Opinion, by Darren Clarke, October 8, 2019
“For the first time on record, the 400 wealthiest Americans last year paid a lower total tax rate — spanning federal, state and local taxes — than any other income group, according to newly released data.”
Mostly in life people are who they appear to be. If you aren’t sure about what they appear to be consider what they are asking from you. Are they asking for your best or your worst?
So when you take a long look at the likes of Doug Ford, Donald Trump, Jason Kenney, Mitch McConnell, Andrew Scheer, when you listen, you have to know that they aren’t asking for the best of our possibilities.
How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the most joyless, cynical, corrupt, souls are in power?
To understand we first need to start with context.
I’m not a big meme guy. There’s something cheap about them, not to mention inflammatory. But there’s one I can’t help liking. The story revolves around a table covered with 1,000 cookies. Seated at the table are a rich man, an average man and an immigrant. The rich man immediately scoops up 999 of the 1,000 cookies and as he turns to leave with his bounty, leans over and whispers conspiratorially to the average man, “Keep an eye on that immigrant I think he’s going to steal your cookie.”
Yeah it’s overly simplistic, yes it’s inflammatory, and yes it’s pretty damned close to the truth. The rich getting richer, the poor voting them in. In a world where the most clear and pressing threats to the health and welfare of the average person all generate from the unceasing desire of the 1% to increase their wealth it’s hard to conceive of how this would be the case. The widening wealth gap, spiralling rent and housing costs, unchecked predatory capitalism running amok in education, healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry, suppression of wages, reckless environmental practices threatening (not to mention actually destroying) the living space and health of the average person. These all generate from the same place.
Why are the worst people in power? It’s the obvious reason- Their lack of honesty and decency makes them uniquely suited for the job of being lackeys for the ongoing gluttony of the 1%. Good people don’t like to participate in endangering your drinking water, paving over and mining beautiful bits of nature, eradicating various forms of life around us, jeopardizing the average person’s access to education and health care, suggesting that geographic place of birth dictates the degree to which you are afforded basic human decency, or, more simply put- Good people aren’t cruel and they don’t like to lie and steal from others. So what you get are petty cons and carnival hucksters.
Why are we voting for them? Lots and lots of reasons starting with the fact we don’t exactly have the greatest set of choices. If you’re looking for a saviour, Jesus ain’t exactly on the ballot. The federal Canadian election takes place just days from now and the alternatives are far from perfect. I’m not here to tell you that there is an ideal choice however I am here to tell you that one party is fully corrupt.
Canada, like the United States, like so many parts of the world has seen the rise in Conservative populism in many of its’ provinces leading up to this election. And its’ important to look at the impact Canadians new found desire to vote for magic beans has on the here and now and on the future. It’s important to look at the Conservative template in action.
The template itself is simple-
- Cultivate a political party without any principles
- Provide the party with financial support in return for them providing an easy path to accumulating wealth at negligible cost with as little accountability/responsibility required as possible
- Co-opt and/or create various media outlets to largely misinform voters while developing a rigid block of voters that will, for as low a price as possible, vote for the party unconditionally
- Ceaselessly seek to maximize profit under the guise of, “fiduciary duty,” taking as much from communities as you can while giving little back
We’ll look at the template in action in a moment but let’s first formally introduce the political parties willing to forgo any sense of morality or principles in return for power- The Republicans in the United States, the Conservative Party in Canada.
It’s important to establish here that corruption and compromise are not limited to simply these two parties. Within almost any and all political parties in Canada and the United States there is an element of corrupted enterprise. It wouldn’t be remotely honest to suggest to you that there’s a choice on the ballot void of challenges however it would be accurate to suggest the two parties that have established themselves as being willing to entirely forgo integrity for power.
Let’s look at the 2018 Ontario Provincial Election to see the template in action-
Ontario Provincial Election 2018
- Restrictions were placed on campaign funding in the Ontario provincial election, which in the words of the CBC made the 2018 campaign, “…the first in which Ontario’s political parties were banned from receiving donations from corporations or unions.”
