There’s a lot of palaver on social media about right v. left (or left v. right if you are so inclined), with webs of comments about the differences between these opposing political wings. And, at least among the comments I’ve read from Americans, there’s also a lot of misinformation and disinformation in play, especially about what constitutes the left (usually coupled with invectives and name-calling from the right).
While many Canadians and Europeans (as socialist and culturally pluralist states) have a fair appreciation of what those political terms (left and right) mean, Americans —a nation of highly polarized, confrontational politics — and many who comment on the Facebook posts from the rightwing National Post (the Rebel-Media-wannabe paper) seem not to understand what the terms actually mean. Doesn’t stop them from using terms like “liberal” (or lieberal) and “socialist” as an invective, of course.
(“Woke” is another invective thrown at the left, although it actually means being “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).” During Trump’s presidency we clearly saw how facts and truth were anathemas to the right.)
America, of course, doesn’t have a significant left-wing in politics. The most “radical left” politician among them (as accused by right-wingers like Donald Trump) is Bernie Sanders. Yet he would barely qualify as a centrist in Canadian or European politics. The Repugnicans are all between far and extreme right; the Democrats are moderately right of centre (Sanders) to mid-right. The American political spectrum is lopsided that way. It’s ironic to hear someone like Trump accuse a Democrat of being among the “radical left” when what really means is someone who doesn’t slavishly agree with him.
In simple terms, the cartoon above explains it best. The left (those carrying the ‘we’ signs) cares about communities, other people, the greater good, and others. the left is (or attempts to be) inclusive. Everyone matters. All lives, all cultures, all faiths, all views have a space. The right (‘me’), on the other hand, cares only about themselves and those in their own circle. Only those who are accepted (often along national, religious, or racial lines) matter. Plus, of course, corporations and profits matter.
Left is inclusive; right is exclusive. Left believes in collective wellbeing and sharing; the right believes in individual rights without obligations or responsibilities. And I also suggest that the right is far more likely to favour an ideological response over an ethical, moral, or compassionate one. For example, the Repugnicans’ tone-deaf response to the latest mass shooting of Texan school children was to be keynote speakers at an NRA convention held in the same state days later.
Of course, that’s all generalizations. Politics is never that simple or easy, but it’s a good place to start. One site defines the two wings as,
Left wing is also known as liberal or progressive in nature. It can be considered to be very closely related to socialism as it believes that government should take care of all its citizens. They also believe in bringing substantial equality. Left wing politics is more interest[ed] in bringing social justice and reforms. It aims to create a society with equal opportunities.
Right Wing is considered to be of the opposite polarity in comparison to left wing. It is also known as conservative or regressive in nature. Right wingers do not support the notion … that government should interfere with lives of people. … This kind of politics focuses on maintaining order and also maintaining privilege. It provides protection to private property and in a way it supports capitalism.
It wasn’t always like that, at least not in Canada. In the past, Canadian conservatives (small ‘c’ but also in this country, capital ‘C’) have been as keenly concerned for the greater good, for the welfare of Canadians, for all residents regardless of their political affiliation. Leaders like John Diefenbaker, Joe Clark, Bill Davis, Peter Lougheed, Kim Campbell, Robert Stanfield, and John Robarts are shining examples of good, inclusive, and compassionate conservatives. I even respected Erin O’Toole as an honest and respectable, if sometimes befuddled and rudderless, conservative.
But now we have Stephen Harper, Maxine Bernier, Jason Kenney, Pierre Poilievre, a convoy of insurrectionist truckers waving Confederate and Nazi flags, and a gang of armed thugs shouting threats and obscenities at our Prime Minister. And few, if any, voices on the right condemn any of them.
How did our conservatives fall so low? How did we end up with Mike Harris and now the worse (and arguably corrupt) Doug Ford in the province that once elected Bill Davis and John Robarts and led the nation in so many ways? Why do some current conservative politicians like Poilievre pander to their racist and violent followers? And why do Canadians vote for them?
The downward slide began earlier, and more visibly, in the USA. I can’t think of one Repugnican president or leader since Eisenhower who could be called both ethical and compassionate. Today they seem to all be human slimes and Putin-puppets: Ted Cruz, Marjory Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, and, of course, their narcissistic ring leader, Donald Trump. None of them have a single attribute any moral or ethical human could laud. The “party of Lincoln” is an embarrassment to his name.
