The term ‘alt-right’ has become a cudgel against conservatives: MacDougall

Two good op-eds by Andrew MacDougall, calling on both parties to tone down the virtue signalling and name calling:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

Gerald Butts, the Prime Minister’s principal secretary, Ahmed Hussen, the federal immigration minister, and Lisa MacLeod, Hussen’s provincial counterpart, walk into a bar and…

Fine. I’ll spare you the joke, which (believe me) requires a mountain of set-up, and instead leave you with the punchline: Lisa MacLeod is a white supremacist!

What? That’s not funny? Well, I suspect that’s in the ear of the beholder. In any case, please direct all complaints to the Prime Minister’s Office, ℅ Mr. Butts, the author of the joke.

To be fair, the Butts quip wasn’t that blunt or direct. He wouldn’t dare call MacLeod a white supremacist outright. His dig was of the dog-whistle variety, one the federal Liberals have been blowing with increasing frequency as we approach the next election. And so let’s just say it wasn’t a surprise to see it deployed following the acrimonious federal-provincial meeting on immigration starring Hussen and MacLeod.

“Enough is enough,” Butts tweeted after the meeting. “It’s time to stand up to this divisive fear-mongering about asylum seekers. Let’s not allow the alt-right to do here what they’re doing elsewhere.”

And what were the particulars of the Hussen-MacLeod dispute, that it devolved to “fear-mongering”? It hardly matters. It’s the use of “alt-right” that’s key. Indeed, it’s the latest slur gifted to the right from the left. That’s why Doug Ford is now “alt-right.” It’s why Andrew Scheer is “alt-right.” And it’s why cookie-baking hockey mom MacLeod is “alt-right,” too.

And as with so much else in the world today, we have Donald Trump to thank for it.

It was Trump who brought the “alt-right”—then, as now, a bunch of white supremacists and violent fascists—into the light. But the President’s tacit acceptance of these “deplorables” gave license to Trump’s political opponents to paint all of his support—the vast majority of which are neither racist or supremacist—with the alt-right brush, especially those who oppose the current immigration system, which no one can describe as perfect. This is the dynamic the Liberals—once the purveyor of sunny ways, let’s not forget—seem to be trying to import into Canada.

Although the migrant problems facing Canada’s borders are nowhere near the scale of those between Mexico and the United States, they are as complex, and nearly as intractable, absent a willing partner in the White House. Hence the PMO’s desire to reach for the shorthand of the “alt-right”: It’s better to brand your opponents than explain why you can’t get the job done.

Because MacLeod is certainly correct that the feds don’t (yet) have a workable plan to stem arrivals at non-designated border crossings. She’s also correct when she says the provinces are bearing a lot of the costs of housing and caring for refugees and asylum seekers. Nor is she the only one raising the alarm; it’s been a constant criticism from the federal Tories as well. No wonder it rankles the PMO. I’d be yelling “alt-right” too, especially if I knew my opponents didn’t have a workable plan either.

Now, Butts doesn’t actually think MacLeod is a noxious white supremacist like Richard Spencer, the lodestar of the U.S.’s alt-right movement. But he is certainly happy to have that association linger in your mind, no matter how untrue or uncharitable it might be. Here, the application of the label “alt-right” is meant to stifle debate on immigration, not encourage it. If there can be no reasonable critique made on immigration then the status quo, no matter how bad, will carry the day.

It’s a trick the right has pulled on the left on many occasions. A school shooting? Can’t criticize the Second Amendment, my fellow American, or else you ain’t a patriot. Or, to pick a less noxious example, any plan by a left-of-centre party to raise a tax—any tax—is evidence of economy-killing communism or socialism. Again, it’s a tactic meant to kill nuance and throttle debate. Just ask Stéphane Dion about his “Green Shift,” aka the “permanent tax on everything.”