- Former Conservative Party member Jeff Ballingall (who held several jobs with the Stephen Harper government) utilized the Conservative party donor list to solicit funding that no longer could be directed to the Conservative Party to Ontario Proud a Conservative Party attack dog masquerading as journalism on social media, particularly Facebook
- The bulk of funding for Ontario Proud comes from Developers and Construction Companies with the National Observer pointing out, “Past reports show that groups like Ontario Proud, a right-wing Facebook group that actively supported the Ontario Conservatives in the 2018 election, received large donations from developers. One came through Ontario Proud, who received $100,000 from Mattamy Homes, a Toronto-based residential developer.”
- Ontario Proud utilizing tactics similar to the ones seen in the United States election leveraged propaganda and prepubescent smear tactics to distort information and inflame voters while never once throwing an ounce of shade at Doug Ford on anything let alone his platform of not really having a platform beyond $1 Beer for the masses
- Once in power, Ford’s, “For the People, ” government immediately threatened to open up the Green Belt for development, undermine the Clean Water Act and went about dismantling the Local Planning Appeal Support Centre (LPASC) which was setup in 2018, according to the National Observer, “to help everyday Ontarians navigate and understand the complex planning appeals process to fight development projects that were inappropriate, unreasonable, misplaced or designed without considering municipal and provincial planning and growth guidelines.” It was also reported in The Narwhal in July that Ford’s Conservative government also went about, “undercutting the Endangered Species Act and the Environmental Assessment Act, and limiting community engagement in northern Ontario planning decisions by repealing the Far North Act.”
- The exchange in simplest terms- Developers invested in the Conservative win in Ontario to allow for the freedom to destroy natural habitats and endangered species, have less responsible checks on building, to threaten your drinking water- All to make a greater profit.
Having a fully compromised political party at their disposal is simply a reasonable investment to the 1%.
Once you view the Ford governments cuts through the lens of who is driving the bus everything else becomes clear in terms of who it benefits and who it doesn’t benefit- Forgoing the planned minimum wage increase, the termination of the Beer Store contract and moving alcohol sales away from LCBO towards corner stores and supermarkets (which in essence transfers the sale of alcohol to lower paid people- often the same minimum wage folks who had their wage increase cancelled), removal of rent controls on new apartments, cuts to green the energy program, cancellation of cap and trade program (costing billions of dollars), cuts to legal aid, social services, healthcare cuts (and more privatization) and dismantling of environmental/safety checks on industry.
The end result for corporations and developers in Ontario is obvious- Taking more, giving less.
Which brings us to the issue of income inequality in Canada which Dalhousie economist Lars Obserg encapsulated in a Reddit chat as, “Canada’s national wealth has increased by 50% over the past 20 years but nearly all of that new income has gone to the top 1% of earners.”
As community wealth continues to reside more and more in the hands of a 1% unwilling to contribute to projects which benefit the 99% the results are inevitable, as laid out by Daniel Tencer of Huffington Post referencing Osberg’s book, “Imagine a Canada where public schools and urban infrastructure are crumbling, the economy runs through constant boom-and-bust cycles, and ideological demagogues run rampant in the political arena.”
The thing is, there isn’t enough corporations and developers to elect someone to bag your groceries let alone lead the country. They need the masses, the middle class and poor, to elect them. They count on the very people whose standard of living they diminish in their ongoing efforts to get more more to elevate them to power.
How do you get people to vote for something that runs contrary to their best interests? You appeal to, you patronize, their worst, most uniformed instincts. You find a sweet spot somewhere between their vanity and self-loathing and provide a con man to work it. You just flat out lie.
Let’s look again at the con men involved in the modern conservative movement in Canada and the States.
One of the great post-game interviews in sports occurred in 2006 when a clearly steamed Dennis Green, then head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, was asked by a reporter about the team’s loss that day to the Chicago Bears. After some staccato bursts of furtive analysis, Green finally settled into to simply repeating the same phrase over and over, his anger escalating with each repetition until he was banging his fist on the podium in unison with his chorus, “The Bears are who we thought they were! The Bears are who we THOUGHT THEY WERE!”
Green’s epic rant resonates politically when considering the depth of corruption in Canada and the United States carried out by various pseudo-right wing, fully compromised, politicians who have plunged us into the amoral quagmire of a corporate coup. And yeah, it’s not all that subtle. It’s being done in plain sight. Just for starters in the United States fossil fuel lobbyists have been placed in positions ranging from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to Secretary of the Interior (a position which oversees all of the national parks, the national wildlife refuges, and the public lands of the Bureau of Land Management) and have acted as corruptly as you would imagine. This abandoning of responsibility to protect our living environment from predatory businesses, not to mention the aggressive undermining of our most valuable resource- water, is consistent with Conservative efforts across Canada to undercut of any and all reasonable checks on private enterprise.
