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The Secret History of the Failed NDP-Green Alliance of the 90s (part 1)

In September 1997, my most trusted advisor took me aside confidentially to show me something he had been working on for a few months. I had just been acclaimed to my second term as leader of the BC Green Party following sixteen-month period of instability in which my star candidate and his allies had been drumming up a series of non-scandals in an effort to prevent me from seeking a second consecutive term.

I was twenty-five years old and had served as leader of the BC Green Party for more than four years. I enjoyed the ongoing support of the party’s founders, Paul George and Adriane Carr, who ran BC’s then-largest environmental group, Western Canada Wilderness Committee. I had the support of Greenpeace co-founders and lifelong rivals Jim Bohlen and Paul Watson. Following Andy Shadrack’s two attempts to tar me with allegations of financial impropriety backfiring, it seemed like plain sailing for the BC Green Party.

We had run in seventy-one of seventy-five ridings and placed ahead of the Social Credit Party in the previous election. And thanks to Julian’s persuasive and tactical skills, Angus Reid had changed their polling methodology and we had jumped to 5% in provincial opinion polls. Julian and I had also teamed-up with Troy Lanigan of the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation and Sonja Sanguinetti, president of the BC Liberal Party to create the Electoral Change Coalition, a collection of groups across the political spectrum representing more than 100,000 British Columbians in their membership rolls, calling for proportional representation.

But in that meeting, Julian suggested that we gamble all that and take the biggest political risk of our lives. He suggested that if we wanted to achieve real power in BC, we would have to reach some kind of accord with the NDP and follow the lead of European Green parties in forming a Red-Green governing alliance.

This would involve nothing short of a 180-degree turn in all my public statements about the New Democratic Party and unknown consequences for the base on which we relied to remain in charge of the Green Party’s governing council.

Let me be clear: we failed. Two and a half years later, we and everyone we had tried to make a deal with was out of a job, politically, except Art Vanden Berg, Canada’s first Green city councillor who would, by the end of his term, be sitting in the NDP municipal caucus in Victoria

I never achieved the high office John Horgan and Andrew Weaver have, nor am I an instantly-trustworthy stalwart for either group of partisans. Still, I think the Nobel Prize winner and premier-elect might benefit from knowledge of our small story from the 1990s and how such promising accords can come crashing down no matter how much they seem to be delivering. Maybe this cautionary tale can avert a similar fate for North America’s first Red-Green governing coalition.

Let’s begin with the poem I recited prior to every meeting after I adopted this plan:

There are those who would build the Temple,

And those who prefer that the Temple should not be built.

In the days of Nehemiah the Prophet

There was no exception to the general rule.

In Shushan the palace, in the month of Nisan,

He served the wine to king Artaxerxes,

And he grieved for the broken city, Jerusalem;

And the King gave him leave to depart

That he might rebuild the city.

So he went, with a few, to Jerusalem,

And there, by the dragon’s well, by the dung gate,

By the fountain gate, by the king’s pool,

Jerusalem lay waste, consumed with fire;

No place for a beast to pass.

There were enemies without to destroy him,

And spies and self-seekers within,

When he and his men laid their hands to bebuilding the wall,

So they built as men must build

With the sword in one hand and the trowel in the other.

In 1997, Julian reasoned that the first step towards a provincial coalition needed to be made where left-Green vote-splitting had produced the worst consequences. And so we began our project in Vancouver at the municipal level. The Coalition of Progressive Electors, which had formally absorbed the Civic NDP in 1993, had lost every seat on Vancouver city council, parks board and school board in 1996 and the mainstream media had placed the blame for the loss pretty squarely on us, the Green Party, after a spirited campaign in which our candidates got as much as 23% of the vote.

The fact that the NDP name was not attached to COPE also made them an easy starting point, along with the long history of crossing party lines with mixed slates of Communists and New Democrats. It was not hard to obtain an audience with COPE, still reeling from their first total electoral shutout since their founding in 1968. The late Frances Wasserlein took the lead on the COPE side in championing an alliance but, despite our shared interests and literal mutual destruction in the previous campaign, it was hard to cut a deal.

In particular, the electoral system proved a nearly insurmountable barrier in negotiations and led to the agreement’s ultimate unravelling during the 1999 campaign. COPE had been fighting for a single-member plurality first-past-the-post municipal voting system since its founding; “the ward system” as they euphemistically called it, was as close to a COPE article of faith as any policy could be. With the NDP generally winning a majority of provincial seats under first-past-the-post in Vancouver, implementing the same system municipally appeared to be a recipe for a permanent COPE majority.

But for Greens, this would mean, at best, chronic underrepresentation and, at worst, no representation at all, with our party’s vote evenly distributed across the city’s geography. In the end, Julian had to produce a series of maps for COPE showing that we could still implement municipal wards in the city even with the proportional representation that formed the foundation of our negotiating position. We also had to sacrifice all of our “limits to growth” and development freeze language from our policy in order for COPE to agree to a proportional system of municipal wards. But that took over a year of negotiating, to push that through, ultimately requiring the skill of our most personable negotiator, Paul Alexander, the first Green candidate to place third in a provincial election back in 1996.

