I’ve been searching for about a week now, trying to find just the right way to make my return to the Angle on Canada. It’s been months since I’ve done one of these—I was busy, okay?—and in that time things have certainly taken a turn for the weird and the awful.
When we last gathered around this little collection of pixels, it was July. The sun stayed up for more than a few hours, wearing socks was unnecessary, and the wretched disease of Donald Trump was little more than a fever set to break any day.
The fever never did break, of course. So now we’re confronted with the question: What does President Donald Trump mean for Canada? But unlike so much of the sad-sack laziness found in plenty of Canadian angle content, some of these questions matter.
It can be tough to separate the important from the frivolous. Whether the Trump administration’s ban on Muslims applies to Canadians with dual citizenship is an important question. It has direct effect on the lives of Canadians. So too does looking at what the approval of Keystone XL will mean for Canada and the oilsands.
But there’s a nagging, useless question that comes up again and again and again and again: Can Donald Trump happen in Canada?
It’s a question with a veneer of importance about it. We look to our southern neighbour and see their world turned upside down, and wonder whether such a thing could happen here. It’s natural to wonder these things. But like every other Canadian angle, we’re trying too hard to wedge what’s happening here into a frame created elsewhere.
So we end up asking is Kellie Leitch the Donald Trump of Canada? Or is it Kevin O’Leary? But neither of those people are Donald Trump. One of them is a mealy-mouthed populist stoking the idea that immigrants, especially the brown ones, are not to be trusted. The other is a brash businessman and ignoramus who made his name on television by being a huge cockwhistle.
Which does sound familiar, yeah? Running down a list of Trump’s attributes, you’d find yourself ticking off a bunch of boxes between Leitch and O’Leary. But it doesn’t get to the heart of the thing. It doesn’t reveal anything about us, or our neighbours, but it does obscure the real question: Whether there’s a home for cruelty, racism, and obvious bullshit in Canadian politics.
One of the central features of Trump’s popularity wasn’t he was rich and famous—though, he was—or that he was a racist demagogue—again, yep—but that he was willing to say whatever it was people wanted to hear.
Manufacturing jobs have disappeared, he’ll bring them back. Coal mines have shut down, he’ll open them again. Health care is expensive, he’ll make it cheaper. Mexicans are coming across the border, he’ll build a wall the Mexicans will pay for. Black people live in inner-city warzones, they’ve got nothing to lose. Muslims are the root of terrorism, he’ll stop them from coming in. America is losing, he’ll bring back winning. And so on.
That these are based in lies wicked and benign didn’t matter. That there’s little explanation of how these things would be accomplished is irrelevant. His voters didn’t care about that stuff. Here was a man finally cutting through what they saw as the bullshit, promising to do the things they’ve always wanted done.
They didn’t care what the real source of terrorism isn’t a refugee fleeing war, they just wanted to hear someone say “radical Islamic terrorism” and bar the door to Syrians. Trump offered his voters the chance to stick it to people they were afraid of, and promised that doing so would make their lives better.
His message was so attractive because it wasn’t restrained by reality. Telling people everything will be great if you just give them your vote is the easiest thing in the world if they buy it. And plenty of people bought it.
So, the question isn’t whether Donald Trump could happen here, it’s whether there’s a gullible constituency willing to be had. Are there enough people in this country interested in being cruel to someone else just to feel good about themselves?
There’s plenty of reason to believe there are voters out there looking for a baser form of governance. Whether it’s enough of a foundation to elect a government on remains an open question.
Editor’s Note: I’m going to try not to focus too much on the endless firehose of Trump and Canada content for future Angles on Canada. I’ll try to pick out the goofiest Trump examples, but we can’t be doing this same schtick—well, meta-schtick—every time. We'll see how well this promise holds up. Fingers crossed!