True Blue Nightmare
Or why I wish to distance myself from today’s bitter and angry conservatism
How could good people with good ideas and principles end up like this? How can so many, right here in Canada, still support Donald Trump and what he represents? How can so many support (morally and financially) Ezra Levant’s Rebel Media after the Charlottesville events and the accompanying alt-right fracas?
I don’t understand it. It’s not what I thought conservatism (with which I’ve been associated for years) was all about.
It was one thing to get a chuckle out of the 2016 presidential circus. You could take a certain kind of pleasure in seeing everyone getting so upset. It’s not like the political establishment doesn’t need a good shakeup every now and then. But that wasn’t serious, was it? Sooner or later people would have to come to their senses, step away from the TV, drink some strong coffee and get back to sober, mature reality.
Every time Mr. Trump said something outrageous (which wasn’t rare), his popularity increased. It was like being stuck in a political version of Opposite Day. What should have gone up went down, and what should have disappeared in a cloud of infamy, was loudly cheered and repeated by disturbingly large crowds.
I was never a fan of this kind of politics, and of this particular politician. I find him boorish, vulgar, and dangerously self-centred. But when so many millions of people vote for someone, you have to keep a certain tiny door open because hey, democracy is how we do things.
Yeah, well. I can no longer keep that door open. For me the last Twitter straw came in late June when, in a pair of tweets, the president managed to display crazy behaviour along with extreme meanness and vulgarity. Put together, they read: “I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don’t watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came.. to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year’s Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!”
It’s not OK to stand behind a man who, as POTUS, tweets like that. Especially after all the other offensive things he’s said and done against just about everyone. A man who makes a mockery of his office and the constitution he swore to uphold by making policy on the fly and who shows contempt for the two other branches of government.
Especially after the events of Charlottesville, when he started by blaming both sides for the violence before condemning white supremacists specifically only to revert to blaming both sides the next day, well, now there’s no excuse. In my book, if you still support him, and defend him, you are like him.
And you are part of the problem.
In Canada, Trump supporters also tend to be ardent fans of The Rebel. I’ve known Ezra Levant for a long time. I’ve worked with him at Sun News Network (not particularly closely, but he had me on his show several times). My husband, John Robson, contributed historical video vignettes for The Rebel from day one. Nobody will make me believe that Ezra is a racist or a bigot. I know he’s not. But some of the stuff he runs appeals to a lot of them. I believe it’s a mistake for Ezra to stir that pot of festering anger for clicks, YouTube views, and financial contributions.
That’s not something I’ve just recently discovered. I had been discussing these things with my husband for many long months before he finally announced he was stepping back from contributing to the site, and I do think he waited too long. He has explained himself elsewhere and I don’t need to add to that.
Charlottesville was the last straw for a lot of people, including my old friend Brian Lilley and National Post columnist Barbara Kay. If Charlottesville had been a one-off thing, many people might have opted to forgive Ezra and his crew, but it wasn’t. The tone of The Rebel had long been one of anger, sometimes paranoia, with a remarkable blind spot when it came to the company it kept. Trying to distance yourself from the alt-right was a step in the right direction, but it was too little, too late. Better than nothing, but not by much.
I know many people who still support The Rebel, post-Charlottesville, many of them financially. It makes me sad. Because I know these people are not stupid, or evil, or racist, or any more bigoted than the average person (oh, come on; we all have some of that in us). But what they are is angry, frustrated, and genuinely scared for the future of their country.
These are people who think Canada — as the West generally — may have lost its way. They worry that the values that made Canada what it is today are not, well, valued anymore. They think the people in charge are worried about the wrong stuff (in no particular order: climate change, multiculturalism, transgender rights, inclusiveness, safe spaces, organic meat) at the expense of the right stuff (traditional family values, cultural assimilation of immigrants, national security, military preparedness, law and order, property rights and free speech).