By that time, I had moved to Victoria to join Art Vanden Berg who had only narrowly lost his 1996 municipal election bid to attempt to replicate the agreement with an official NDP affiliate and begin the work of fashioning some kind of provincial bargain. But there were other reasons to move by then. Shadrack and his allies, emboldened by my recent bout with clinical depression, had begun an aggressive campaign to remove me and my allies from the leadership of the party. As we hit 11% in the polls in the fall of 1998, there was a growing sense of urgency to move forward with the alliances because our time might be running out.

We might be inking deals with municipal NDP affiliates and the labour councils that backed them but, to do so, we were burning through our own political capital at an alarming rate. More on that in part 2.

The Return of David Anderson’s Liberal Party: Class in the BC Election – Part I

The wildcard in BC politics, from the mid-1950s until 1996 was the old Liberal Party of British Columbia. In the 1953 election, the Liberals were reduced from governing party to rump party, eking out a small space in nearly every BC legislature until their unexpected transformation into, to paraphrase Roy Romanow, the Social Credit witness protection program and, consequently, the new right-wing government in waiting.

The Liberals’ forty-nine years out of government, from their defeat in 1952 to their triumphant return to power in 2001 are often narrated as a time of failure and irrelevance, which is fine as far as it goes. But what such a story misses is what the Liberal Party was during those long years in the political wilderness. Why did the party keep going? Whom did it represent? What was it for? And how is it that we needed that thing so badly that we made this weird little party all over again, out of the unlikeliest raw materials?

In many ways, it was just like its third-party namesake in the United Kingdom, a perennial electoral bridesmaid, whose MPs hail from, as one commentator eloquently put it, “university towns and the Celtic fringe.” Such a description is a useful starting point for describing the old BC Liberals led by David Anderson, Arthur Laing, Pat McGeer and Gordon Gibson. The Liberals’ ridings were always the whitest in the province with a particularly Celtic aesthetic, containing either a university or one’s bedroom community.

The party’s leaders typically had advanced degrees; they were lawyers, medical doctors, university professors, as were most of the party’s small caucuses, which, until 1991, never represented more than four ridings at once. The core BC Liberal vote, which usually fell between 5% and 20%, was only sufficiently concentrated in a few places to produce sustained victories that lasted more than a term.

The party’s longest-held area was, of course, Oak Bay, followed by Vancouver-Point Grey, Victoria and then Vancouver’s North Shore. That is because Liberal voters could best be described as too rich to vote NDP, and too educated to vote Social Credit. Being a Liberal in BC during the Cold War, when the two main parties battled for the heart and soul of BC’s mining and logging towns and its volatile, populist proletariat, was not really about policy or political ideology. It was about class, a very particular performance of class.

Liberals could be spotted on sight, festooned in their Celtic tweeds and corduroys, with their fine white features and soft hands. Electing a Liberal MLA constituted the ultimate political assertion of secure, old money, the same way a Vancouver Lawn Tennis or University Women’s Club membership might. To be a Liberal was to be above the fray, so secure in one’s privilege as to tut dispassionately at the indecorous rubes who dominated the legislature.

Of course, in dire emergencies, it was sometimes necessary to make common cause with the coarse boozers and used car salesmen who kept the province in order for the companies whose shares the Liberals owned. In one rare emergency a couple of caucus members had to join the Social Credit Party’s cabinet. But that was the exception, not the rule. As long as the coal and timber flowed out through the port, privilege was about effacing one’s relationship to the populism and rentierism that structured BC’s economy and politics, showing one’s security by remaining above the fray, one’s job unconnected to boom-bust rentierism but instead of family trusts, the VSE, the local hospital or the UBC and UVic tenure streams.

When the BC Liberal Party was suddenly and unexpectedly called upon to shoulder the burden of running BC’s government for the province’s robber barons, the party chose a leader whose personal style and record could keep this constituency on board. Gordon Campbell, anointed by the Grande Dame of BC Liberalism, herself, May Brown, was the logical choice. While not a son of privilege, himself, Campbell was steeped in the values, culture and, of course, civic associations, of the BC Liberal tradition. In the hands of another, Campbell’s orgy of sweetheart deal privatizations and fire sales of the province’s assets might have been seen as simple corruption but he had that curious Liberal dignity that allowed him to invest this exercise with technocratic legitimacy, to redescribe simple looting as an esoteric experiment in the technocratic management of public assets.

Ironically, despite her much deeper roots in the BC Liberal tradition, Christy Clark lacks that gift and so, consequently, something of a seismic shift has been taking place in BC politics.

The old BC Liberals are back, led by a roiling mass of tweed, corduroy and messianic intellectual grandiosity, a man who, if they could have, would have been engineered by the old BC Liberals. Andrew Weaver, the incumbent MLA for the safest true Liberal seat in BC has everything: the tweeds, the corduroys, the elbow pads, a real, live proper British accent, a PhD, a professorship and a propensity to lecture his perceived inferiors on how to do their jobs. Not only that; he appears to decide how to vote on the government budget by tossing a coin, his reasons always unfathomable and obscure, conveying that he deems himself and his party above the fray when it comes to such small things the amount of money allocated to public schools.

