
But that doesn’t mean that both sides don’t have an issue because they do. Just because the right might have a more acute, violent strain of this problem doesn’t mean that we can ignore the problem that both sides face. We’re seeing this happening across the spectrum when it comes to the response to COVID-19, anti-maskers and people who are opposed to public health measures for reasons that are becoming less and less reasonable. We’re seeing people coming not just from far-right hate groups glomming onto these movement, but you’re also seeing anti-vaxers getting in on the moment, many of whom come from the far left. It’s all making for a dangerous, noxious mixture that is literally costing people their lives, depriving them of any possibility of rights or liberties. That’s because those are reserved for the living.
It wasn’t lost on me that within the same twenty-four hours of the great piece above we saw great examples of what happens when political parties and elected officials don’t call out those fringe populists on their own side. Here is what you get, both in the US and here at home:
In the United States, we’ve seen the vast majority of elected Republicans stay silent as President Trump tries to run the very underpinnings of democracy into the ground, all for his own personal benefit. That silence has been interpreted by those people trying to discredit democracy as a green light to go on and go harder. Those Republicans have stayed quiet because they don’t want to face the rath of those fringe populists and lose their votes. If they thought they could “control” or “maneuver” those movements to their own political ends, this week has showed just how wrong that assumption was.
You see that crazy “testimony” from Michigan yesterday, where that “witness” basically put that Republican lawmaker in his place with her insanity and fact-free but loud and angry words. Then you saw the example from Georgia, where lawyers who have been fighting the Trump case against the election finally came to a conclusion that Republicans surely never wanted; don’t vote at all until “the system is fixed”. Yes, having sold a lie to the public about “a rigged election” and “election fraud”, none of which is true, they have taken it to the next step. Republicans have been quiet and complicit in letting this go on for some long, refusing to denounce it because they didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of the President. They made a political calculation, one that involved doing what they could to avoid the harder work of facing this populist problem they have. Instead they tried to “work with it” and “mold it”, tried to tie puppet strings to its limbs and put it to work for them. All of this was done to try to hold onto two Senate seats in Georgia and to sooth the large ego of a petulant President. And as you can now see, it’s all blown up in their faces.
But here at home we also have the continued example of Conservative MP Derek Sloan here at home. For the past year, the Conservatives have refused to deal with or level even the most minor rebuke to the crap that Sloan has been spewing on all kinds of issues. They have refused to do the hard and right thing, which involves throwing him out of their caucus. After so many egregious examples of misconduct and behaviour that the Conservatives as a party say they don’t support, Sloan has taken their refusal to hold him to account for any of it as a green light to do more of the same. It’s left so many on the outside to ask what exactly it will take for the Conservatives to toss this guy from his caucus.
Yesterday’s latest Sloan example came with a petition that he is sponsor in the House of Commons on COVID-19 Vaccines. Given how much the Conservatives have been pushing the government on getting information on vaccines, their distribution and alike, you might think that petition would be supportive of vaccines. But to assume that would involve ignoring who Sloan has shown himself to be. Nope, the petition casts doubt on the safety of potential COVID-19 vaccines, contains misleading and false statements that could hurt the public trust in them and even goes onto say that “COVID-19 vaccination is effectively human experimentation.” Here we are, at the height of the worst public health crisis in a century, and the Conservatives have an MP going full conspiracy theory and anti-vaxer, in effect trying to undercut trust in the vaccine itself.
As this story came out, the Conservatives just happened to be moving an Opposition Day motion in the House of Commons on…. you guessed it…. the COVID-19 vaccine and it’s distribution. At a press conference this morning when asked if he would be reprimanding or punishing Mr. Sloan for this latest outrage, new Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole ducked, dived, dodged and refused to denounce Sloan, all while attacking the Prime Minister while insinuating that his lack of transparency gives people reason to be suspicious. So at the same time that O’Toole is demanding answers about how quickly the vaccines will be distributed to Canadians, he’s also refusing to clearly state that the crap that Sloan is promoting in this petition, that tries to put doubt in peoples minds about those same vaccines, is crap.
And why does he refuse to do so? For the same reason that the Republicans stateside are refusing to face the problem they have head on. It’s “easier” to duck, dodge, play for time and refuse to do the hard work of actually facing down the fringe populists. It’s harder to do the right thing up front, to go through the pain of dealing with that kind of insanity head on. But as the Republican example stateside is showing us, you may be able to contain and mold that force for a while, but eventually it turns on you and you have an even bigger problem on your hands, outside of the public health and democratic ones.
Ken’s words are right in the problem that he diagnosed, and those examples above illustrate it perfectly. The problem may be worse on the right at the moment, but it can easily become the same on the left, so really the lesson is the same for both sides in that sense. He is also right that it falls on those parties that are enabling this crap to stop doing so, because he is right that the other side yelling it down won’t do it alone. But I would add that the other side shouldn’t let these things go unanswered. We may not be the ones who will change the minds of those who are causing the problem, but if we don’t say anything, does that make it any easier for the other side to do what they must? I would argue it doesn’t. Ignoring this insanity or staying silent on it overall isn’t going to help it go away. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and shining a light on this crap is important, regardless of who it is who is best position to clean it up. But regardless of what side of the fence you sit on politically, this is an issue we all need to deal with. This is not a “right” or “left” problem, this is a problem for all of us. In order to fix it, we need to treat it as such because if either side of the spectrum fails to do their part, really it’s all of us that will face the consequences.