Yvon Grenier is a political science professor and a fellow at the Brian Mulroney Institute of Government at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
By Yvon Grenier
With the election of Pierre Poilievre at the helm of the Conservative Party of Canada, populism is entering the political mainstream by the front door.
Poilievre won almost all of Canada’s 338 ridings in his party’s leadership race by mobilizing old and especially new members around a dual agenda: traditional conservative ideas, seasoned with grating populist rhetoric.
But what is populism exactly?
Populism has been around in the West since at least the end of the 19th century, and yet it is still a slippery concept to grasp, for two reasons.
First, it is what political scientists call a “thin” ideology or set of political ideas, meaning that it does not have a well-defined, “thick” concept, like liberalism or socialism. These days, most famous populist politicians are “right-wingers” (Trump in America, Orbán in Hungary, Poilievre in Canada), but they could also hail from the left (the late president Hugo Chávez in Venezuela is the best example from recent memory).
Second, populism is an original recipe, but it uses a common ingredient in democratic politics: the idea that power should be in the hands of the people. Hence the confusion between populism and “popular” or “for the people.” Most democratic politicians who talk about empowering the people are not populists, or if so, only superficially.
Populism comes on a spectrum (more or less) and, in small doses, it can be quite compatible with democracy. The Canadian Prairies were once fertile ground for left-wing populism (the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation — the CCF — which became the NDP), as they were later for the right-wing Reform Party of Canada. Poilievre himself grew up in Calgary.
A quick comparison with the most (in)famous populist of our time, Donald Trump, is illuminating.
But in its mature stage, populism can imperil democratic values and institutions. Why? Because it turns politics into an existential fight between “the people” and the political elites, in league with the cultural elites (media, universities and, these days, health authorities), and sometimes the economic elites as well (in Poilievre-talk, the Davos elites). Those elites are all determined to feather their own nests and lie to the masses. Such a mindset is evidently hospitable to conspiracy theories. If what you see is not what you get, there must be a hidden explanation.
The logic in populism is not pluralistic (for example, the idea that plurality of groups and interests is normal and healthy in a democracy), but apocalyptic: the people (and its leader) must defeat the corrupt elites. The antidemocratic potential here is obvious; once elected, many populist leaders use majoritarian power to curtail institutions that limit their power (a.k.a. the “people’s power”), especially legislatures, the courts and the media.
Poilievre vs. Trump
Where does Poilievre fit on that spectrum? A quick comparison with the most (in)famous populist of our time, Donald Trump, is illuminating.
First, the striking similarities: Poilievre’s vilification of the media (especially the organization once established by a conservative government, the CBC); the way he defended cryptocurrencies; his medical populism (basically: one should be “free” to ignore recommendations by nearly all infectious disease specialists); and finally, his itching to embrace like-minded “F*** Trudeau” protesters, as they were revelling in illegal blockades and occupations.
There are some important differences, too.
In order of importance: first and foremost, Poilievre is not a racist. He doesn’t even indulge in occasional and opportunistic dog-whistling on immigration, like Premier François Legault in Quebec or former prime minister Stephen Harper during his last electoral campaign, for instance.
Second, his economic policy is textbook Conservative Party of Canada platform: free trade (which Trump detests), low deficit and less regulation.
Finally, as a matter of style, Poilievre seems determined to soup up his humble origins, which in fact are not humble at all. But never mind, that’s something Trump couldn’t do, with no regrets. He once told a blue-collar crowd in Wisconsin how their Harley-Davidsons are great but he prefers limousines. The Donald instinctively understands the essential nerve of populism: not be of the people, but be the amplifier of its anger and resentment.
All in all, could a Poilievre government be as divisive and harmful to democracy as Trump’s?
Probably not, but only the future may tell.
Fauci says ‘we need to keep the politics out of’ investigating COVID origins – The Hill
Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s outgoing chief medical adviser, on Sunday urged officials to “keep the politics out of” investigating the origins of COVID-19 in China.
