As you probably know, 2016 wasn’t universally hailed as a banner year for tolerance, acceptance or global compassion. Between Donald Trump’s campaign and Brexit, international cooperation seemed on the decline for many. There were way too many shouts of ‘America first!’ or ‘Britain first!’ for the more pluralist among us. These sentiments, among other things, contributed to a global right-wing shift. During a time when a lot of people want more tolerance, things got a lot less accepting pretty much all over the Western world.
These trends were largely the result of the ‘right-wing populist rhetoric’ being used by political leaders and other influential parties. People have been using that phrase a lot lately, so let’s take a minute to learn what it actually means.
What is populism anyway?
Populism is political communication that appeals to the ‘common man’ as opposed to the enemy or the ‘privileged elite.’ Sound familiar? That’s because that’s exactly how Donald Trump campaigned. The hardworking, blue-collar workers were the ‘common man’ and everyone else (including the Democrats, Hillary supporters, immigrants, the university-educated and the media) were the elites. Basically: you’re pitting groups of people against each other, which is no way to unite a country or fairly represent the entire population once you’re elected.
What Donald Trump does is a step past that even. He’s quite the demagogue–a person who exploits the prejudices and ignorances of those ‘common people’ to impassion a crowd and shut down reasonable debate. This is fundamentally not good for democracy.
Where are we seeing it?
Basically anywhere that’s taking a staunch nationalist approach on global issues. Donald Trump is the most obvious example, but Brexit was largely the result of the ‘common British man’ feeling threatened by immigrants and how they were diluting British identity. We’ve seen a wave of right-wing populism throughout Europe over the past two years and just narrowly dodged some more of it in the French federal election this year.
Why such a shift right?
New York Times writer, Amanda Taub suggests that the main factor for this right-ward shift is the ‘threat’ immigration has posed to white dominance. That’s causing a backlash mostly from less educated, older, white voters who feel their way of life is under attack because their country looks different than it did 50 years ago. Yes, the white population has been diluted a little but this is not a bad thing.
Wait, so how is this not happening in Canada?
Because we’re super nice and just want to share poutine and maple syrup with the world? Technically no, but that’s a theory that should be explored. Taub has outlined the four main reasons that Canada is not suffering from right-wing-populism-itis.
First, we have the ‘geographical luck’ of not sharing a border with countries other than the U.S. That means we don’t really have to worry about people just approaching our border and trying to claim asylum. (That’s ostensibly why Trump wants a wall.)
Second, all our major parties reach out to all ethnic groups and rely on them for votes. In other countries, minorities tend to polarize, making it attractive to politicians to focus their energies on one group (which always creates an ‘us versus them’ rhetoric). Here, parties need to campaign to all of Canada rather than tailoring their campaigns to certain regions or groups.
Third, our parties are institutionally stronger because of how they’re set up. In the U.S., anyone can run to be a candidate for president. That’s how a non-politician/career businessman can get in. Here, you have to be the leader of your party to run for Prime Minister. That narrows the playing field considerably when it comes to who gets a platform on which to address the country.
Finally, our immigration policies make for a more integrated Canada so fewer Canadians feel resentment toward the newcomers for ‘diluting our identity.’ We have a sponsorship program for refugees and a points system for admittance that favours immigrants who would do well in Canada and have a positive economic impact.
We’re certainly not perfect, but it looks like our country is doing a lot right currently, Canada, and that’s something to be proud of. Just keep on being your tolerant and accepting self.