Something has been lost in our collective political discourse. As a Canadian, I have been fortunate to be born to a world governed by rule of law, enshrined charter rights, and a free press. Despite this, I have recently been feeling decidedly less ‘free’. When I step back and look at the political world in which I live, I feel like the Emperor in his new clothes – naked. I am told I am free. I am told I live in a democracy. I am told I live in a just society. However, as I sit in the aftermath of yet another election – I am left to question the democracy in which I live. If I am supposedly clothed in freedom, democracy and justice – why is it that I feel a chill?
There has been a global trend towards a more polarized politics in recent years. In the United Kingdom fears over immigration stoked the flames of Brexit. Supported by throngs of angry white middle Americans, Donald Trump took the White House. And in Ontario, Doug Ford, brother of the infamous former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, has now secured himself a majority government at Queen’s Park.
On June 7, when the ballots were tallied, I was seething. I couldn’t believe that a politician who had produced zero platform, only vague policy announcements, could be elected. Like many others I turned to the cathartic release of social media – taking to Facebook to angrily vent my frustration. The next day, someone called me to task on dropping F-bombs in status updates. Their reasoning was that I shouldn’t be so angry – this was just the way of politics. Their arguments did not help my mood.
Perhaps, politicians have somehow, someway, succeeded in blinkering the masses to history. Deprived of the long view, we are no longer able to recognize the trends of tyranny. In his book, The Road to Unfreedom, Timothy Snyder sets out two frameworks for today’s politics: the politics of inevitability, and the politics of eternity. Inevitability would have us believe progress is assured. Eternity politics posits that time is simply a broken record, and we are doomed to an existence where history repeats. Both deprive us of agency.
It is this lack of agency that angered me on June 7. The person who questioned my anger made the eternity argument – the electoral outcome was just politics as it has always been. A Doug Ford majority was just democracy at work, so there was no use in being upset. The same could be said about Donald Trump, or Brexit, or any other democratic outcome where truth and facts have been relegated to the back seat. That is the political world of today – a world of fake news where facts don’t matter.
But everything works out in the end, right? We’ll survive the Ford’s, Brexit’s and Trump’s because the world has a way of righting itself, right? This would be the politics of inevitability. The blind faith that progress is assured no matter how ugly the present. History teaches a different lesson –there are no guarantees. The rise of fascism in the 1920’s and 30’s didn’t just straighten itself out. It took a world war. With the resurgence of populist politics in the 2010’s, thinking that all will be well in the end is border-lining on the delusional. We are neither bound to eternity, nor inevitably guaranteed shelter from the storm. As uncomfortable as it is, one way or another, we are all actors on the political stage and must therefore play a part.
When asked what were the consequences of the French Revolution, a university professor answered, ‘I’m not sure. They are still playing out”. I heard that little antidote about fifteen years ago, and took some comfort from it. At the time, I felt somehow connected to those enlightened voices from the past – still calling for either liberty or death. The idea that citizens, empowered by facts and through democratic action could change their society for the better seemed real. Difficult, but real. I am not so sure of this today. In the 2015 federal election Canadian’s were promised an end to our decidedly undemocratic First-Past-The-Post electoral system. Once elected, the Trudeau government did a u-turn so fast you could almost hear the political tires screech. I’m already not looking forward to election 2019. For the first time since I turned voting age I’m left asking myself the question: what’s the point?
This sentiment can also be applied to Ontario’s 2018 campaign. Voters were left scratching their heads, and feeling like there were simply no good options. As a result, just as in America in 2016, the angry vote won. A man who gave no specifics, who hired his own assistant as a journalist, is now Premier. The question now is how do we, as citizens, reclaim our agency? I don’t know, but I hope we figure it out soon. Until then I will continue to remind myself that I’m neither bound to eternity, nor gifted with the inevitability of progress. I’ll have to do something – and not just drop F-bombs on Facebook.