Foolishly, my party has decided to field a prominent environmentalist against Dr. Weaver, as though the people of Oak Bay elected him based on his environmental credentials, as opposed to his perfect haute bourgeois aesthetic. What we needed was a candidate in an ascot, preferably owning both a yacht and a horse, and one with a higher-class accent than their opponent, managing their family trust’s nature conservancy. Then, we might have had a fighting chance!

But, as British Columbians adjust to the new meaning of “Green Party,” this will place limits on the brand’s appeal, as much as it might open opportunities, even in the party’s heartland. On the Island, north of Shawnigan Lake and Cobble Hill, people’s British accents don’t keep getting thicker every year as they do further south. In Nelson, even working class English accents are too snooty for an MLA candidate.

More fundamentally, performances of haute bourgeois indifference to the minutia of political economy are in shorter supply these days because of people’s very real, material insecurity, both environmentally and economically. The old BC Liberals are back, in the form of Weaver’s Greens, but does not so much signify their graduation to the status of contender as much as it does their entrapment in the most gratuitous, irrelevant part of electoral class politics in BC.

The Ailing Left and the Geopolitics of Cruelty

In the six years since I started this blog, I have tried to render upsetting social and political events in abstract terms and subject them to some level of analysis. Last year, for instance, I wrote a bit arguing that by showing that he was sexually violent and abusive to his daughter Donald Trump’s was successful in portraying himself as an omnipotent strongman figure to his base. I want to continue with that theme and unite it with some of my observations about the institutional failure of Canadian left politics at present.

But in doing so, I want to simplify things. My ability to wrap syllables and analysis around hard realities is sometimes useful. But sometimes it distances us too much from the horror we face and the simplicity of the problem before us. Great work has been done to re-legitimate the word “lie” after decades of obfuscating terms like “mis-statement,” “alternative facts” and “journalistic balance.” I would like us to do more with another necessary word: cruelty.

Simply put, our problem is that every day, more and more people in our societies embrace cruelty and other people’s suffering as a necessary moral good. And that, readers, is, in my estimation, evil.

 

The reason Americans have chosen a confessed rapist and proud child molester to lead the greatest empire the world has ever known is because the ascendant social and political movements, in state after state, around the world, are those that celebrate cruelty and the infliction of suffering on others.

There have been many devastating consequences of pragmatic socialists aligning with liberal utilitarians over the past half-century, from the Third Way (neoliberalism with a human face) to the conflation of socialist thought with a nebulous, incoherent progressivism, to the replacement of socialist internationalism with foreign policy Taoism. But perhaps the most devastating is this: people who have believed themselves to live in an unjust society, who feel the palpable injustice of neoliberalism with its bloodless technocracy, heritable privilege and collision course with the carbon cycle have been offered nothing by the left. No large-scale leftist political movement has stated with clarity “this social order is fundamentally unjust and must be replaced with a just one.”

Instead we, on the left have offered short-term tactical alliances, strategic retreats and technocratic fixes. We have been so focused on trying to save the vestiges of the twentieth-century Keynesian welfare state that we have become the defenders of the status quo, promising desperate people that, with us as junior partners, things will get worse slower.

As a result, we have stood back and given free rein to the worst forces in our societies to offer the only theory of fairness on offer. By submerging socialism in liberal utilitarian discourse, colloquially known as “progressivism,” we have quit the field. We have chosen not to offer any competition to those saying “everything is fucked. The world is just as unfair as you feel it is. We must take drastic action to change everything.” At the very moment when climate science tells us unambiguously that this is actually the only position an intellectually responsible person can take, we continue to offer incremental change that no one is looking for.

So, who is saying that? Those speaking with the most clarity on this issue are American conservative evangelicals and Salafists. They have a simple message: God is trying to punish people. He is trying to scourge humanity and the institutions that comprise twentieth-century states are standing in the way. There are too many earthquake survivors, too many cancer survivors, too many people living through famines and droughts, too few homeless people freezing to death, too few asylum-seekers drowning on the high seas. The consequences of climate change have been effortlessly repurposed by these movements. Droughts, famines, floods and fires are God’s traditional tools for scourging the unjust and the just alike. And once again, government stands in the way, thwarting God’s judgement at every turn.

Day after day, I read well-intentioned but confused liberals and socialists on social media bewildered that Trump’s supporters are so foolish as to think that Obamacare’s repeal will make things better. Such a position arises from a failure of imagination about what “better” can mean, the inability to understand that the way its repeal will make things better will be by causing more people to die, people who should already be dead, were it not for the hubris of Barack Obama to try and interpose the state between God and his judgement.

