Leitch, O’Leary and Trump can be a potent mix

By Andrew Cardozo

Conservative

Opinion

Leitch, O’Leary and Trump can be a potent mix

Suddenly being like Trump may not be such a good thing, and will be a less good thing going forward.

By ANDREW CARDOZO

PUBLISHED in the Hill Times: Monday, Feb. 6, 2017 12:00 AM

OTTAWA—Life just got a whole lot more complicated for Kellie Leitch and Kevin O’Leary; maybe for the better, but likely for the worse.

As U.S. President Donald Trump put it on Jan. 20, “from this day forward,” his campaign promises were no longer just promises. The rhetoric that got him elected is becoming reality. Why anyone finds that amazing, is amazing in itself, but that’s another matter.

Leitch’s campaign started with a coded message to the base that she was trying to develop: people concerned about immigration. But she fooled nobody, least of all her fellow candidates for the Conservative leadership who called her out.

Trump has caused more chaos in the U.S. and across the world in his first 10 days than any of his predecessors caused in an entire term. Surely that’s not good for America and not good for Americans as they traverse the globe. If some radical forces have done bad stuff because they hated America, he is just giving them more cause for anger, as we hurtle towards more global chaos.

So, suddenly being like Trump may not be such a good thing and will be a less good thing going forward.

In the Conservative race, there are two candidates who emulate Trump. One is Leitch who is parroting his “America first” agenda, which one might define as the xenophobic agenda: keep Canada safe from the hordes.

The second Trumpian candidate is O’Leary who is not going there, but is using Trump’s reality-style TV language of loud personal insults to his political opponents.

This is how that works. In the three presidential debates, The Toronto Star found that “Lying Hillary” told an average of four lies per debate. Surely unacceptable by any standard, except that Trump told an average of 36 lies per debate. But by calling her the liar first, he inoculated himself. What would her retort be? “You told 36 lies, I only told four?”

What O’Leary brings to our politics is a new, lower level of personal insults delivered in a bombastic style. And, regardless of how inaccurate it is, the bombast replaces the need for facts. “Trust me.” “This is unacceptable.” “We have to throw him out.” “I will fix it.”

When alternate facts (one of the great new additions to our political lexicon) are delivered with bombast, they become perception, and we know that in politics, perception is reality.

The problem for the two Trump candidates is that while Trumpism may be popular in large segments of the Conservative Party today, it will become increasingly unpopular among Conservative moderates and certainly in the wider society. While it will still be new by the time of the leadership convention in May, it will be different by October 2019 when the next election rolls around.

All that said, if there is one thing that progressives should learn about Trump, is that he and his brand are never to be underestimated. Democratic Party smugness gave us Trump.

The last couple of weeks saw unbridled xenophobia in American government policy. I don’t mean to use the term falsely. Xenophobia is simply phobia of the outsider and policies that are based on that fear are therefore xenophobic.

Coupled with that was one of the worst hate crimes committed in modern Canadian history, the shooting of six Muslims in a Québec City mosque. We live in new times. Does Trump specifically promote hate crimes? No. Does he give new voice to haters? Yes. The KKK has been clear that it feels emboldened. The leap from there to what a twisted hater might do is not very far, at worst, unknown at best.

And that, boys and girls, is why we have political correctness, because when you get sloppy with language then you talk about grabbing women by the pussy whenever you want. You imitate disabilities to suggest stupidity. And there is no line that can’t be crossed. You let loose the dogs of venom rather than keep their anger under acceptable norms. We don’t know the full story, but the Québec City massacre likely didn’t happen in a vacuum.

Progressives in Canada need to call out the lowering of our political culture. We do have Canadian values and they are not the meaningless world-wide values that Leitch claims to stand for—of hard work and generosity; they are actually clearer and not accepted by some of Leitch’s supporters.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is right to highlight values like human rights and the Charter of Rights, gender equality, multiculturalism and bilingualism, colour-blind immigration, and LGBTQ rights.

O’Leary can be as sharply critical as he wants, but it must be demanded of him that he be civil. It may be less politically appealing, less theatrical, and less like the game show he excels at. It will be less successful at whipping up populist right-wing hysteria, but it will make for a better country. We do not need to import extremist politics whether from the Middle East, Europe, or America.

And at the same time, it is important for the left not to whip up political hysteria about Trump. It’s not going to change his mind. Trudeau’s balanced approach is the only viable one, difficult as it may be.

We have to stop apologizing for being politically correct. It is what makes us a peaceable kingdom in a world of increasing chaos and division. Let’s turn the clocks back to our Canadian ways and insist on it.

The Hill Times

Andrew Cardozo is president of the Pearson Centre and an adjunct professor at Carleton University

Subscribe to the Pearson Centre newsletter.

Insightful commentary & debate, delivered to your inbox. Sign up below.