An even greater tell of the current state of, “right wing,” politics in the States is in Betsy Devos being the Secretary of Education. Devos is married to Dick Devos, former CEO of Amway, son of Amway cofounder, Richard Devos.
The fact the American education system would be in the hands of a person whose main source of wealth is fundamentally a pyramid scheme is everything you need to know about the Trump administration’s core makeup. The fact she is a an advocate of private/charter schools (important to note that Federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer had proposed tax incentives for private schools) is just further evidence of the fact that while the lackeys want to use you for the election, they sure as hell don’t want their kids going to school with your kids.
These are just limited examples of the implications of the Conservative and Republican attacks on the quality of our lives, not to mention the life around us. The full scope of the fox-in-the-henhouse corruption is truly breathtaking. I mention these limited examples merely as clear evidence of exactly who the people in power are and what they represent.
They are the facilitators of gluttony, the sociopaths’ sociopath, pretending we live in a horizontal, right wing vs left wing, world, when the truth is a vertical- 1% vs 99%, world.
For clarity, the 1% is winning.
Much like Dennis Green expressed though post-game there’s really no surprise. The con men are who we thought they were. They are, who we thought they were.
Recognizing a con is a lot like recognizing right and wrong. It may at times seem like a complicated pursuit but really, in the end, you should simply know. If the offer seems too good to be true, if it seems to cater to your worst tendencies and insecurities, and mostly, if the offer is coming from someone who walks and talks and acts in every way like a con man- it’s a con.
So when it comes down to it with people like President Donald Trump and Premier Doug Ford we should know. We could talk all day about the infinite evidence attached to Donald Trump’s life long indulgence in dishonesty and flim-flam-man behaviour or Ontario Doug Ford’s endeavours in the world of drug sales and leveraging of the lowest common denominator for personal gain, we could talk about Jason Kenney’s cruelty towards the LGBTQ community. But we should know.
Doug Ford, Donald Trump, Andrew Scheer are the last guys you want to walk your dog, hold your wallet for a second, pick up the mail while you are on vacation, or date anyone you are related to or are even simply vaguely familiar with.
Why? They are clearly, wholly, dishonest and wholly void of decency.
And here we are at the heart of things in that we have become so desensitized to dishonesty and the undermining of civil discourse and basic decency that I feel like I need to give you more reasons why they are awful people. But why would I think that and/or you demand it? What more do we need to know about a person after- They are neither honest nor decent human beings?
These men and women- the Michelle Rempel’s, the Betsy Davos’s, the Andrew Scheer’s, they are the con men they appear to be. All looking to ingratiate and enrich themselves in the conventional hierarchy of society by whatever means necessary but especially by the means that requires little to no integrity and leaves a long, winding, trail of destruction as its’ hallmark.
When they sing the same old song of decreasing taxes and decreasing the deficit the fact that the real results are people like themselves contributing less to society and taking more from it shouldn’t be a surprise. The fact that whatever meagre tax cuts are relayed to the average person are outweighed by substantial increased costs (i.e. the American Health System which costs the average person approximately double what people other wealthy countries contribute to health care), suppressed wages and a wildly compromised, dangerous, living environment (see Flint Michigan water issues) shouldn’t be a surprise. Likewise, it should be similarly unsurprising that the biggest deficits in recent history, on both sides of the border, have been floated out by right wing parties.
But the truth of the modern conservative movement doesn’t matter to its’ base. It’s about what it pretends to be. The realities and consequences attached to their talking points don’t matter beyond being tools to galvanize a certain aspect of the electorate with in order to gain power.
Consider this end of September quote from federal Conservative leader Andrew Scheer reported by CBC.ca–
“The Trudeau government today sends $2.2 billion of so-called foreign aid to middle- and upper-income countries…Worse still, some of that money is shoveled to repressive regimes that are adversarial, if not outright hostile, to Canadian interests and values.”
