One of the best analyses of the contemporary political train wreck, is Glenn Greenwald’s “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit” (www.theintercept.com). Anyone who’s been watching the news and scratching their head, or been “shocked” by Trump’s victory, would do themselves a favor by reading it along with the documents it links to. Here are Greenwald’s two most relevant paragraphs:
“The indisputable fact is that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people. While elite circles gorged themselves on globalism, free trade, Wall Street casino gambling, and endless wars (wars that enriched the perpetrators and sent the poorest and most marginalized to bear all their burdens), they completely ignored the victims of their gluttony, except when those victims piped up a bit too much — when they caused a ruckus — and were then scornfully condemned as troglodytes who were the deserved losers in the glorious, global game of meritocracy.
“That message was heard loud and clear. The institutions and elite factions that have spent years mocking, maligning, and pillaging large portions of the population — all while compiling their own long record of failure and corruption and destruction — are now shocked that their dictates and decrees go unheeded. But human beings are not going to follow and obey the exact people they most blame for their suffering. They’re going to do exactly the opposite: purposely defy them and try to impose punishment in retaliation. Their instruments for retaliation are Brexit and Trump. Those are their agents, dispatched on a mission of destruction: aimed at a system and culture they regard — not without reason — as rife with corruption and, above all else, contempt for them and their welfare.”
In summary, what working class Britons saw in Brexit is what working class Americans saw in Trump: a monkey wrench —one they could throw contemptuously into a corrupt system that had, for over a generation, been working against them. This article represents my search to proactively indentify the Canadian monkey wrench.
Here we reach the litmus test. If at this point you hear yourself smugly proclaiming, “Not here! Never here! We don’t have a corrupt system in Canada! We don’t have an elite that has been exploiting our masses!” then you’re probably either (1) a member of this elite yourself, (2) utterly clueless, or (3) both.
On the other hand, if you feel yourself quietly sympathizing with the frustrations of working class Britons and Americans (and maybe even feeling a little guilty about it), you’re probably doing what I am, searching for a monkey wrench.
For years my monkey wrench of choice has been voting for the Green Party. And I must say, even though I didn’t get to vote for her directly, it has done my heart good to see Elizabeth May raising hell in the House of Commons these last five years. But I can appreciate that those of us without the environmentalism bent might not find satisfaction there —those folks likely tried voting Conservative or NDP to see what would happen. Of course eventually it became obvious that Stephen Harper was only concerned about, well, Stephen Harper. And the NDP, it seems (tragically), always shy away from authoring any policies of truly monkey wrench magnitude.
Recently, many of us cast our vote for a well-coiffed monkey wrench in the form of Justin Trudeau —some simply angry at Harper for turning out to be a corporate elitist, some for the nostalgia conjured by Trudeau’s name, and some because of one interesting monkey wrench that he held out to us: electoral reform.
The one truly original plank in the last Liberal platform (original for them, at least) was electoral reform. This idea that every vote cast should be counted and represented in Parliament for a change. Now for us this is something quietly revolutionary, a potential for Canada to renew our democracy —a monkey wrench that wouldn’t be thrown into the system with the intent to destroy it, but rather to fix it.
And yet, instead of genuinely pursuing this revolutionary aim, the party in power seems committed to ensuring it happens in a way that benefits them or that it doesn’t happen at all. Presently it looks like we’re headed toward a referendum on the issue. Those of us who paid attention to similar referenda in the past have a good idea how this might turn out. First-past-the-post may very well end up on the ballot as an option because at least one party on the committee will insist it be there. Then, once the issue is in the media, there will be so much misinformation that our overworked (yet consummately reasonable) electorate won’t know what to think and status quo will be seen as the safest option.
If this issue goes to referendum, it is vitally important that first-past-the-post is not an option. This bears repeating. If the issue of electoral reform goes to a referendum, it is vitally important that the status quo, first-past-the-post, is not an option!
Why employ such forceful language? Because Canadians, I fear, are reaching a point where any monkey wrench will do. It would be better for all concerned if that monkey wrench came in the form of a new electoral system than a Canadian Trump.
Those of you who have been paying attention will have noticed that, in terms of political leadership at least, Canada tends to be two steps behind the United States. Mulroney was our Regan, Cretien was our Clinton, Harper was our Bush. And in many ways Trudeau is our Obama —a fresh face able to credibly peddle “change” on behalf of an old, establishment party that doesn’t really want to change anything. So who will be Canada’s Trump?
Here is where we get smug again and cry, “Not here! Never here!” But we do so at our peril. If we’re honest, we know damn well we’ve heard rumblings of discontent in our coffee shops and at our water coolers. The tone is more muted —cooler perhaps than our American neighbours— and maybe laced with a bit of sarcasm, but they are there. I’ll wager not a one of my readers has gone these past several years without hearing a version of one of the following:
“Glad the automotive workers are safe. But where’s my bailout?”
“Immigrants get their cable television paid for!? Wish someone would sponsor me.”
“I wish the housing market would crash. Then maybe I could afford a home.”
And most recently there are the crass lamppost plasterers who crawled out from their basements after Trump’s ersatz victory: “Hey, white person!” et cetera.
It’s only a matter of time before some Trump-ish opportunist latches on to these sentiments and tries to translate them into political capital. Canada’s Trump has yet to emerge from the shadows but rest assured that he (or she) is eagerly waiting there. And our right-wing media is salivating in anticipation. Remember the frenzy they made of Rob Ford? Well, I reckon we ain’t seen nothing yet.
Before I let you go, let’s give ourselves some credit. Historically, Canada has always been ahead of the United States whenever it really counted. We abolished slavery, we established universal healthcare, we stood up to fascism the first time it reared its ugly head. But presently the grim reality is that Canada is the tallest tree still standing in the darkening forest of western democracy. And the rumbling machines of the logging company can already be heard in the distance.
In the months to come, dear reader, there will likely be many campaigns asking for your precious time, energy and money. So my advice to you is this: choose your monkey wrench wisely. But choose quickly.