Do me a favour and hold the scorn for a minute. Forget that you disagree with these people, and try this thought experiment. Imagine that the roles are reversed. Imagine yourself — a fine, reasonable, upstanding citizen who works hard to do the best he can every day of his life — having serious concerns about the path your country has taken and being not only ignored but ridiculed for having those fears.
Keep holding that scorn. You can do it.
Imagine that your concerns are ignored and ridiculed, for years on end. That no matter how hard you try you can’t seem to get your message across. Year after year you see things deteriorate some more, and no politician speaks to your concerns. Until one day this bizarre orange person shows up and says, without fear or embarrassment, some of the things you’ve been saying for so long. Oh sure, he’s also saying things you don’t agree with — even things you find offensive. But there he is again talking about one of your biggest worries and pledging to do something to make it better!
You’re doing awesome on the scorn-holding front. You’re almost there. Keep it up!
You are so desperate and angry after being ignored and ridiculed for so many years that you are willing to ignore a lot of unpleasant facts about this weird orange person and cheer for him anyway. Because he’s the only one among all those politicians who’s not ignoring or ridiculing you. Better yet, the weird orange person gets ridiculed just like you and yet he keeps saying those things you’re so desperate to hear, and offers no apologies for his behaviour.
OK. Breathe, the thought experiment is over. Back to being you.
I know what you’re thinking. There’s a reason no serious politician speaks the way our long-frustrated angry voter does. That’s because that kind of talk is guaranteed to get anyone laughed out of the serious crowd. That’s not because everyone in the media is a liberal idiot. You’d be amazed how many conservatives and middle-of-the-road types lurk in newsrooms. I’m not prepared to say there’s no such thing as biased journalists, but as I’ve been saying to conservatives for years, if you believe in a media conspiracy to silence conservatives I’ve got a big shiny new bridge to sell you.
Also? I have news. Journalists can’t even organize pub night without 16 rounds of reply-all emails — and even then half the people typically fail to show up. Journalists couldn’t conspire to silence conservatives if they tried. They can’t even organize their own desk drawers.
Ryan Holiday, in his wonderful Ego is the Enemy, quotes Seneca that “He who indulges in empty fears earns himself real fears,” and adds that what paranoia usually does is create “the persecution it seeks to avoid, making the owner a prisoner of its own delusions and chaos.”
The reason our angry, frustrated and long-despised conservatives get ignored is because a lot of their opinions are often 1) very unpopular with normal people who are not themselves journalists; and 2) expressed in spectacularly sub-optimal ways.
I can count of the fingers of one hand the number of conservatives in this country who can express a conservative opinion without tangling themselves up in their own rhetorical ineptitude. I’m married to one of them (I disagree with him on a lot of things, but he’s one hell of a debater). It doesn’t help your cause when you look angry and clumsy while trying to make an unpopular point. It just reinforces people’s opinion of you as someone who doesn’t need to be taken all that seriously. Which angers our already frustrated conservative some more until one day he shows up at a rally wearing that red baseball cap and starts filling up his feed with #MAGA retweets.
Nobody wins when all sides are shouting at each other when forced to interact and muttering darkly to themselves otherwise. We need to start talking to each other, not screaming at each other. And we need to start listening to one another.
We need a dialogue.
In practice, that means conservatives need to quit sounding so paranoid. That’s a big one. They also really ought to avoid whining about being ignored and/or persecuted. That just makes them sound petulant and entitled. I would also counsel evangelicals to really make an effort to refrain from using Biblical language when talking to non-Christians. It really grates on the ear, and that’s not helpful.
Fears about society going to hell in a handbasket may or may not be entirely justified. Personally I think it’s not quite as bad as all that. Human beings have been through worse, and somehow we’re still all here.
Regardless of what I think, if you’re trying to convince other people that current policies or ideas or ideologies are destructive, it helps a lot not to start the conversation with “YOU’RE TRYING TO DESTROY OUR COUNTRY!!!” I’m pretty sure there are no reasonable Canadians who are deliberately trying to do that, not even Gerald Butts. Being accused like that does not make anyone receptive to your points.
