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​About six weeks ago, as the craziness mounted, I asked Rolling Stone cover artist Victor Juhasz to make a drawing depicting what it’s like to be up here in Canada watching the American news.

Juhasz told me he was imagining the reaction of normal Canadians to the insanity and right-wing “Freedom” and “Liberty” vitriol spewing via U.S. media and social media when he made the drawing. “Lots of early MAD Magazine and Looney Tunes influence here,” he explained. “Why make the picture depressive?”

So we've got a Canadian family watching the news as an enormous Donald Trump explodes out of the TV set brandishing a bottle of bleach. Kellyanne Conway is literally vomiting propaganda. Behind her, Jerry Falwell Jr. wields a cross reading, “Jesus Will Cure.” Behind Trump, a militia member with a Confederate flag on his helmet roars. (I’m guessing he’d be saying, “Live free or die! No masks!”) Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, framed in a portrait, watches aghast behind a Canadian flag. Even the dog and cat are terrified.

Sure, as Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic this month, “No one should be shocked that a liar who has made almost 20,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency would lie about whether the U.S. had the pandemic under control...”

But being shocked is normal now, even here in Canada, where it’s not our news — and absorbing the shock waves is just what's required to participate in the cross-border conversation.

Truly, in this season filled with economic distress and border closures, masks and militias, snake oil salesmen and demagoguery, the news from America can seem like an assault. From the truth-contorting White House briefings to the fascist Republican National Convention, one can only monitor one's intake and wonder uneasily about the effects on our democracy.

With the American flag draped like a Nazi banner and unfurled between massive columns, the pageantry suggestive of Mussolini and Hitler, the RNC howled authoritarianism. The propagandist-in-chief aped Putin, posted soldiers to open the door for him, and, for her keynote speech, FLOTUS chose a suit that made her look like she marched in with the SS.

But who has time to reflect on history when the world moves so fast and “the most powerful man in it” is a madman? As CNN's national security reporter Jim Sciutto explains in his book, Trump is a madman “sometimes intentionally and sometimes not.”

Former Toronto Star reporter and full-time fact-checker of Trump, Daniel Dale, has said that some of the conspiracy theories coming out of the White House are almost too stupid to fact check.

"There's no border to keep Trump's toxic infodemic from reaching our homes. Now isn't the time to look down our noses at headlines in the U.S. and feel smug."

It's an “infodemic,” as Ed Yong puts it. “An infodemic of falsehoods spread alongside the actual virus. Rumours coursed through online platforms that are designed to keep users engaged, even if that means feeding them content that is polarizing or untrue.”

And as we watch, Trump's disinformation and outright lies are killing Americans.

Take for example, a Florida-based taxi driver and his wife who fell ill with COVID-19 last May.

They believed conspiracy theories claiming that the virus was either a hoax, or that it was real but just a mild flu, and neglected to wear masks or even seek help in the onset of their illness.

In August, his wife — a pastor — succumbed to the illness, showing the human cost of disinformation peddled at the highest levels of government. This is just sad. But it's so important to remember that disinformation can kill.

Brian Lee Hitchens and his wife, Erin, in a photo from Facebook. The American couple believed the coronavirus was a hoax, and fell ill in May from the virus, resulting in Erin's death last month.

Mundane and normalized, yet so extreme

The more you see mainstream American Conservatives retweeting QAnon conspiracy theories and hateful, violent rhetoric toward “liberals,” the more mundane and normalized it becomes.

We'd like to think what’s happening in America doesn't affect Canada, that we're too smart to fall for the disinformation campaigns ravaging the U.S. And yet that’s not true.

And it goes both ways — some of the most influential far-right media figures in the U.S. come from Canada or have Canadian connections.

In June, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, a British-based think tank, released a report titled An Online Environmental Scan of Right-Wing Extremism in Canada, which identified 6,660 right-wing extremist channels, pages, groups and accounts, reaching an audience of millions of people across Canada and around the world.

Canada, in fact, is the third-most active nation using 4chan's politically incorrect board, right after the U.S. and U.K.

The horrific Quebec City mosque shooting in 2017 was carried out by a young man obsessed with Trump, whose constant immersion in right-wing news led him to believe Muslim refugees would "kill" his parents and family, despite no evidence.

The “incel” terror attacks, including the Toronto van killing in 2018 and the machete attack earlier this year, had roots in online disinformation.

Even when Trudeau announced on Twitter that Canada has secured millions of potential vaccines for COVID-19, his account was flooded by reply tweets sharing disinformation and distrust around the safety of vaccines.

In another instance of Canadian-style propaganda, Kerry-Lynne D. Findlay, the Conservatives' environment critic and MP for South Surrey-White Rock, shared a misleading video linking Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland with George Soros, sending a sinister and anti-Semitic message to her twitter followers.

The original tweet was by David Q Milley, who defended QAnon as “patriots who actually take the time to research facts.”

The new Conservative leader Erin O'Toole didn't see the tweet as serious enough to address immediately, and issued a lukewarm statement days after the fact, causing prominent Conservative commentator Charles Adler to leave his party and publicly denounce its apparent tolerance for racist views.

Handmaid's Tale-style getaway

My dual-citizen friends who live in upper New York state have prepared for a Handmaid's Tale-style getaway to Canada.

Their Canadian passports and treasured possessions are stored in a special place, easy to grab if they need to get up and go.