In short, nothing about the numbers Scheer is pulling out of his hindquarters or the overarching thought stands up to the slightest scrutiny. CBC.ca quoted Aniket Bhushan, an adjunct research professor at Carleton University, who characterized the integrity of Scheer’s claims as, “It’s all bizarre,” says Bhushan. “It’s sort of a Trump-like response.”
And the potential real impact of having to follow through on that politically calculated lie are serious, as pointed out by Liam Swiss, a Memorial University sociologist who serves as president of the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development-
“Fundamentally, you’re talking about immunizing fewer children, more mothers dying in childbirth, less potable water and more refugees suffering in conflict zones.”
Let’s break that down into the mechanics of what Scheer and the Conservatives are doing with this distortion of the truth- First, they think you will believe the lie. Second, they think the lie will anger you enough to get your vote. Third, if elected they will withdraw funds from the most vulnerable people on the planet just to appease their appetite for power and your appetite for believing lies.
So if you think being a horrible person is limited to politicians, of course it isn’t. And the dynamics of catering to the worst of us to get votes of course goes way beyond foreign aid.
The conservative bases overflows with anti-abortion advocates, white supremacists, anti-immigration, anti-gun-control, anti-taxes (a sentiment which is leveraged to relay tax cuts not to the average person but instead the corporations and the uber wealthy), anti-social programs, anti-science. It’s why in both Canada in the United States Conservative parties are clearly patronizing far-right racist organizations and inflaming anti-immigration bias. It’s why we see anti-abortion laws gaining further traction in the United States and why Conservative provincial governments routinely take runs at scientists and teachers preying on the bias of folks easily swayed to revisit their historic grievances against their Grade 9 science teacher who was a bit of a dick.
They are in essence levereging the worst of us. Their greatest political strength is their followers greatest weaknesses- ignorance, hate, intolerance, entitlement. The left meanwhile is politically weakened by its’ greatest strengths- open mindedness, willingness to evolve, question and change viewpoints, in the interests of finding a path to a more diverse, accepting and equitable society. Where the left is constantly challenging behaviours of the people it elects the right suffers from no such internal contentiousness. Simply, the moral and intellectual strength of the left is its’ greatest electoral weakness while the moral and intellectual failure of the right its’ greatest electoral strength.
So while it matters to the left when Justin Trudeau is found to have put on blackface decades ago and it still matters even after an acknowledgement from Trudeau that it was racist, even after he apologized, it doesn’t matter to Conservative supporters that Andrew Scheer denigrated the idea of same sex marriage ridiculing it in comparing it to a dog thinking its’ tail was a leg, it doesn’t matter that he has never apologized, it doesn’t matter that he refuses to amend in any way his comments.
And it’s here where we really see how effectively the Conservative parties are gaming elections in Canada. As the Ontario election proved, you don’t need the support of 51% of the population, you don’t need 40%, 30%, 20%… you need 17%.
17% of the population provided 100% of the power.
It’s a pretty sensational payoff for the con when you think about it given you only need to swindle a fraction of the population in order to get access to bilking it in entirety.
Now, that 83% of the population that didn’t vote Conservative includes the 1-year old you are currently spoon feeding squash and sweet potato pablum to right now but the point remains. The Conservatives managed to acquire approximately votes from 17% of the population, 24.6% of registered voters and 40.6% of the people who managed to get themselves out to vote.
Bottom line 60% of the people who voted in Ontario didn’t want a Conservative government, 75% of registered voters didn’t vote Conservative, 83% of the population did not elect this government. And yeah, that includes your one-year old but make no mistake everybody is impacted by government, particularly one this extreme. And the extremity is the point.
If you think it’s a mistake to marry the conservative movement in the States to the movement in Canada you haven’t been paying attention. Whether it be something as simple as Conservative members in Canada clamouring to be on Fox News, rubbing shoulders with representatives of major uber-right-wing American political players, the Koch brothers (at one time being the largest foreign investor in Alberta’s oilsands as well as funding the Atlas Network whose members include the Canadian Taxpayer Network and the Fraser Institute), holding secret meetings with Oil Executives and Trump administration officials or the clear Trump template stealing populism being employed by the Conservative Party across Canada the connection is glaring.
Much like the United States, in Canada corporations and developers have weaponized the conventional media they own (i.e. Postmedia outlets like The National Post, The Toronto Sun) while simultaneously creating and unleashing more unconventional, more compromised, agents of propaganda on social media like the Ballingall empire.
