For more than four years now, Canadians have watched the slow-motion collapse of American democracy with a mixture of horror and schadenfreude. In retrospect, we probably should have spent that time preparing our own country for the arrival of the political virus that Donald Trump created and is now spreading here. After the events of the last few weeks, it’s become clear that it’s already infected thousands of people — and it’s moving fast.
Witness the surge in abuse and violence directed towards journalists during the recent Ottawa protests. As veteran Global reporter Sean O'Shea noted, “I’ve never personally experienced so much personal harassment while covering a story. I had rarely needed a bodyguard before. Covering the protests, television crews at all networks needed security staff to do our jobs safely. That’s a sad fact.”
So too is the fact that journalists were verbally harassed and even spat on by protesters for simply doing their jobs, something their American peers had to deal with more and more over the last few years. As Brent Jolly, the president of the Canadian Association of Journalists, said in an interview last week, “This is what happens when you have brains scrambled by misinformation.”
Some of those brains can be found in the Conservative Party of Canada’s own caucus. Just as Trumpism transformed the Republican Party from a political vehicle for the interests of the wealthy into a clearing house for conspiracy theories and other flavours of paranoid nonsense, so too has it corrupted Canada’s Conservatives and alienated any remaining moderates in their midst.
Take the way they’ve tried to portray the protests in Ottawa. Just as Republicans did in the wake of their near-insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, Conservatives in Canada have tried to spin our own anti-democratic movement that sought to overturn the will of the people as a benign expression of patriotism. In the House of Commons, MP Lianne Rood suggested it was “like a Canada Day times a thousand — bigger than any Canada Day I’ve ever seen in this country.”
Their renewed interest in the so-called “Great Reset,” a benign (if poorly branded) economic manifesto from the World Economic Forum, is textbook Trumpist politics. It’s become the far right’s latest conspiracy theory of choice, one that blends latent anti-Semitism with climate change denial and populist fearmongering, all in response to the suggestion that COVID-19 is a reminder of why we need to put our economies on a more sustainable and just trajectory.
At the heart of this theory is Klaus Schwab, the executive chairman and founder of the World Economic Forum. “The COVID-19 crisis is affecting every facet of people’s lives in every corner of the world,” he wrote in a 2020 piece on his proposed “great reset.” “But tragedy need not be its only legacy. On the contrary, the pandemic represents a rare but narrow window of opportunity to reflect, reimagine, and reset our world to create a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous future.”
In retrospect, it appears to have represented an even better opportunity for Conservatives to terrify Canadians about some sort of shadowy global conspiracy to undermine their standard of living and violate their rights. In the Commons, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie asked about the “infiltration” and “penetration” of the government by Schwab’s WEF, and asked for names of cabinet ministers who were “on board with the WEF’s agenda.”
This is a long way from 2012, when former prime minister Stephen Harper told Schwab: “You have made the World Economic Forum an indispensable part of the global conversation among leaders in politics, business, and civil society … I know everyone here joins me in thanking you for, in the service of the common good, your leadership and vision.” But that was back when Donald Trump was still just a reality television star (rather than a reality television president) and the Conservative Party of Canada wasn’t so clearly in thrall to his brand of politics.
Opinion: Trumpism has corrupted Canada’s Conservatives and alienated any remaining moderates in their midst. @maxfawcett writes for @natobserver. #Trumpism #AntiSemitism #cdnpoli
But while the Conservative Party of Canada has clearly decided it wants to learn to live with the virus of Trumpism, the rest of us must try to fight it off. If Justin Trudeau wants to leave a lasting legacy for this country, that’s where he should focus his efforts right now.
He can begin with a crackdown on the spread of misinformation, which seems to grow at exponential rates on social media platforms like Facebook. Indeed, as The Verge’s Ryan Broderick noted in a recent story, Facebook amplified some of the most odious examples during the occupation of Ottawa and attracted the attention of the American misinformation-industrial complex. “This pipeline — from physical protest to social media to establishment outlets — is what has helped the convoy evolve from a local standoff into a televised event that can raise millions from supporters thousands of miles away,” he wrote.
Trudeau can also revisit the idea of electoral reform and push harder for a system like ranked ballots that rewards consensus and punishes extremism. More support for the media and other fact-based reporting is an essential part of this broader campaign, as is a renewed focus on teaching civics in our schools and communities.
There’s no guarantee we can fully inoculate ourselves from the threat of Trumpism. But as recent events in Ottawa have shown, we can’t afford to pretend it isn’t here — or that we’re somehow immune to it. Our best hope now is to reinforce the institutions that uphold our democracy and its values as best and as quickly as we can, and hope they can weather the coming storm.