Such a worldview is cruel. The theory of fairness that is on offer is that God is trying to punish us and we, arrogantly, are trying to dodge that punishment. But, at the same moment, it is altruistic. Many of the people fighting to repeal current US healthcare law or keep their town in the hands of ISIL or the Lord’s Resistance Army or Boko Haram are willing to sacrifice their own lives in the name of this monstrous theory of justice. People are willing to lay down their own lives to make sure that there is more suffering and death in the world, in accordance with God’s plan.

Not only does the contemporary mainstream left fail to validate the feelings of those who believe the world is fundamentally unfair and must be reordered to restore justice, it also rejects the efforts of people who wish to be heroes—valiant people who have that intuitive consciousness of the injustice of the present order. The world is, and always has been, full of people who are willing to put everything on the line to fight evil. There are incipient heroes in every family, in every neighbourhood, town and village. Many people have been surprised by the thousands who put their bodies on the line at Standing Rock last year, the thousands who faced off against the state in the streets in the early days of the Trump regime. Many people were stunned by the Syria-wide protests against a monstrous, homicidal regime following the bombing of Aleppo. I was not.

The problem is that the mainstream electoral left has a place for you if you can represent yourself as a victim, an aspiring technocrat or a classically liberal rational actor and benefit-maximizer, and, ideally all three, if you care to look at the BC NDP’s candidate selection procedures. But what about people who want to denounce injustice, call out evil for what it is, and march out into the streets to challenge it? The fascist movements around us are winning because they have a place for those people and we do not. The leftist mobilization we have seen in recent months has taken place in spite of the prevailing thinking of the left, not because of it.

Our present political moment arises from the fact that there is only one compelling narrative for vanquishing injustice that people are being offered. And it is the one that celebrates cruelty, that eggs on climate change, that revels in torture, that cheers “LET HIM DIE!!! LET HIM DIE!!!!” like that 2012 Republican primary debate audience when candidates were asked about the uninsured. In opposition to this, we offer an imagined past of tolerant twentieth-century welfare states, accommodation with global capital and the investor class, investor rights regimes like the EU and NAFTA, and small-scale technocratic change, provided the investor class gets its cut.

It is a testament to the fundamental decency of the human race that, in democracies around the world, a slim majority continues to reject the politics of cruelty and conservative religio-political eschatology. In the absence of a visionary left, that decency is all that is holding human civilization in place.

Did the Survivor Vote Swing the Election for Trump?

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and his wife Melania Trump vote at PS 59 in New York, New York, U.S. November 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTX2SKKG

There has been a lot of talk about how Donald Trump won over so many white women in his campaign. The general narrative is, and I am not saying it is untrue, that, for American women, white supremacy trumped female solidarity. I am sure that is the case. But it is useful to think about the other things that might also be true, truths that function synergistically with this one.

A terrifyingly large proportion of people in America have had sex to which they did not consent by the time they turn eighteen. It is just shy of a majority of women and as many as one in six men. And the Trump campaign telegraphed their candidate’s propensity—perhaps even preference for—non-consensual sex, especially given that his main rebuttal of the “grab them by the pussy” tape was to suggest his accusers were too ugly to have been the women he actually assaulted. Similarly, the campaign did the opposite of disabusing the public of the notion that at least one of his daughters grew up having sex with him, something to which he has alluded in multiple interviews over the decades.

What is, as I suggested in my piece on Trump’s preference for incestuous relations, this was an intelligent and rational piece of campaigning.

As we learn—but never accept—in countless failed rape prosecutions, people who have been sexually violated, especially people who have been sexually violated by adults as children do not reliably say “no.” They do not reliably ostracize their accuser or reject his future overtures. They do not reliably resist further infringements on their bodies, dignity and sense of self. That is because one of the most powerful lessons a survivor of sexual abuse learns is this: their abuser is all-powerful and nobody will help them. Even if unlikely help eventually arrives in the person of the state or a concerned relative, it is often too late to unlearn that fundamental lesson about what it means to survive: one’s only hope for safety is to curry favour with one’s abuser. In this way, Trump is the epitome of the abuser: no matter what happens, he is too rich, too powerful, too dangerous, a man totally above the law and impervious to shame or social disapproval.

What survivors have also learned from the failed rape prosecutions in our media is that a survivor needs to fashion a public image of themselves that either denies their past experience or portrays them as a Lifetime Network TV movie hero-victim, for whom sexual violence and abuse has been a crucible, forging them into an implacable warrior against their abuser and the system supporting him. The majority of survivors who have become more vulnerable, more involuntarily compliant, more calculating, dissembling and fearful are viewed as reprehensible beings to be derided or attacked for currying favour with past abusers or consenting to further abuse.

What if the Trump campaign activated this? What if this is what undergirds his decisive victory among white women is this? What if the more his violent, predatory monstrosity was displayed, the more it began being refracted through the emboldened misogyny of men in their own space, America’s survivors intensified their performance of divided selfhood. Trump, in a way, became the biggest, most inescapable sexual assailant imaginable. In all the ways that a child sees a sexually predatory adult as omnipresent and omnipotent, Trump actually was, his face on every TV screen, his words coming out of the mouths of so many proximate men, like the eponymous priests of ancient Egypt, embodying America’s fascist, rapist god-man.