Why aren't they coming now? I ask them. And what would trigger a decision to leave two good jobs and a beloved home?

Militias blocking the interstates, like the ones facing off with protesters in Portland.

If those come closer, they'll travel north, they say. To this haven with its border closed against the virus running rampant in America.

Disinformation knows no border

Still, our screens are with us everywhere, and MAGA's always there.

The words of the late Robin Williams come to mind. Williams was speaking to Canadians about how he saw Canada when he joked, “You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.”

It's always felt like a nice summary of how Canadians see themselves compared to the U.S., as a bastion of normalcy in the world. Over here north of the border, we are sane, safe.

But as with our own lives, if a friend and close neighbour is in deep crisis, eventually that hits home. There's no border to keep Trump's toxic infodemic from reaching our homes. Now isn't the time to look down our noses at headlines in the U.S. and feel smug. Whether we can learn from America's painful struggles in 2020 will determine our own future. I hope we'll be ready.

Keep reading

thanks for validating all my thoughts and observations in print. Where do Canadians flee too when the Handmaid's Tale feels like it has stepped out of fiction?

Except we have our own versions of Donald Trump and his entourage here in Alberta

Any kind of propaganda is contagious beyond borders. Here we have Ezra Levant trying to monetize the same fear and outrage with Rebel Media with relatively little success fortunately. The failure of Sun TV showed that we're not in the same hole as the US...yet. Weak leadership will allow these toxins to fester, though.
Erin O'Toole is driving a bus that Stephen Harper built and that bus includes right-wingers who have to be placated to keep control of the party. If O'Toole did the right thing and aggressively stomped on this woman (and Pierre Polievre who retweeted the same post) he might face an insurrection. This is ungood.

As I pointed out in another thread, the demonization of George Soros is not just anti-Semitic because there are other Jewish billionaires that aren't attacked. Soros pours money into pro-democracy causes and that's why he's a target for anti-democracy forces. Is O'Toole fine with this or is he conciously riding a tiger? Double plus ungood.

Well, "pro-democracy" for certain values of the word "democracy", sure. I mean, often they seem to involve seizing power without an election, and/or promoting groups whose actual beliefs and policies have little to do with the sophisticated online PR they are trained to use to gain a following. These actual beliefs and policies tend to involve increased access and control for foreign investors--what a co-incidence that they happen to be backed by a wealthy foreign investor.
Soros isn't the devil right wing conspiracists paint him as . . . but that doesn't make him a good guy. He's a very, very rich man who made his pile manipulating currency rather than doing anything productive, and who really likes throwing his weight around, even more than the average billionaire, but likes being sanctimonious about it. He's not so different from the Koch brothers (uh, just "brother" now I guess) in the end--they both try to buy political outcomes. The difference is that the Koch brothers back the hard right, mainly in the US, and Soros backs the neoliberal free trade "centre", mainly more on what you might call the "periphery".

"often they seem to involve seizing power without an election, and/or promoting groups whose actual beliefs and policies have little to do with the sophisticated online PR they are trained to use to gain a following"

Care to give examples?

Most billionaires are pirates and many are Jewish so why do they pick on Soros? He's a long way from being the worst of them. The Koch brothers (yes there are few left and while they may not be active in the business they certainly live off the proceeds) have been funding climate change denial for 50 years. That's far worse than anything Soros might have done. Then there's the Walton family some of whose employees are on food stamps FFS.

You remind me of a friend of mine who thinks nothing good can happen in the world. I call him Eyore. Cheer up! Not everything is a dirty trick.

Where do you think the 20-40 yo maskless partiers are getting their "protest" ideas from?
What I wonder is where are the cop-kettlers when they could be useful in rounding them all up and charging them, instead of giving repeated, meaningless warnings ...

Such an appropriate picture of Trudeau. Cowering in the background letting the family fend for themselves. Meanwhile funding his own propaganda media machine to handle his lies and coverups.

Really boring observation, that's the best you have, pretty sad, sure when you hit enter you thought you hit a home run, but its about conservatives south of the border, maybe you relate to them?

And a big dollop of Ralph Steadman.

"Sure, as Ed Yong writes in The Atlantic this month, “No one should be shocked that a liar who has made almost 20,000 false or misleading claims during his presidency would lie about whether the U.S. had the pandemic under control...”
Has anyone been counting Doug Ford's lies, or Jason Kenney's? Both of them spout them every day!
And we've got our own governments lying about the dangers of Covid-19 to children ... all in the name of getting them back in school. Interestingly, a hospital doctor said there are many more mental health appearances at hospital *during* school years, than during vacations.
I appreciate the strains and stresses on parents without alternative caregivers, especially lone parents of very young children, but I'm getting tired of the idea that, basically, all kids need psychiatric drugs. (And that was a prospect expicitly promoted in a convention of psychiatric professionals in Toronto, within the last decade).
I'm completely sure that some kids suffered abuse/more abuse at home during the Covid-19 school shutdowns; it's also been made clear that for some kids it was a refuge from abuse at school.
The worse lies, though are that younger children don't infect one another, and that they can sit in table groups, completely safely ... and that all classrooms can provide even the very young with at least 1M social distancing. Teachers and school boards have been pretty much unanimous on that point, throughout ... but government ministers and officials keep on repeating the lies over and over.

Check out this article on QAnon, written by a historian who studies such movements:

It’s telling that everyone in the graphic is white