Ethnic Outbidding for White People: A Story About Populism in Canada Versus the United States – NYTimes

http://www.nytimes.com/newsletters/2017/08/23/the-interpreter?nlid=5411894

Not much new but good overview and reminder to NYTimes readers that we too have our dark side:

Breitbart News, the online news site often associated with the alt-right, has grown so powerful that when its former editor, Stephen K. Bannon, lost his White House job last week, it was widely assumed that Breitbart’s influence would only grow.

As this was happening, across the border in Canada, another right-wing media organization known as Rebel Media, which is often compared to Breitbart News, was imploding so severely it was seen as potentially auguring the implosion of Canadian right-wing populism itself.

The shift in Canada reveal something important about one of the biggest stories of the last year, events initially described as a “global populist wave.” Though the wave was later qualified down to just right-wing populism and just in Western countries, it increasingly looks even narrower than that.

The decline of Rebel Media, contrasted with the success of Breitbart, exemplifies something we’ve been saying for a while. The “populist wave” is actually quite specific to individual countries. And, most important, in each Western country where it appears, right-wing populism enjoys support among only about 15 to 25 percent of the population. (Those numbers are based vaguely on a 2016 study by the political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris.)

Whether that fractional support becomes an isolated fringe or a major political power comes down not to anything as fuzzy as culture or values, but to nuts-and-bolts political institutions.

It’s worth running through the sordid details of Rebel Media’s bad week. Faith Goldy, a correspondent, praised Charlottesville’s white nationalist marchers in a live video from the scene. Her video referenced “white racial consciousness” and the “JQ,” shorthand for the “Jewish question.”

A national backlash eventually led the site’s founder, Ezra Levant, to fire Ms. Goldy. But something had changed, maybe for good, with Rebel Media’s place in Canadian politics.

Conservative politicians openly denounced the organization. Andrew Scheer, the leader of the Conservative party, said he wouldn’t give Rebel Media any more interviews until it changed its “editorial direction.”

High-profile staffers and contributors quit. One, Caolan Robertson, released a video accusing Rebel Media of exploiting its supporters for donations it didn’t need. Mr. Robertson also accused Mr. Levant of offering him money to keep quiet. (Mr. Levant has accused Mr. Robertson of attempted blackmail.)

But Canadian journalists see broader forces at work. Jonathan Kay, in an article for The Walrus, wrote that Rebel Media failed in its mission to become the American Fox News or Breitbart because, in Canada, “structural barriers make the creation of this kind of conservative ecosystem impossible.”

Americans generally understand that politics work a bit differently in Canada, but wrongly assume Canadians are simply predisposed to be more liberal. In fact, those “structural barriers” against right-wing populism are more technical, and less particular to Canada, than you might think.

Amanda explained those structural barriers in an in-depth article this summer. The short version: Canadian politicians and civil society groups spent two generations engineering their political system to be highly tolerant of diversity and highly intolerant of something called ethnic outbidding.

Stephen Saideman, a political scientist and friend of the column, has defined ethnic outbidding as “when politicians compete for the support of a particular ethnic group, leading to ever greater demands to protect that group at the expense of others.”

This process can turn politics into a zero-sum competition between ethnic groups who come to see one another as threats. Right-wing populism, in the West, can often function as a kind of ethnic outbidding for white people.

If you want to know how Canada did this and why so many other diverse countries have failed, read Amanda’s story. Of course, we’re not denying that racism and right-wing populist politicians exist in Canada. Rob Ford became Toronto’s mayor after running on a populist platform. But, compared to the rest of the West, the country stands out for its resistance to populism. (And even Mr. Ford cultivated a multi-ethnic voter base.)

That resistance happens through institutions, and you see them working, for example, in Mr. Scheer’s disavowal of Rebel Media. Before any liberal readers rush to award Mr. Scheer a medal of courage, you should know that he was acting within his immediate political interests.

Political norms in Canada are unusually intolerant of overt white nationalism, which has strong and increasingly open support in the United States and much of Europe. The country’s electoral and legislative systems make it very difficult for a party to win power without heavy support from racial minorities.

And Rebel Media’s power, even before this week, was waning. This spring, when some politicians embraced Rebel Media, seeking to reproduce populists’ successes elsewhere, those candidates instead found defeat.

This summer, when reporting for Amanda’s story, we visited a Rebel Media conference in Toronto. Though we had only stopped by for the day, it was clear that this was a movement on the decline.

In a long and thoughtful article on Rebel Media, Richard Warnica of The National Post wrote that Mr. Levant, intentionally or not, is “forcing people to pick a side.”“

Nothing The Rebel did this week, as Conservatives and contributors edged away, was substantially different from what it had done two months ago, or six months ago or last year,” Mr. Warnica added.

What changed is Canada’s conservative establishment, which rejected Rebel Media. That is a marked difference from the conservative establishment in Britain, which embraced populism, or the conservative establishments in the United States and France, which tried to reject populism but instead were overcome by it.

The story of Rebel Media is of course a story of personalities and what unfolded between them. But it is also, like just about every major news story from the last year, a story about institutions.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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