Inflaming is key. They need hate. They need the extremes in order to paralyze public discourse. Nuance is the enemy. If someone is suggesting making adjustments to gun control mechanisms they contort the desire for modest change into an absolute, “They want to take all your guns and freedom!” If someone is suggesting that we need to look to move away from our dependence upon environmentally damaging fossil fuels towards renewable energy, propaganda outlets look to end the conversation by suggesting it’s hypocritical to want change while still being limited to our current transportation choices, “But they fly in planes!” If someone suggests that we alter our current meat-centric diet to lean more in the direction of a vegetarian type diet, again because meat production is a destructive environmental force, they shout, “They want you to never eat hamburgers!”
They lie. And some people, too many people, are willing to believe in that lie. In the end it’s the problem presenting itself as the solution but it sells.
These conservative outlets work hard to convince you that the same corporate greed and overdevelopment that has traditionally never been to the average person’s benefit, short term, or particularly long term, on any level, suddenly will be. Telling you that even though wealth has never really trickled down, it suddenly will.
Let’s get back to insecurity and vanity because somewhere in there are some levers that are being worked hard by the carnival barking politicians and right-wing conservative outlets.
“Darren you’re a smart guy.”
Long ago I had a supervisor who was fond of beginning a request with that line, “Darren you’re a smart guy.” After a number of similar conversations began this way I finally asked him to skip the introduction, “because we both know I’m not that smart and that you always say that immediately before asking me to perform a job only a dumb person would do.”
And that’s the thing when somebody is trying to con you, they often work the angle that your intelligence, your greatness even, hangs in the balance of following their designs, “You wouldn’t want to not be a smart guy would you?.” The defence against this kind of manoeuvring is simple- It’s the honest recognition of your intellectual limitations, i.e. You’re not that smart, you’re not that great. The defence is in recognizing that being honest about your limitations is far less of a problem than trying to pretend you don’t have them. It’s a difference that separates an honest person from a dishonest one. It’s the difference that either protects you from being swindled or makes you prey to manipulation. It is in fact, all the difference in the world.
I think of my supervisor’s disingenuous opening stanza’s as fanatical, compromised, “Conservative,” governments gain power across North America. Whatever may be argued about what they are and what they represent, it’s obvious that subtlety isn’t part of the equation. We are talking Doug Ford and Donald Trump here. Frosted highlights, gelled hair and spray on orange tan. There is no curtain to give the illusion of a wizard, there is only clearly, obviously, sad, little, men, telling warm little lies, selling grand illusions, of a former greatness that never really existed.
We have never been great. We aren’t great now. It’s doubtful we ever will be. And that’s okay. As long as we continue to seek it.
Pretending we were great back when the colour of a person’s skin or sexual preference was routinely cause for violence, when over half the population were systematically discriminated against and again, too often victims of violence, is absurd. Pining for a time when our solution to toxic chemicals was often to dig a hole, toss it in and forget about it, for a time of leaded gas, plastic food and the threat of nuclear war, it’s asinine.
What we are is who we choose to be. Kindness, compassion, honest, decency, are a product of evolution of choice. They are not absolutes. In order to exist they need ongoing, daily, attention through our every action. It’s not limited to simply how we vote but there is no doubt that is substantially defined there.
Now, it’s important to note at this point that what constitutes the best and worst of humanity isn’t absolutely defined by political leaning. Honesty, decency, transparency, respect for freedoms, justice, public health and education, diversity, choice and opportunity, isn’t necessarily a right/left thing. Protecting the integrity of the water we drink, the air we breathe, the food we eat, the wide variety of life around us, the most vulnerable in our communities- none of these things is limited to to the ideology of a single political party or political leaning.
So, in the end, what’s the point?
Don’t vote for bad people. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for the 99%- immigrants and non-immigrants alike, to get together and realize the reason there’s a shortage of cookies is because the rich stole over 99% of them.
If Canadians truly care about the more noble aspects of being Canadian we have to protect the things that provide it virtue. Kindness, compassion, modesty, decency, honesty, diversity, will exist only as long as we act on their behalf.
A good start on this in October would be ensuring that Canada’s fully corrupt Conservative Party, a party that doesn’t embrace anything we can be proud of, is not elected.
(Photo courtesy Wikicommons)