Speaking with moderator Margaret Brennan on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Fauci said he is keeping an open mind, but he reiterated that the evidence is “quite strong” that the virus occurred naturally.
“They’re very suspicious of anybody trying to accuse them,” Fauci said of the Chinese government. “We need to have an open dialogue with their scientists and our scientists, keep the politics out of it.”
Republicans have indicated they plan to investigate the origins of the pandemic upon taking the House majority in January as well as Fauci himself, suggesting COVID-19 instead originated from a laboratory.
“All of my colleagues, keep an absolutely open mind,” Fauci said on CBS. “We’ve got to investigate every possibility because this is too important not to do that. That’s not incompatible with saying the scientific evidence still weighs much more strongly that this is a natural occurrence. You must keep your mind open that it’s something other than that.”
But Fauci pushed back on the notion that the Chinese Communist Party covered up the pandemic’s origins.
“Not necessarily the scientists that we know and we have dealt with and collaborated with productively for decades, but the whole establishment — a political and other establishment in China, even when there’s nothing at all to hide — they act secretive, which absolutely triggers an appropriate suspicion,” Fauci said.
He went on to criticize former President Trump’s accusatory comments against China during the early months of the pandemic, although Fauci acknowledged a need for more data.
“What happens is that if you look at the anti-China approach, that clearly the Trump administration had right from the very beginning, and the accusatory nature, the Chinese are going to flinch back and say, ‘Oh, I’m sorry, we’re not going to talk to you about it,’ which is not correct. They should be,” Fauci told Brennan.
Twitter's time in Canadian politics began with an apology — and then it got worse – CBC.ca
This is an excerpt from Minority Report, a weekly newsletter on federal politics. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that by clicking here.
The first reference to “tweeting” in the House of Commons came during an apology.
Shortly after question period on the afternoon of October 20, 2009, then-Liberal MP Ujjal Dosanjh stood on a point of order.
“I wish to inform you and the House that I inadvertently tweeted about matters that I ought not to have tweeted about, that is, the in-camera proceedings of the defence committee,” Dosanjh told the Speaker. “That was an error on my part and that entry will be deleted at the earliest possible opportunity, which is right after I get out of here.”
This, apparently, was before MPs realized they could have their staff manage their Twitter accounts.
“I thank the honourable member,” responded Peter Milliken, Speaker at the time. “I assume that ‘tweeting’ means it went on Twitter.”
Dosanjh’s point of order marked the arrival in Canada of a social media platform that promoted both dialogue and excess — a tool that both enriched debate and created new ways to do things we would later regret.
Thirteen years later, Twitter seems to be teetering on the brink of collapse. Even if it carries on in some shape or form, its time as one of the predominant forums in public life may be nearing an end. Many users have already withdrawn from the platform or reduced their presence.
Whenever and however the Twitter era comes to an end, its impact on Canadians politics will have been great — but not entirely good.
Small audience, big impact
There is a decent chance that you’re not a regular user of Twitter. Most Canadians aren’t. But the platform has an outsized impact on the political life of this country because most Canadian politicians, journalists, pundits, political strategists, pollsters, lobbyists and partisans do use Twitter — along with a significant number of academics, policy wonks and subject matter experts.
Canada is hardly the only country with this dynamic, of course. Consider, for instance, the United States — Twitter played an integral role in Donald Trump’s rise.
Nothing so seismic has happened here (at least not yet) but the impact has not been small.
It also hasn’t been all bad. It gave politicians a new way to communicate with voters and it created a new way for voters to hold politicians to account. It facilitated the spread of news and information with incredible speed and breadth.
It elevated new and underrepresented voices and those voices enriched the wider dialogue. In certain ways, Twitter helped bring more nuance to the political debate. Think of every academic or historian who has used a Twitter thread to illuminate a complicated topic.
That, sadly, isn’t all that might be said about Twitter’s performance as a modern public square.
