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Mark Holland makes a case for a more human approach to politics

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“This place needs to be more human,” Government House leader Mark Holland told a House of Commons committee during highly personal testimony on Tuesday.

In a narrow sense, Holland was making a case for the continued use of the “hybrid” arrangement that Parliament adopted shortly after the pandemic upended Canada and the world in 2020. At the most acute stages of the pandemic, allowing MPs to speak and vote remotely was a matter of safety. Looking forward, an openness to virtual participation could allow MPs to better balance their democratic duties with their personal lives.

In that respect, the conversation taking place in Parliament is not unlike the discussion that many workplaces have had about remote work.

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But it’s also possible that everything about our politics could stand to be more human — and that part of what ails modern politics is a lack of humanity.

“I think it would really miss what I’m trying to say to think it’s just about hybrid,” Holland said in a follow-up interview with CBC’s Rosemary Barton that airs on Sunday.

“I think that there is something broken in our discourse, there’s something broken in how [MPs] treat each other … and how we talk to each other about what we do.”

Although politicians are (with rare exceptions) — human beings, and although the debates they have and the policies they enact have very real implications for very real people, politicians don’t always act or seem like normal people.

That’s why moments of raw humanity — such as Holland’s testimony on Tuesday — are often seen as revelations. It’s not for nothing that commentators sometimes talk about efforts to “humanize” a politician.

Some of this might be unavoidable — the job is necessarily performative. Politicians are expected to lead and convey messages. They are a voice for others. To some extent, they have to entertain. They face constant and unforgiving media scrutiny.

Theatrics over humanity

As Holland noted, MPs spend their weekends racing around their ridings, going from one community event to another.

In short, there are many things about the life of a politician that would not be considered “normal” by most normal people. But politicians can also be captured by their own theatrics.

Consider, for instance, question period.

“I think we’re all seized with the decline in the quality of discourse, the incredibly aggressive and partisan nature in the way we question each other and interact with one another,” Holland said at another point during Tuesday’s committee hearing.

“… For most people watching, it doesn’t appear that we’re really acting like human beings, that we seem to be more interested in our partisan interest rather than the fact that we’re people who are attempting to do our best.”

For these and other reasons, it’s easy to be cynical about politics. It’s too often treated like entertainment or sport. But social media may have now reduced it to a video game — turning politicians and other voters into disembodied characters to fight or mock or get mad at.

Supporters of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump clash with police at the west entrance of the Capitol in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

Research in the United States has found that Republican and Democratic voters dehumanize each other. They also assume that the other side takes an even dimmer view of them.

And though there may be several forces driving the toxicity that has shown up recently in Canadian politics — including the threats and harassment directed at politicians and journalists — it’s worth considering whether politicians’ own disconnection and a certain lack of apparent humanity is at least partly to blame.

Perhaps what we’ve lacked over the last few years are forums where — unlike question period or social media— voters and their leaders can act and interact like normal people.

Discord and theatrics in politics are inevitable and, to some degree, healthy. But in the continuing conversation about the future of liberal democracy, it’s worth reflecting on the value of politicians and voters seeing each other as fellow humans.

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We need a law against lying in politics

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Of all the lies she’s told in her political career, Danielle Smith’s latest might be the biggest yet. After insisting it was the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO) that “asked for us to do a pause” on renewable energy development last year, it turns out the AESO’s CEO was actually opposed to it all along. In an email that came to light through a freedom-of-information request from The Narwhal’s Drew Anderson, AESO CEO Mike Law indicated that he was “not supportive” of the idea. “A ‘closed for business’ message to renewables will be reputationally very challenging for the province,” he wrote.

This is already having a number of potential negative outcomes for Alberta, from the independence of its supposedly independent electricity market operator to the damage this decision is doing to investment in the province. This week alone, TransAlta announced the cancellation of its 300-megawatt Riplinger wind farm in Cardston because of the new provincial regulations and put three additional renewable energy projects on hold.

Sady, this probably won’t negatively impact Smith’s popularity. We’ve come to expect our elected officials will lie to us, and they’ve been more than happy to live up — or down — to that standard. When Pierre Poilievre and his Conservative MPs tell bald-faced lies, whether it’s about the carbon tax or the treatment of drugs in B.C. (they’ve been decriminalized, not “legalized”), most of us — journalists and non-Conservative MPs included — have almost become accustomed to them by now.

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In fairness, the same holds true for the lies being told by those on the other side of the House of Commons, even if they happen with far less frequency. We’re all increasingly numb to the cost of these lies, big and small, and the corrosive impact they have on our political discourse and the decisions that flow from it.

This isn’t unique to Canada, of course. Politicians lie everywhere. But at least one politician is willing to do something about it. Adam Price, a Welsh parliamentarian and former leader of the centre-left Plaid Cymru party, recently tabled an amendment to that country’s broader election reform act proposing that it be made illegal for an elected official or candidate to “wilfully mislead the parliament or the public.” Opinions, beliefs, and other non-factual statements would be exempt from this proposed law that has the support of Wales’ Liberal Democrats and Tories.

This isn’t Price’s first rodeo here. He became famous for trying to impeach former British prime minister Tony Blair for lying about the Iraq war, and he clearly still believes in the importance of politicians telling the truth. “If a doctor lies, they are struck off,” he told CBC’s As It Happens. “If a lawyer lies, they are disbarred. And yet we seem to have tolerated a democratic culture where politicians can lie with impunity. Well, that’s got to stop.”