Explain your concerns gently. Acknowledge that you don’t see eye to eye with your interlocutors. Further acknowledge that there is some good in your opponents’ positions (really; do try to find something, even if it’s just good intentions). But then calmly and patiently walk them through your concerns. Help them understand something they might not even have thought about. Try to make your opponents into allies, if only for a tiny bit. That’s your beachhead. You need a beachhead. Because right now you’re out at sea.
Oh, and please — try to stay away from making people who don’t believe traditional heteronormative values are the entire point of civilized society not feel like unrepentant sinners. It’s a big, varied world with all kinds of funky people in it, and most of us are doing our best every day to be as good as we can. Gay parents aren’t worse than straight parents. In fact, I’ve met plenty of gay parents who were much better than the traditional, straight parents I had growing up. Granted, anecdotes don’t make for good policy. But do try to keep an open mind and an open heart. I strongly suggest keeping your focus on making sure children are well taken care of — because everyone agrees with that goal. And work very gently from there.
Lefties and other non-conservatives: Please stop calling people names because they hold views you consider retrograde. I get that a lot of Christians are annoying when they talk about people indulging in a gay “lifestyle”, as though being queer was a passing fad, like some kind of metaphysical fidget spinner. They make me cringe, too. But that doesn’t necessarily make them obnoxious bigots. Even in the cases where it does, there’s not much to be gained by shutting down a conversation with someone just because they take the Bible literally. Do try to engage them. Smile as you point them to statistics showing children raised in non-traditional homes do as well (if not, in certain cases, better) than their peers. Remind them — gently — that divorce does a lot more damage to children than having two mommies, and that divorce is, at the moment at least, an overwhelmingly heterosexual issue. That maybe we could all try to work to strengthen all families, for the benefit of the children who never asked to be there.
Engage conservatives on immigration and Western values. It’s to the benefit of everyone to make sure we don’t unwittingly allow tolerance to ding our cherished values of equality and inclusiveness. Agree that it would be OK to discriminate against a group that wanted to throw homosexuals off a cliff, or that anyone who demands the right to perform clitorectomies should be told to get in line or get out. Agree to some lines in the sand. Give conservatives something they can work with you to improve.
Show some sympathy for the crowds of people who — for one reason or another — find themselves bypassed by technological evolution. People whose skills are no longer in demand and who are too old to retrain. People who feel helpless and out-of-date with the world. You don’t have to remind them that their best-before date is fast approaching. They’re painfully conscious of it. The fact that some of them blame cheap labour and “job-stealing immigrants” for their troubles is unhelpful, I get it. But try to have some room in your heart for the thought that very often it’s anger and fear you hear talking, not real sentiment.
And if all of that fails, and you’re up against a wall of obtuseness in human form, keep in mind this splendid advice from The Power of No’s authors James and Claudia Altucher: 1) Don’t argue; it’s pointless. You will never change their mind. 2) Let them state their opinion. Try to learn something from it. Try to respect one angle of their point of view. 3) Everyone just wants to be heard. 4) Listen.
If we could all make an effort to listen to each other more, and yell insults less, we’d bring back much-needed sanity to our public square.
 Lots of good people make a convincing case that there was indeed violence on all sides in Charlottesville. That some counter-protesters showed up to disrupt a rally that had been allowed by the authorities, armed with all kinds of weapons, clearly anticipating violence. Other counter-protesters were peaceful. As were some of the folks who showed up to protest the plan to remove the statue of Robert E. Lee. Fine. Nothing is 100% black-and-white, as it were. But when one person from one side (the side that associates with the KKK and neo-Nazis, as far as we know) rams his car into a crowd of people, the president has a solemn moral duty to come down hard on that side. Not to deny that there were bad people elsewhere. But to emphasize that deliberately killing people in the name of a racist ideology is unmistakably un-American.