But Canadian conservatives seem to be eager to follow the Repugnicans’ downward footsteps. This month, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was forced to cancel a live event in British Columbia because, as The Hill Times reported, “an anti-Trudeau crowd gathered outside, complete with truckers driving in a loop around the venue, might become an anti-Trudeau mob.” He appeared virtually, instead.
Might become? It clearly was one already and I suspect it was organized by invisible actors pulling the strings like the truckers’ convoy was. The piece continues, noting the violent threats of these “protestors” who were
…shouting racist epithets at South Asian Canadians who wanted to hear the PM speak. It was the familiar ugliness. Turban-trashing, Trudeau-hating, and even a noose carried by one of these sorry-assed goons with a sign: Treason and Trudeau. Trudeau ended up speaking to the fundraiser remotely to defuse a bad situation.
When he travelled to Saskatoon, the prime minister faced another “protest” in which his security detail was subjected to verbal obscenities.
Iheartradio.ca also reported on the behaviour of the “protestors” (aka rightwing gang):
Witnesses at the protest reported hearing attendees harassed for wearing turbans, among other racially motivated insults. One protester is seen in a photo carrying a noose hanging from two flat sticks printed with the words “treason” and “Trudeau.”
“The safety of Canadians choosing to make their voices heard in politics should never be in question as it was last night and as we’re increasingly seeing across the country,” Trudeau said.
Canadians who want to listen, want to engage in civil politics, want to discuss issues and policies are being intimidated by armed thugs surrounding a venue, threatening and bullying. This is a direct assault on our democracy by the alt-right and should be treated as seriously as any sort of domestic terrorism. The story also notes,
This is the second time in 10 months aggressive protesters prompted police to advise Trudeau to change his plan to speak at an event. A campaign rally in Bolton, Ont., was cancelled completely last August when dozens of furious protesters chanting obscenities at the prime minister set up at the site.
These gangs don’t merely want a change in government (that’s what voting is for): they want to overthrow it and install their own authoritarian regime. As Michael Harris noted in The Hill Times,
Fuck off is not a political statement. It is abuse. And it is also the death knell of politics as we know it.
This is not Canadian, or at least not how Canadians behaved in the past (pre-Trump). It is not patriotic or brave.
Nor is it political debate or even legitimate protest: it is bullying, threatening, and abusive. It is killing political debate in this country as it did in the USA. This behaviour echoes the increasingly divisive, confrontational, and broken politics of the USA that Trump and his followers glorify in (if you can’t see the parallels with Hitler’s brownshirts, you have learned nothing about history). It has seeped into Canada’s right like the overflow from a full diaper.
And yet several Canadian conservatives have embraced it. Poilievre said he was “proud” of the insurrectionist, insult-spewing, abusive truckers, while untruthfully blaming Trudeau for their behaviour:
“I’m proud of the truckers and I stand with them,” Poilievre said in an interview… “They have reached a breaking point after two years of massive government overreach of a prime minister who insults and degrades anyone who disagrees with his heavy-handed approach. But let’s be honest, if Canadians are being inconvenienced, or in any way suffering from these protests, it is because Justin Trudeau made these protests happen and his intransigence is keeping the protests going.”
Poilievre has become the Goebbels of the Conservative Party, using the same tactics to enflame his alt-right followers with paranoia and rage. Have we stopped teaching history so now Canadians fail to recognize the parallels?
Somewhere along the line, a trend calling itself “social conservatism” arose, although most of it is really just regurgitated libertarianism and Ayn-Rand codswallop. Social conservatism is a melding of the far-right with the pseudo-Christian evangelicals (whose nickname, the Talibangelists, aptly encapsulates their values and views). These two authoritarian ideologies fueled the movement along typically white, atavistic, pseudo-theological, xenophobic, and nationalist lines.
Wikipedia describes social conservatism as:
…a “commitment” to traditional values concerned with family structures, sexual relations, patriotism, gun ownership and military invasions, describing Christian doctrinal conservatives (anti-abortion, anti-gay marriage) and gun-use conservatives (pro-NRA) as the two domains of ideology within.