For most survivors, the way forward would be clear: dissemble and comply. Somehow your abuser will know if you tried to thwart him. In all likelihood, your abuser wants you to generate a narrative that you have consented, that he has done nothing wrong. Ultimately, the greatest performances of domination are the ones that inspire feigned consent. What if the moment, America’s survivors placed their hands on that lever, they felt their omnipresent, omnipotent abuser leaning over the flimsy cardboard privacy partition, their eyes full of malice, and knew what they must do to survive another day?

An Open Letter to Thomas Monson, Prophet, Seer and Revelator of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Dear Sir:

Remember back in 2008 and 2009 how America’s liberals, progressives and socialists were mightily peeved at your sponsorship and conduct of California’s notorious Proposition Eight, the initiative that sought to kill same-sex marriage in the state? Remember how mad we all were at the way you seemed to tear down the First Amendment and dance upon it as you not only sponsored the campaign but explicitly ordered your congregants to set aside their own judgement and conscience and instead follow your directives to ban same-sex marriage?

When the Church defended itself against these highly legitimate grievances, the Brethren suggested that the campaign might well have been the result of a revelation from the Lord, revealed to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, as part of the charge to promote the Proclamation on the Family as just short of latter-day scripture. Nevertheless, you guys seemed to have learned your lesson and decided never to meddle so directly in US politics again. A year ago, I would have said, thank you for finding the maturity and decency to render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s.

Today, I say, forget all that! Unlearn your lessons! Never mind about Proposition Eight and all the people you hurt; the courts sorted that out in the end! Meddle in your nation’s presidential politics! Meddle like it’s 1844!

Remember that plan Joseph Smith was assassinated trying to pull off, how he was going to deadlock the Electoral College by winning one state in a three-way race and use that to get stuff done? This can’t be a totally bad plan. It was your founding prophet’s after all, likely one bestowed by divine revelation. My guess is that if you inquire sincerely of the Lord, after some prayer and fasting, he may let you know that plan is, once again, a “go.”

And I am confident that, if on Sunday morning, an emergency Church Educational System bulletin were to invite Mormons throughout the state of Utah to concur with the Brethren in granting the state’s six electoral college delegates to Evan McMullin, that would probably get done  Donald Trump is, after all, as the Deseret News editorial board, stated “evil” and completely unfit for any position of public trust. He is a clear and present danger to America and to the world at large.

I’m pretty sure there is a non-canonical prophecy about faithful LDS members emerging from the mountains to save the Constitution at America’s hour of greatest need. You know the one I mean. Maybe there is something to that after all. If there is, there is much that the American people will have to thank you for next week.

Yours truly,

 

Stuart Parker,

Former Joseph Smith Seminar Fellow of the Mormon Scholars Foundation

Winning Like Samuel Tilden: Trump, Violence and Voter Suppression

Stop saying this current US election cannot be rigged. It’s a trap. Donald Trump is projecting. He is rigging the election.

There is an unacceptable amount of gloating going on among opponents of Trump right now, all centred on the idea that Trump and his cronies have been outfoxed, outwitted and are now flailing around desperately without the vaguest plan for winning the election. The New York Times, the 538, the Guardian and other media keep stating that Trump has “no path to victory” and that his incessant claims that the election has been rigged are evidence that he knows this.

But let us consider for a moment that these claims of election rigging are the centrepiece of a path to victory that has nearly worked in the US on occasions in the past and has been highly effective in electing the kind of leader Trump wishes to be, a kind of Third World strongman, as opposed to a US president bound by conventional checks and balances.

Let us consider the two acknowledged effects of Trump’s constant refrain of election-rigging:

  1. It is causing both Republicans and Democrats to close ranks and state, in advance, that they will immediately and unequivocally accept the results of the election.
  2. It is assisting Trump in recruiting a growing paramilitary force of “poll watchers” and “election observers,” who will be deployed, with guns, to areas where there is a substantial concentration of non-white voters.

Trump, furthermore, has focused his accusations of voter fraud in ways that specifically target black and Latino voters. His rhetoric has talked about “different communities,” “you know who I mean,” and claimed that the main forms of voter fraud will be black Americans in “inner cities” voting multiple times and casting votes on behalf of the dead and illegal immigrants who are being waved through the US-Mexico border and being immediately permitted to vote in close states.

Even without a specific order to commit violent acts, Trump’s army of second-amendment activist poll watchers will, almost certainly, produce some violent conflicts. If they begin to harass non-white voters even non-violently, their presence might well engender violent reactions and ad hoc responses by armed young men from the communities they are attempting to intimidate. With as many as 15,000 Trump poll-watchers already signed up and with numbers increasing daily as their candidate exhorts them to come out and stop the alleged theft of the election, America can look forward with certainty to, at least, some polling places erupting into violence.

