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ANDERSON: The elites are out of touch and populism is on the rise

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June 19, 2019 - 12:00 PM

 


OPINION


As tired a phrase as “the elites are out of touch” may be, the elites truly are out of touch and people are fed up. Populism is on the rise across the world and no one seems to fully understand why.

Obviously there are many different reasons for the rise of populism, and those reasons vary across time, space, and nationality as well.

In England a backlash of populist voices arose against England's absorption into the European Union, and across the west there's a similar resurgence of nationalist and “anti-globalist” spirit. Trump is of course the current international poster child of nationalist populism, but he is echoed in Australia by Morrison, Berlusconi of Italy, Modi of India, and even Erdogan of Turkey, all of whom led movements that are/were populist to some degree.

Nationalism is perhaps the predominant right leaning manifestation of populism today. But populism is not confined to the right. Indeed, according to a recent study by the Guardian with what seems to be sound methodology, the three leaders ranked highest on its populist scale - Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro and Evo Morales - are all decidedly left leaning. Fiscal egalitarian politics is the hallmark of leftwing populism, but it is a socialism of a nationcentric variety rather than the internationalist dreams of yesteryear's Comintern.

Except for Canada, where our Prime Minister is something of an aberration, and has managed to spawn a populist backlash for wholly different reasons. Socialist profligacy and taxation is part of the liberal headache, but what if a backlash against political correctness helps explain the wave of populism sweeping across Canada today?

First let's define a couple of terms for context here. Populism, often associated with the likes of Huey Long, Father Coughlin and other demagogues of the 1930s (including at times Mussolini and the object of Godwin's Law), should not be defined by them. Mahatma Gandhi was a populist, and if you're a fan of Obama he certainly was too, striding forward heroically as he did from between two Corinthian pillars in order to demonstrate the world-historical importance of his arrival as president. But good or bad, populism is usually an attack on hegemonic thought, either as a backlash or a cleansing of the old. Note here that I used the term “hegemonic” rather than “mainstream.” There's a reason for that.

I have a deep and abiding faith in the superior intelligence of the public's mainstream thought, as opposed to the politically manufactured hegemonic thought of politicians. Of course there are counterexamples, and a scan of social media confirms that some members of the public ought to be banned from the written word for life, but taken as a whole, mainstream thought is the product of millions of citizens, all processing information through the lens of what they see as common sense, tempered by everyday concerns. It's quite different from the hegemonic political thought of elites, itself a product of universities.

Which brings me to the definition of “elites.” The term is bandied about quite a bit as shorthand for “the rich,” but I mean it here to refer to thought-leaders, the “educated” classes, including those with a minimal undergrad education who smugly view themselves as educated, and those who parrot out-of-context snippets of polysyllabic doctrine and consider it indicative of higher education or, better yet, intelligence.

Having spent some time wandering the Ivory Halls, I've found that what used to be four years of learning critical thinking skills has become, at least in some faculties, blind indoctrination.

Identity studies built on postmodern foundations are especially guilty of this, having developed entire lexicons around their respective subjects, along with the political signifiers that go with it. People lose their individuality through these lenses and become faceless members of a class: either the oppressed or the oppressor; a patriarchal male or a woman; a “colonizer” or a native; a “breeder” or “LGBTTTQQIAA.”

Even earth studies have become politicized over climate change, as suggested by my recent four part series, creating two more classes, the believers and the deniers. The ideations that arise from this way of looking at the world in university are propagandistic and activist rather than passively analytical as they should be and once were. It used to be that one went to school to learn how to learn, and now one goes to be filled with doctrine. Indeed, the activists have taken over the academe.

And they have taken over the political sphere. Or at least their ideas have seeped into Canadian political culture and over the years they've become entrenched as received wisdom. By now they have become hegemonic political thought, defended by left-leaning politicians, the media, and other thought-leaders. Political correctness has done more than simply threaten students into acquiescence; it has produced a sort of right-think in political culture as well.

Enter Trudeau, the poster child for political correctness.

The Princeling flounced onto the national stage in a cloud of empty imagery, flinging fistfuls of tax dollars at everything that twitched. But it's not the deepest, fastest deficit in Canadian history that did him in, because we're all used to deficit spending. It's not even his Mister Dress Up routine in India, although making himself into an international laughing stock certainly took the burnish off his halo. And the SNC Lavalin affair may have been his coup de grâce, giving lie to his feminist pretensions as well as laying bare the corrupt heart of the PMO and the Liberal Party, but it seems to me there's more to the backlash.

“It's 2015!” the Princeling enthused as he unveiled his carefully gender balanced cabinet, loudly trumpeting the fact that he saw himself as a feminist. His platform aswim in clichés but largely devoid of content, Trudeau embraced every sophomoric dream of the current academe, from feminism and sexual politics to racialized apologies and climate change. And of course diversity. 

“Diversity is our strength” was the meaningless and highly debatable tagline appended to every news release for the first two years of his regnum. I wrote about it back in 2016: "'Diversity is a strength?' No it's not. Diversity is a neutral descriptor, with all the good and bad that it brings. Diversity is enchanting when it's in the form of an agonizingly gender-balanced and racially audited Liberal cabinet stuffing its collective face with Coq au Vin and Chablis at the Algonquin Hotel, but ask the Yugoslavians or Rwandans how they celebrate diversity, out in the real world, where life is a little closer to the bone.”

Here's the thing.

Most Canadians simply don't have the time to worry about the same things trust funders and undergrads agonize over in dorm rooms late at night after a couple of joints. Diversity, “climate emergencies,” gender issues, sexual mores, and apologies to every group male caucasians have ever done dirt to are important to many, but they aren't really at the top of most Canadians' stay-up-at-night-and-worry list.

Most Canadians by necessity have to worry instead about rent or a mortgage payment, raising their kids, gas prices, which parent is going to drive Johnny to hockey at 5 am, and so on. And when they see billions of dollars thrown at leftwing shibboleths and nothing but “middle class” rhetoric tossed their way, they get angry. That seems to me to be the driving force behind the bluing of Canada.

Wynne, Selinger and Notley were all ideological compatriots of Trudeau, and all became victims of the populist surge. And yes, profligate spending contributed to Wynne's political demise – Ontario is currently the most indebted non sovereign entity in the universe – but I would argue it was her avant garde educational reforms that generated the highest level of emotional push back. Notley too, with her schizophrenic attacks on oil while at the same time trying to defend a pipeline, was doomed the minute she took office (it's Alberta), but her climate fixation and sexualized educational reforms drove the emotion amongst her opponents. Only Selinger in Manitoba can mainly blame taxation for his electoral downfall.

Trudeau has the whole backlash package...all the post modern shibboleths and all the taxation. Andrew Scheer can no more be called a populist than he can the “right wing extremist” Trudeau is trying to brand him as, but he is riding a wave led by Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, both of whom are as populist as it's possible to be.

And while corruption, taxation, broken promises, deficits and international arseclownery all play a part in Trudeau's self-immolation, the backlash against his political correctness is a lesson the left-leaning parties might want to learn from.

The elites are out of touch with mainstream thought. Perhaps the next national election will help heal the rift between the two.

— Scott Anderson comments and analyzes from a bluntly conservative point of view.


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