The word traditional should also be in quotation marks, because these are actually views that date from recent decades (they rose in the 1970s in response to the legalization of abortion), not centuries: they are as traditional (and as meaningful) as a VHS player. Another site defines it as,
…the politically-conservative belief that society is built upon a fragile network of relationships which need to be upheld through duty, traditional values and established institutions, including moral and religious issues. Social conservatism is sceptical of social change and supports the status quo concerning social issues such as family life, sexual relations, and patriotism. In some situations, social conservatives hold reactionary views on social issues…
Social conservatives generally believe in male dominance (a controlling patriarchy that sidelines and dis-empowers women); white supremacy; a rigid pseudo-Christianity based on a narrow interpretation of cherry-picked biblical passages while ignoring much of the actual Christian content; the imposition of that pseudo-theology on the public, governmental and judicial spheres; authoritarian (male-dominated) control over sex and sexuality, abortion, women, and immigrants; laissez-faire capitalism; the reduction or removal of controls on corporations; and ideological indoctrination instead of education.
Typical angry Twitter exchange with an alt-right poster. Insults, accusations, and rage.
Today’s conservatives are frequently demagogues (populists) opposed to almost anything outside the limits of their own cultures, ideologies, religion, and race. It’s worse, of course, in the USA, but even in Canada, the right has drifted into the far-right/libertarian sandboxes of nationalism, xenophobia, racism, paranoia, and misogyny.
Okay, that’s another broad generalization, and I suspect there are still good, compassionate, and caring conservatives, but equally suspect they’re increasingly rare. And they don’t often speak out because they want to ride the coattails of the populists. Getting into office matters more than standing up for others (just look at our own, unprincipled mayor’s bid to become the riding’s next MPP).
In the Repugnican party, for example, you might point out Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney as good conservatives, but they are hated by the rest of their own party, in large part because they don’t blindly follow Donald Trump. In the Progressive Conservatives of Ontario, under Doug Ford, you can point to… well, no one, not since Jim Wilson resigned (or, as some suggest, was forced to resign to free the space for a Ford sycophant) from the PC caucus. All of Ford’s candidates and caucus are, as far as I can see, utterly despicable. Or, if you prefer, a “basket of deplorables.”
And then there’s the ever-angry, rage-tweeting, usually-pouting Pierre Poilievre, the poster boy for the worst the Conservative Party has to offer.
This doesn’t mean there aren’t good and compassionate conservatives. Just that they’ve been overshadowed and overtaken by the angry, authoritarian, racist, selfish, pseudo-Christian, alt-right conservatives.
Nothing fails regular Canadians quite as effectively, consistently and efficiently as conservatism. It’s almost like conservatism was created by the wealthy and powerful to keep them wealthy and powerful at the expense of all others…
True, but the problem is deeper than just party ideologies. As Robert Reich tweeted,
The political struggle of our time is no longer left versus right, Democrat versus Republican. It is democracy versus authoritarianism.
And the threat of authoritarianism and totalitarianism comes from (you guessed it), the right-wing of the political spectrum.
You might think from this post that I despise conservatives in whatever party they manifest. That’s not strictly true: I despise what they have become in recent years: the far right. No, the left is far from perfect or flawless, but there are many, many more racists, misogynists, anti-Semites, anti-Islamists, anti-abortionists, AR-15 killers of children, authoritarians, anti-vaxxers, pseudo-science believers, and conspiracy cultists among the right than among the left. You don’t see the left parading with Nazi, Confederate, or Fuck-Trudeau fags, or wearing KKK hoods.
You won’t find many of Putin’s puppets and sycophants among the left, either, although among the right (especially the Repugnicans) they proliferate (Putin’s totalitarian Russia being the ideal state in Repugnican dreams).
And if you want to find politicians eager to privatize public assets, reduce public services, defund education, ban books, close libraries, erase or rewrite history, restrict voting rights, defund healthcare (and privatize it), ignore infrastructure maintenance and upkeep, ignore water and drinking water issues, abuse immigrants and people of colour, bully women and prevent their access to healthcare, well again you’ll find a lot more of them among the right than the left.
I still have respect for the previous conservative leaders I’ve mentioned above. I may not have a lot of faith in today’s leaders on the left, but few deserve the sort of abhorrence, disrespect, and disdain the right’s leaders demand.
So, no, I won’t be voting for another four years of the rightwing populist Doug Ford and his inept, anti-Ontarian band of sycophants in the next provincial election. Ontario deserves much better than Ford.