Donald Trump’s arrival on the political scene in 2016, and his well-documented status as the world’s most voracious liar, created a permission structure for other aspiring liars to test their own limits. So, too, has the decline of conventional media and the rise of a right-wing information ecosystem that holds the truth in nearly as much contempt as the journalists who try to inform it. And while those trends are most visible in American politics, where everything (including the lies and the liars) is bigger, they can clearly be seen in ours as well.

It’s entirely possible such a law would fail to pass constitutional muster in Canada, although, if Poilievre is willing to pre-emptively invoke the charter, then maybe Justin Trudeau could do the same here. But maybe as a first step, his government could establish an officer of Parliament charged with cataloging lying offences and identifying the politicians responsible for them. If former Toronto Star reporter and U.S. fact checker extraordinaire Daniel Dale is looking for an opportunity to return home, this might be the perfect job for him.

The cynics will surely suggest that this wouldn’t have any meaningful impact on our political discourse, much less the natural inclination of politicians to bend the truth of any given situation to their advantage. They might be right. But at a moment where misinformation is more widespread than ever, and where democratic institutions are increasingly coming under attack, we at least ought to have the courage to find out.

 

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Politics: Donald Trump faces off with Stormy Daniels in the New York trial’s latest developments

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This week, Emily Bazelon, John Dickerson, and David Plotz discuss Stormy Daniels’s testimony in Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial; marijuana rescheduling; and the media’s role and responsibility in defending democracy.

Here are some notes and references from this week’s show:

Josh Gerstein for Politico: Stormy spoke. Trump fumed. Jurors were captivated – but also cringed.

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Ivana Saric for Axios: Status of Trump’s criminal cases

Li Zhou for Vox: Marijuana could be classified as a lower-risk drug. Here’s what that means.

Sam Tabachnik for The Denver Post: Black market marijuana grows are popping up faster than law enforcement can take them down. But is legalization the cause?

John Ingold for The Colorado Sun: What have we learned about the arguments for and against legalized marijuana in the past 10 years?

Nathaniel Meyersohn for CNN: The dark side of the sports betting boom

C-SPAN: President Biden Remarks at White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Ben Smith for Semafor: Joe Kahn: ‘The newsroom is not a safe space’

Dan Pfeiffer for Message Box: Why Biden Won’t Do a New York Times Interview and A Response to the Editor of the New York Times

Matthew Yglesias and Brian Beutler for the Politix Podcast: The Times, They Aren’t A Changin’

Charles Homans for The New York Times Magazine: Donald Trump Has Never Sounded Like This

Eli Stokols for Politico: The Petty Feud Between the NYT and the White House

Here are this week’s chatters:

Emily: Vision: A Memoir of Blindness and Justice by David S. Tatel

John: Gina Kolata for The New York Times: Locks of Beethoven’s Hair Offer New Clues to the Mystery of His Deafness

David: Randy Yohe for West Virginia Public Broadcasting: W.Va. Gubernatorial Campaign Attack Ads Vilify Transgender Children and Kyndall Cunningham for Vox: The Drake vs. Kendrick Lamar feud, explained

Listener chatter from Justin and Katie in Columbus, Ohio: Keziah Weir for Vanity Fair: The Vatican’s Secret Role in the Science of IVF.

For this week’s Slate Plus bonus segment, David, John, and Emily talk with Emily Lawler, Detroit Free Press. See Emily Lawler for the Detroit Free Press: Voters’ voices in Saginaw CountyJohn Wisely: Legal troubles don’t dampen Trump enthusiasm as he visits Michiganand Paul Egan: As Trump visits, Michigan bellwether Saginaw County is feeling its political juice. See also Arpan Lobo: Michigan lawmaker says ‘illegal invaders’ landed at DTW. They were NCAA basketball teams.

In the latest Gabfest Reads, John talks with David E. Sanger about his new book, New Cold Wars: China’s Rise, Russia’s Invasion, and America’s Struggle to Defend the West.

Email your chatters, questions, and comments to gabfest@slate.com. (Messages may be referenced by name unless the writer stipulates otherwise.)

Podcast production by Cheyna Roth

Research by Julie Huygen

 

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Barron Trump Is Officially Entering Politics

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Graduation

The former president’s youngest child will serve as a Florida delegate at this year’s Republican National Convention

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Donald Trump’s youngest son is officially making his foray into his family’s political mafia.

The Republican National Convention has selected Barron Trump, the 18-year-old son of the former president, to serve as a delegate for the state of Florida at this year’s GOP presidential nomination convention this summer— where he is expected to vote for his father.

Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, is serving as co-chair of the Republican National Committee and, according to a list of delegates obtained by several news outlets, the convention will be a family affair. Three of his adult children, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Tiffany Trump, have also been tapped to serve as delegates for their father.

While Trump’s youngest child has been out of the spotlight both during and after his father’s presidency, Trump himself has clearly grown more comfortable leveraging Barron’s name as a political weapon.

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Last month, Trump repeatedly claimed that Judge Juan Merchan — who is overseeing his ongoing criminal hush-money trial — had barred him from attending Barron’s high school graduation ceremony later this month, despite the judge having submitted no such order.

On April 30, Merchan ruled that the court would be excused on May 17 to allow the defendant to attend his son’s graduation. But despite his public griping that securing permission was ever even a question, Trump has already packed the day of his son’s milestone with campaign events. According to Minnesota news station KFGO, Trump will headline the Republican Party of Minnesota’s annual Lincoln Reagan Dinner that same night.

 

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