Amping up the extremes
As much as it has helped expose users to important information and valuable voices, it also has spread misinformation, disinformation, harassment and general nastiness. It prizes and rewards snap judgments, hot takes, outrage, condemnation, mockery, doomsaying and disagreement.
It sped up the news cycle to a dizzying degree. It elevates the most extreme opinions, offers ample opportunity for bad-faith actors and it is a terrible proxy for actual public opinion.
If previous media eras reduced politics to sound bites, Twitter reduced it even further — to hashtags. At times, the House of Commons seemed to be little more than a fancy studio for recording video clips to be pushed out on MPs’ Twitter feeds.
For all these reasons, it might be tempting to think Canadian politics would be better off without Twitter. But even if Twitter were to disappear tomorrow, there is no going back to a time before social media — just as there is no going back to a time before television or radio or newspapers.
If Twitter ceases to be a significant forum, some new platform (or platforms) will take its place. The era of social media is far from over.
There is something to be said for the argument that the problem with Twitter is not the platform itself but the way it is used, and the ways in which it is allowed to be used. In that sense, Twitter offers valuable lessons in how social media can work and how it can go wildly wrong.
Whether those lessons will be heeded is another matter entirely. The question of government regulation still looms on the horizon.
The indisputable truth is that, 13 years after Ujjal Dosanjh found a novel way to betray the confidence of in-camera committee discussions, everyone is still trying to figure out how to make the social media era work out for the best — or to at least minimize the harm it does.
10 Must-Read Novels About Asian American Politics
In Ryan Wong’s daring and generous debut novel, Which Side Are You On, Columbia University student Reed informs his parents that he’s dropping out of college and dedicating himself to grassroots organizing—for the past few months, he’s been protesting the killing of an unarmed Black man by an Asian American police officer. He’s adamant to learn everything he can about his Korean mother’s involvement in a Black-Korean coalition in the 1980s, so that he may use it to impress his other activist friends and fuel their current work. But the stories recounted by his mother and the discussions they engender—all carefully laid out in electric, and occasionally heartrending, dialogue between mother and son—start to affect Reed’s clear-cut views, revealing to him the many difficulties of organizing across cultures, and hinting at the importance of empathy and humanity in the effort to fully understand one’s community.
You might not know that “Asian American” is a relatively new term, only about fifty years old. You likely don’t know the term was coined by student leftists to join a coalition of Chicano, Black, and American Indian movements on Bay Area campuses in 1968. You might not think of Asian American Pacific Islanders as political as all, and this is largely because that history has largely been ignored or erased in favor of the tame, assimilationist “model minority” narrative.
Today, as we face intense anti-Asian violence, ongoing U.S. militarism in Asia, rapidly shifting migration patterns, and a crisis of American racial identity, it might help us to examine the political nature of Asian America through some of its most compelling narratives. Here’s a selection of ten novels that expand upon, challenge, and imagine futures for this young identity. They’re stories of rebels and revolutionaries, organizers and outsiders taking histories into their own hands.
This sprawling, 700+ page epic pays tribute to the Asian American Movement that defined this new identity. It was written decades later, but has all of the humor, bite, hope, and surrealism you might expect from a novel of vignettes set in the Bay Area of the 1960s and ’70s—scenes of Black Panthers and young Asian American radicals in a hotel room in Chinatown, of an Alcatraz Island takeover, of free folk concerts in Golden Gate Park, and, of course, of the demonstrations to save that hotbed of organizing and elder care and arts making, the I Hotel.
The narrator of this novel talks to you, but the “you” of it is an ambiguous American who is in Lahore, Pakistan, for unknown reasons—to befriend the narrator, to kill him, or both. Like the confessor in Camus’s The Fall, we get a frank and revealing series of tales, but instead of the existential angst of the judge we have the racial existentialism of the man trying to belong in a world that won’t have him. It’s a reminder that often fundamentalists scorn the very systems in which they once came close to belonging.