That is probably why Trump is sending his poll-watchers to the least white, most densely populated places. The hope is not for orderly voting but for rioting, for his disorganized paramilitary to bring not order to voting but such disorder as to require the intervention of law enforcement and the consequent shuttering of polling stations.

For those who watch elections run by de facto dictator strongmen like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, we know what happens next: in order to restore public order, voting at that polling place is terminated and the voters are dispersed, in order to maintain public order. In a Zimbabwean election, ZANU-PF thugs go from one polling place to another and precipitate rioting and armed conflict, requiring that polling abruptly end in opposition strongholds before even half the votes there are cast. With no alternative place for opposition supporters to vote, massive vote suppression is achieved in the name of public order.

And what choice would local officials have, except to shut down polling places if people there were being shot, if there were rioting, if shop windows were breaking and businesses burning? The duty of law enforcement would be clear. And it is useful, at this point, to remember that in most places where Trump is mobilizing poll watchers, state law enforcement is being run by Republican governors and legislatures. Sudden and massive suppression of the non-white vote would coincide with the interests of local Republican candidates and, in the case of North Carolina, a Republican governor facing probable defeat without some kind of game-changing last-minute shift.

It is in this light that we should re-evaluate what appear, at present, to be Republican condemnations of Trump’s election-rigging rhetoric. “It is impossible to rig this election,” GOP officials in Ohio and elsewhere are telling us. There appears to be a sudden national consensus that no fraud or rigging can take place and that election night results should be immediately accepted, even if, for instance, law enforcement officers had been forced to shut down voting in Philadelphia, Miami or Columbus, even if tens or hundreds of thousands of black and Latino votes were prevented from being cast, votes that might sway the outcome in states that currently seem just outside Trump’s reach.

What if, after spending a month gloating about how we have manipulated Trump into walking into our trap, we are, in fact, walking into his by promising immediate concession in the event of election night defeat and declaring large-scale rigging impossible? While it may well be that even with substantial election day violence, America’s unwieldy popular front anti-fascist coalition of neoliberals, socialists and everything in between will still triumph, let us not confuse our opposition’s impulsivity with stupidity as we did when the fascists arose at the end of the last Gilded Age. Hitler’s and Mussolini’s thugs were figures of fun and their leaders impulsive fools incapable of achieving the great evil to which they aspired, right up until the moment they won.

Nor is this sort of thing unheard-of in America. The “Solid South” was born in the 1876 election, before the discriminatory, racist poll taxes, grandfather clauses and the like were placed in the election laws of the former Confederacy. In 1876, the irregulars who were never fully demobilized from the Confederate army in 1865, re-emerged as a paramilitary force known as the Ku Klux Klan, an organization that has endorsed Trump and is actively campaigning for him this election.

When the Klan emerged onto the national stage, it did so as a force that used the very tactics to which I refer: voter intimidation, violent assaults on black voters, inducement of rioting and social disorder at poling places. They did so in support of the Democratic candidate for president, Samuel Tilden of New York. Through widespread violence against black voters, they flipped the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas from Republican to Democrat, inaugurating the Solid South and ending Reconstruction, an era initially created not through Jim Crow segregationist laws but through extra-legal paramilitary violence.

It may be that Hillary Clinton’s margin is too wide, that too many votes will have been cast before election day, that states not targeted by Trump’s election observer brown shirts will be sufficient to provide Clinton with the 270 electoral votes she requires. But it is foolish to suggest that Trump has no plan for rescuing his campaign. And ultimately, as an admirer of fascists, thugs and political strongmen the world over, a Tildenesque victory is one that is more aesthetically appealing to him in any case. So let us be vigilant. Donald Trump is a madman, not a fool.

Being Godlike in America: Incest, Impunity and the Presentation of Trump’s Autocratic Credentials

At the height of the gulag, purges, death squads and Ukrainian famine, Joseph Stalin’s underlings approached him about a deeply worrying concern that might imperil the regime. Reports were coming in from everywhere that most Russians believed that the vast majority of people who were being executed or sent to Siberia were innocent of any crimes against the USSR.

But Stalin reassured them. It was not merely inevitable that most Russians would realize that those being murdered, imprisoned, tortured and shamed were innocent. It was necessary. For totalitarianism to succeed, it was necessary for citizens to fundamentally alter their understanding of the state and its leader. Whereas every Russian emperor from 1454 to 1917 had been heir to the title of Constantine, Rome’s first Christian emperor, “equal to the Apostles and God’s vice-gerent on earth,” Stalin had to do better, to exceed this status in his project of remaking Russian society in his image. It was not enough to be God’s agent; he had to be a god himself.

God, Stalin reasoned, based on a clear understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy theology and scripture, could be clearly recognized as distinct from mortals because his mortal servants were sent to punish the guilty and the unjust. God, as revealed in the Book of Job and countless other scriptural narratives, was the sole moral agent who possessed the right to punish the innocent and just. And only being god-like could Stalin, with a tiny fraction of the resources, population and allies of the capitalist empires he stared down, possibly prevail.