The Liberals are clearly casting around for slurs that stick in a similar fashion. They’ve largely leaned on using Stephen Harper’s name as a bogeyman; voters grew tired of the Harper government’s perceived nastiness in the last election, hence the longtime Liberal habit of shouting “Harper” in every crowded theatre. It’s why Trudeau himself fronted the “it may be Andrew Scheer’s smile, but it’s still Stephen Harper’s party” attack line at the recent Liberal convention. Slagging Harper sells.

But it doesn’t work nearly as well when speaking about problems the Liberals have created, like the deficit, or inherited and made worse, like the border. Tweeting “Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada” might have won a news cycle, but it’s come back to bite the Liberals in the backside in the form of multiplying “temporary” asylum shelters and an  overwhelmed processing system.

Step forward the “alt-right.” And even if the shoe doesn’t quite fit, the Liberals are going to try their damnedest to make the Conservatives wear it. Because, whether Canadian conservatives like it or not, a lot of their European brethren are piling in against immigration in a nasty fashion. And the reality is that Canada’s vaunted all-party support for immigration might crumble all the same if it faced European-like numbers of asylum seekers, too—just the kind of circumstance that birthed such alt-right movements elsewhere. No conservative party is truly safe.

Nor should liberals rest easy either. The European left is struggling mightily too, and it’s largely because they underestimated the people’s tolerance for an immigration system that clearly could no longer deal with what was coming its way.

To fight back against the alt-right slur, Conservatives in Canada need to do three things: keep supporting much-needed immigration and legitimate refugee claims; avoid hyperbole while making valid criticisms of the government’s actions; and uprooting any actual and visible forms of alt-right support in their party. The Republicans missed their weeding moment; the Tories can’t afford to miss theirs.

Because if they do miss it, it will be Trudeau’s Liberals who have the last laugh—no matter how poor their joke.

Source: The term ‘alt-right’ has become a cudgel against conservatives

And:

…First and foremost, opposition politicians need to stop performing for their bases and begin the challenging task of reaching out to Ford’s supporters. This is both the path to a more civilized discourse, as well as the eventual route back to power.

This isn’t to suggest the opposition remain quiet or docile. Far from it.

Ontario’s system of government requires a strong opposition, especially in holding a majority to account. But a sober critique can land as effectively as a headline-searching cheap shot. Mr. Ford’s support isn’t a monolith; it can be picked off if done reasonably. If he bungles government, people will notice.

And the opposition’s lessons apply equally to the media.

So much of today’s surging populism is fuelled by the sense the arbiters of a society’s discourse – including the press and the politicians they hold to account – are happy to ignore their views. And right now a lot of people are worried about crime and border security. Mr. Ford understands that. Their fears might not necessarily be backed up by statistics, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem. Here, the sneering tone of journalism on platforms such as Twitter does the profession no favours.

The media need to remain clear-eyed in their work, even if the Premier isn’t their cup of tea. It was a mistake to equate Ford Nation with Mr. Trump and his “deplorables” during the campaign, and it remains a mistake now that Mr. Ford is in government. One thing is certain: The “fake news” drumbeat, still quiet in Canada, will surely grow louder with every unforced reporting error and torqued editorial position.

Premier Ford might not like the press (what politician does), but he isn’t in the class of Mr. Trump. For the moment Mr. Ford is busy running his government, not running against the media. That Mr. Ford doesn’t court or flatter the press shouldn’t count against him, even if it does ultimately make his job more difficult.

For his part, the Premier would do well to keep his ears open to legitimate criticism. Yes, “the People” have spoken and, yes, there are still many promises to keep, but there is also wisdom to be found on all sides. Lashing out at critics isn’t a plan; Mr. Ford must keep his famous temper in check if he is to keep “the People” on his side.

Governing is a marathon, not a race. Mr. Ford won’t secure his re-election in a single day, nor will he be defeated in one. Keeping the hysteria to a minimum gives voters the best chance to make a reasoned decision the next time around.

Ford is not Trump. Ontario’s opposition would be wise to lower the outrage

Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side’ – Mark Kingwell

Kingwell on the limitations of free speech, with some trenchant and convincing arguments (e.g., “haters gonna hate”).