Can a novel about Japanese war atrocities in the Philippines be funny? An early scene has protagonist Vince watching a maudlin drama on the airplane back to the Philippines (which he left for the U.S. 13 years before) about a convent during the Japanese invasion. To speak about the unspeakable, you may need the absurdities that pop culture makes possible, the distance of humor. The Manila of Leche is a hazy hell, but also one full of pathos and heart, and it leads Vince exactly where he needs to go.
4. Guerrillas by V. S. Naipaul
What would the Asian diaspora in the Americas be without Naipaul’s Trinidad, which he left to attend Oxford only to revisit again and again in his writing? Guerrillas takes place on an unnamed island on the eve of revolution. Naipaul is one of the original problematic faves—his sexual politics are horrifying, his view of revolution condescending. Yet he’s one of the greats at showing the extreme bifurcations that colonialism and diaspora perform on the human mind, whether the white liberal’s paternalism or the would-be revolutionary’s deluded egoism.
This isn’t an “Asian American” story in the usual sense, but America’s presence is like a long shadow, a bogeyman, an uninvited dinner guest in this kaleidoscopic story of 1950s Manila. In other words, American stories happen anywhere America’s military and political presence rule, and their tacit condoning of the rise of an unnamed dictator and his glamorous first lady form the story’s backdrop. Hagedorn’s sentences bite and her scenes steam with heat as you follow this network of characters asking what they’ll do with their new-found “independence.”
This novel is often remembered as a portrait of a son and his working immigrant father. But it’s also a novel of politics, where some of the most tender and dynamic moments are between the narrator, Henry Park, and the city councilman John Kwang, who he’s assigned to spy on. John is charismatic and idealistic, a foil to Henry’s mercenary pragmatism. One of the crucial plot points revolves around a Korean money circle, or ggeh, one of the main ways Korean businesses survive, but to the U.S. state looks like money laundering. The novel asks what it means to succeed in a country designed to destroy you, to be loyal to people sent to undo you.
7. America Is in the Heart by Carlos Bulosan
Somewhere between novel and autobiography, America Is in the Heart has all the sweep, heroism, and tragedy of the old epics. We follow the narrator, also named Carlos, from his youth in the Philippines to the fields of California to the canneries of Alaska, where, witnessing the brutality against Filipinos by police, bosses, and business owners, he becomes radicalized. He joins socialist and communist groups, organizes with unions, and publishes poetry and essays on his experiences, the culmination of which is this monumental book.
Lee’s father was jailed under the regime of President Sukarno in Indonesia. That traumatic event shows up in Lee’s poetry and is a central feature of this poem-novel-memoir-myth of his family’s migration story. The book is called a “remembrance” and it reads like a dream, or, often, a nightmare, as the ravages of persecution and exile, of otherness and violence, manifest within and between Lee’s family members. History and displacement haunt this prose, every sentence drops like a stone, and the smallest moment sends you reeling to the past.
Dense yet sprawling, this experimental book traces Korean independence martyr Yu Gwansun through the stories of other mythic women martyrs in history. Cha was a visual artist, writer, and performer—a brilliant polymath who was murdered just as this book was published. Dictee shows what a book can be, that it’s capacious enough to contain photographs, verse, myth, and anything else the writer needs to assemble in order to speak about a fractured history.
10. The Hanging on Union Square by H. T. Hsiang
It’s not hard to see why Hsiang had trouble finding a publisher for this oddball novel that reads something like a screenplay or a novel-in-verse but without the respective plot or lyricism that usually accompanies those forms. But he had the foresight to self-publish it in 1935, and it’s a good thing he did, because he offers a portrait of the vibrant and rough life in Greenwich Village through the eyes of Mr. Nut, who becomes politicized by the grind of the down-and-outs. He seems compelled by some manic force, conveyed through the novel’s prose—a heady mix of bohemianism and radicalism pushing the lines forward.
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