Whereas liberal capitalism was advancing a political theory in which any adult person might be entitled to govern a state and mete out its laws in a fair and moral fashion, Stalin offered an opposing theory, one rooted in the origins of the Russian state and its antecedents, the Byzantine Empire and the Khanate of the Golden Horde. Whereas the rulers of the capitalist, liberal West were to be understood as “first among equals,” men entitled to no more and no less than their fellow citizens, Stalin would present himself and his deceased predecessor, Lenin, as ontologically distinct from mere human beings.

And so Stalin set about doing god-like things: persecuting his children, terrorizing his allies, engaging in unspeakable atrocities, carelessly and pointlessly murdering millions as though they were straw dogs. It is in this light that we must understand actions that appear to have hobbled the Russian economy, political system and even Russia’s physical environment. No mere man could conduct himself in such a terrifying, incomprehensible, unspeakable fashion. Stalin, people concluded, must be something more.

It is in this light that we must approach the Donald Trump campaign.

Donald Trump is a man uninterested in serving as America’s president, engaged in a constant, endless process of technocratic compromise, negotiation and brokerage, the very thing craved by his opponent. Trump is not running for that job and has no interest in it. Trump is running for Stalin’s job, Mao’s job, Hitler’s job: absolute and supreme leader of a vast, world-spanning imperium. There is nothing irrational about his election strategy. He wishes to be elected with a clear mandate to serve as America’s god-king; anything less is of no interest to him.

And it is in this light that we must understand the programmatic, intentional and strategic marketing of parent-child incest by Donald Trump. Trump chose to give the convention address, reserved for generations for the spouse of a presidential candidate, to his daughter Ivanka. This choice was intentional and premeditated, as was his unambiguously libidinous kissing and ass-grabbing of his daughter on national TV before the address, the daughter about whom he has been making sexualized comments in the media since before her tenth birthday. Trump is direct, clear and unflinching in notifying America that he owns that girl’s ass and has since she was conceived.

And that is because he has been contemplating a run, not for the American presidency but for the role of American Emperor since before she was conceived. From her conception, she has been a prop, a means by which Trump can demonstrate his god-like status. A mere man, you see, couldn’t fuck his daughter and brag about it on national television; only a superhuman being could do that and walk away unscathed. Like taxes and contracts, the bedrock of the liberal social contract, prohibitions against the most monstrous form of sexual abuse do not apply to Trump because he is a god-being who can demonstrate this status by showing himself to transcend not merely our laws but our most fundamental social mores and taboos.

In writing this piece I was as reminded of the father of a friend of mine who killed himself this year (the son, not the father, sadly), a monster who began raping him when he was eighteen months old. That man was a charter member of the New Age movement, whose lifelong hustle has been photographing people’s auras for money. He begins each day with this affirmation: “I am a god-being, limitless beyond human comprehension,” like Ivan the Terrible, Russia’s most god-like emperor who is remembered best for beating his own son and heir to death – for no reason.

Like most survivors of programmatic and flagrant sexual abuse, my dear old friend was as powerless to retaliate against his abuser as is Ivanka Trump, a woman who has received the message loud and clear from over three hundred million Americans that they will not lift a finger to protect her. Her only hope of relative safety, like most survivors of sexual violence, is convincing her abuser that she is a willing, nay enthusiastic, participant in her own abuse. Victims of lifelong sexual abuse are at once ventriloquist and dummy, normalizing their abuser’s discourse while performing their accord with it as voluntary and enthusiastic, offering hagiographic descriptions of their abuser.

What we must understand is that, for Trump’s followers, their leader’s ongoing sexual violation of his daughter is what Slavoj Zizek terms an “unknown known,” in his tribute to the epistemology of Donald Rumsfeld, something we all know but refuse to permit our consciousness to see, a belief we concurrently deny and use as a premise undergirding our reasoning. Open secrets, unknown knowns, are the most powerful form of knowledge in a society because they represent the inchoate substructure of a social order. State-sanctioned torture, race- and gender-based violence, massive inequalities of wealth and opportunity structure our every interaction and so they must exist at the periphery of our consciousness.

By signaling that he is the incarnation of those very forces, Trump offers his followers what marginalized, desperate people in America desire, a literal deus ex machina. The invisible forces that are so terrifying that we cannot speak of them by name are incarnate in a man. Perhaps, they reason, this god-man might be more easily propitiated than the implacable invisible-handed deity that has laid waste their families, towns and workplaces.

“If I only had a brain,” One Crisis of Many in the Canadian Left (Culture and Institutions in Canadian Politics – part IV)

One of the reasons the political right has been ascendant since the 1970s is that it chose to invest in systematically rebuilding its intellectual elite. In my lifetime, organizations like the Fraser Institute have both multiplied and developed closer, more robust ties to right-wing movement activists. Events like Civitas, the annual gathering of conservative activists, donors and intellectuals have no parallel on the left, despite recent, sincere efforts by groups like the Broadbent Institute and LeadNow to foster such a space.

