So much for the melting pot metaphor.
Western societies seem to be taking a sharp turn to the right these days as politicians — the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing — ride so-called waves of “populism” to power.
Exhibit A: Donald Trump.
Closer to home for me in Canada, there is Doug Ford — promising “a buck a beer” — taking the top job in Ontario and François Legault in Quebec.
All three politicians lead conservative parties, and at least two of them — Trump and Legault — used identity politics to some extent to help them win power. (Yes, Ford actually promised voters they would be able to buy beer for a buck, and he won.)
In the U.S., it was “build the wall” to keep Mexicans out. In Quebec, it was reduce the number of immigrants and ban religious headgear from civil servants in positions of authority, specifically, ban Muslims from wearing the hijab in public service fields like education, the law, medicine etc.
Oh, yes, they all made the usual promises on bread and butter issues, too, and to put more money into people’s pockets. But in Quebec and the U.S., the governments that preceded them had good economic records. They left their respective houses in good order.
There’s always room for improvement, of course. But most voters know that when it comes to the general housekeeping of governments, it’s pretty much “new boss same as the old boss” — and we’re all working for the taxman, new boss included, who doesn’t give anything back.
There is some debate about the swing-right trend? Is it the ordinary man rising up against the elite establishment, as some are portraying it?
I don’t think so. I mean, Legault in Quebec is worth $10 million, and Trump in the U.S. is worth millions more. They might talk like “salt of the earth” types, but they are part of the wealthy capitalist elite with grand visions of manipulating society.
In Quebec, the Coalition Avenir Québec’s (CAQ) majority win on Oct. 1 is also being described by some pundits as a vote for “anybody but the Liberals,” and that it was time for a change. Indeed, that is also what the CAQ campaigned on. The Liberals had held power for most of the past 15 years, and alternated before that with the sovereignist Parti Québécois (PQ). Quebecers were fed up with what they saw as an arrogant Liberal government and an antiquated PQ. They wanted a new party — even if the CAQ is led by a former PQ minister.
In Quebec, at least, and perhaps the U.S., it remains to be seen if the swing right is for the long term or simply one term. It also remains to be seen how society will be affected and changed by these parties.
Legault has said Quebec won’t look the same in four years, when the next provincial election is held. But there is nothing the CAQ can do that can’t be undone by a successive Liberal majority government — if the pendulum swings that way in 2022.
Not so simple in the U.S., though. No matter which party holds the balance of power after the mid-term elections in November and even if Trump were to lose the next presidential election, the Republicans have inflicted a seemingly incurable cancer on the nation in the form of the conservative Brett Kavanaugh in the Supreme Court. A lot of liberal-minded people could suffer for generations to come, if some of the pundits are right.
The question troubling me tonight is, how much of the identity politics appealed to voters?
I can’t really speak for the United States, though I have my suspicions. But in Quebec, I believe identity politics played a big part in getting the CAQ elected. Surprisingly — to me, at least — many anglophones support a ban on religious symbols in the workplace. (Read the comments to an article on the Gazette site for examples.)
Actually, let me rephrase that: many people support a ban on the hijab and, to a lesser degree the Jewish kippah, worn by civil servants in positions of authority, if not banning them in public altogether.
We’re not talking about the crucifix here. Nobody seems to be too concerned about that in this province with deep Catholic roots.
There is a fear of Muslims, of being overrun by them, of them taking over our society, of the French culture being diluted to the point of extinction. The latter point is a long-held fear of French Quebecers, and for decades was the raison d’etre of the PQ, which sought to establish an independent nation here.
The majority of Quebecers aren’t interested in splitting from Canada now, but the French in Quebec are as protective of their language and culture as the people of Israel are about their state.
In Quebec, the new government seems to be sending a clear message to Muslims well beyond the declared desire to establish a secular civil service: when in Quebec, do as Quebecers do.
And they have stated as much with new rules they intend to implement: new immigrants will have three years to integrate, and if they don’t learn to speak French and don’t pass a values test, they will be kicked out of Quebec.
The CAQ was upfront about all of this during their campaign. And they won a majority government.
Immigration is a hot-button issue in many countries these days, and identity politics will certainly be part of the federal election campaign in Canada next year. The sitting Liberal government has been welcoming thousands of Syrian refugees, and hasn’t been turning away refugees crossing over from the U.S. illegally. The latter point is not sitting well with many Conservatives in Canada.
How will it play to Canadians as a whole?
And there’s the wild card, of course: ISIS.
If ISIS has achieved anything in its failed bid to take over the world and all its acts of terrorism, it has been to sow the seeds of distrust and fear of Muslims. Yes, it is irrational to link a hijab worn by a woman in downtown Montreal with ISIS. But some people do make that link. They think all Muslims are part of a plot to take over the West, and to slay all the infidels there.
An act of terrorism linked to ISIS again could prolong the swing to the right in many places.
Still, I have to hope that the swing to the right is temporary, and that distrust and fear will give way to genuine brotherly love.
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.” — John Lennon.