His best points are on what should be rules of engagement for public discourse: “no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points.” Hard, however, to see how these could be implemented given the current tenor of political and media discourse:

The recent deadly Nazi hate-fest in Charlottesville has, in addition to revealing the extreme moral vacuity of the current White House, prompted a call for more compassion and empathy when dealing with basic ideological differences.

Pundits orate on NPR about how to recognize the psychological damage of those given to right-wing rage. Classes are offered in tactics for engaging those on “the other side” of political debates. My impeccably Democratic New Hampshire in-laws set off to attend one of these sessions last week, earnest in their desire to find common ground with fellow Americans who voted Trump.

These efforts and sentiments are noble, but doomed to fail. Even a minute of exposure to the views of Richard Spencer or David Duke – let alone the Twitter feed of POTUS 45 – is enough to show that there is no rational engagement possible here. There is a moral baseline that Nazism is indefensible; we ought likewise to recognize that most people can’t actually be reasoned with.

That’s why, much as it pains me to say, as someone theoretically committed to the rule of reason, that what we need in public debate is not more understanding. The utopia of a rational public sphere is an illusion, and efforts to unearth it – in the form of core American values, Canadian tolerance or some other political chimera – fool’s errands. What we need, instead, is what social scientists call scaffolding.

In simple forms, scaffolding means things such as air-traffic control, highway roundabouts, exit signage, and queuing conventions – small mechanisms that allow humans to co-ordinate action when their individual interests might otherwise generate chaos. In more subtle cases, we constrain our own desires in the form of, say, computer apps that time-out social-media access (the Enabler-in-Chief could use one of these). Or else we impose limits on freedom in those suffering harmful addictions. Addicts can always try therapy or self-control, but we know that denying access to the drug or even inflicting benign behavioural modification is far more effective.

Why don’t we acknowledge that political belief is also an aspect of human behaviour in need of external control? Let’s call it conviction addiction. Sure, some people can, like social drinkers, moderate their views and stay clear-headed over the course of the day. Others fall into a pattern of abusive behaviour and acting out. They can’t help themselves.

The gateway drug is interrupting, raising your voice and deliberately misunderstanding interlocutors – all standard moves of a CNN segment. Conviction-addicts then move on to ranting at hidden forces, demonizing ethnic groups, and sounding dog-whistles – all standard moves of Rebel Media or Sean Hannity. Finally, if unchecked, they order the flashy haircut, don the white polo shirt and fire up a tiki torch. The fact that a slogan like “Jews will not replace us” literally makes no sense is, at this point, not a defect but a mark in its favour.

Classical liberals argue that bad speech should be met with more and better speech, that the marketplace of ideas will short bad stocks and return investment on good ones. Alas, not so. The mental market is far more irrational than the one governing wealth, which veers from high to low based on rumour, wisps of policy change and random tweets.

Thus the need for market regulation, antitrust legislation and the Securities and Exchange Commission. These are hard-floor scaffolds on trading, meant to combat excesses at the margins. Consider, then, that individual consciousness is considerably less sane than even the most rapacious corporation. Mere existence is sufficient for each of us to form a limited company in the world of thought. That’s frightening! There is no dialectic possible here. Haters gonna hate.

Let’s recognize the conviction-addictive quality in all of us, and stop imagining that free public discourse will bend toward reason. Curbs on speech and strict rules of engagement – no interruptions, no slogans, no talking points – may be the right answer here. We already, in this country, ban hateful speech. Let’s go farther and insist on discourse rules, limits on public outrage and aggressively regulated social media. We could even ban media panel discussions.

We’d still co-exist, versions of Immanuel Kant’s notional “nation of devils” ruled by uneasy self-interest. But it won’t be through talking things over, let alone hugging them out. Limit indulgence in the cup of conviction; let’s have more constraint, less conversation. That’s your path to a stable future, friends – by not trying to be friends.

Source: Don’t bother trying to understand those on the ‘other side’ – The Globe and Mail