Outside of the venerable Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, most of what passes for thinking aloud on the left is little more than brainstorming over campaign priorities and messaging. And whereas, in order to engage in deep, prolonged, verbalized thinking, the right bars media from its major conferences, the left is so publicity-starved that it compulsively live-tweets its counterfeits (here, I am referencing the term’s original meaning, last deployed by JRR Tolkien) because it is so desperate for attention.

While the right hashes-out the major ideological conundrums it faces, the Canadian left has yet to stage a serious debate between its Keynesians and advocates of balanced budgets. Whereas the right expects to think aloud together in major debates at Civitas or the Manning forum, or in the hundreds of microcosms of this culture of debate, the left is unable to do so because we imagine that the thinking has already been done before we arrive. Left debates around ideology and policy are generally bloodless and insincere. People are sent to microphones with pre-rehearsed, conclusive remarks because we imagine that we have thought all we need to think and know all we need to know.

As others have discussed, this unwarranted assumption of intellectual superiority and complete information alienates working class voters and others not culturally steeped in the coded language and mores of liberal academia. But in discussing how off-putting this kind of socio-intellectual deportment is, we often miss one of the most profound harms it creates: it robs us of the ability to converse intelligently with one another, to imagine the future we want to create and to strategize about how to achieve it.

This malaise does not just affect left politics in the electoral and civil society spheres; it is something I first detected in my workplace culture. When I first entered graduate school in 2004, academic conferences and other gatherings were places where one could score points as an interlocutor by challenging, even dismantling the claims made by another scholar. But, over the past twelve years, I have found that this sort of behaviour is less and less acceptable. The question period following a conference paper is filled not with substantive engagements with the evidence and reasoning of the presenter but rather with brief public service announcement-style statements by audience members advertising their own work. The only question with which one can reliably score points today is to ask, “So, I’m wondering, could you elaborate a little more fully how your paper is really about me and my work?”

We are gripped, today, almost by a fear of engaging in substantive intellectual debate. Instead, Canada’s left comprises a set of siloed spaces where foregone conclusions are reached by circumscribed cadres, self-selecting union executives, unanimous think tanks, self-appointed civil society boards and personality cults.

Sadly, even when this profound deficiency is recognized, our intellectual ossification becomes even more evident. We tend to blame cultural shifts in the upper middle class or, worse yet, we engage in a kind of non-analysis that used to be the sole province of conservatives: we blame the world. “Oh no,” we say, “people just aren’t as good as people at other places and times. Woe is us.”

A left that was awake, a left that was alive, would, instead ask this: how is the structure of labour producing this reality? What are the systems whereby labour is controlled, deployed and remunerated that condition our present state of affairs? How have we reconfigured intellectual labour in such a way as to deprive ourselves of the capacity to think aloud?

First and foremost, we need to acknowledge the ascendant power of lineage, both physical and fictive, in our institutions. In universities, always a bastion of leftist, jobs are increasingly referral-based; interviewing candidates for most positions is, increasingly, a formality. More and more teaching positions are delivered by people with titles like “adjunct professor,” “sessional instructor” or “postdoctoral fellow.” It is not merely that people like us are hired entirely based on whether we are personally connected to the person hiring us (typically such positions are filled by fiat by a single department chair, not by a hiring committee); our contracts end and are renewed annually, in many cases, every four months, solely based on our ability to maintain that personal connection. These personal connections are typically established by way of academic lineage. One’s doctoral or postdoctoral supervisor is a friend of the chair in question or is, themselves, that person.

The medieval patron-client character of academic lineage has been empowered by the neoliberal economic environment in which it is now situated. As the labour market is glutted with desperate people, as a larger and larger portion of new work is shunted to the precariat, highly vertical labour relations obtain. People like me fear filing grievances or using our labour power to obtain concessions because we understand that the state is no longer our ally. One maintains work in this environment not through public performances of dissent or disagreement but through public performances of submission and gratitude. If tenure made people safe to express novel views or challenge orthodoxy, one should not be surprised that firing and rehiring your labour force every four months does the opposite.

Yet, people still have tenure. Are they not free to engage in intellectual debate? Leaving aside the ways in which challenging orthodoxy was institutionalized by newer scholars being rewarded for doing so, one must look at what happens to people with tenure when most teaching is done by members of the precariat existing at the periphery. Increasingly, those possessed of tenure are managers, the collegiate equivalent of high school vice principals, enmeshed in endlessly increasing adminsrivia.

Meanwhile, things have also changed in the civil society sector. A generation ago, most major civil society organizations on the left were funded through small, individual donations received through direct mail, phone or door-to-door canvassing. But a combination of factors has undercut this.

With changes in communication technology, door-to-door and phone canvassing and direct mail have become less effective. But our expectations of how work is done has also changed. Work that was the province of volunteers or children in the past has become “real” work, as more and more wages converge with a declining minimum wage and as more and more jobs are converted into entrepreneurial endeavours in which one must locate clients as well as serving them.

But this desperation for work has also become enmeshed in a synergistic process similar to what we see in academia: as relationships become more vertical and exchange becomes more unequal, performances of control and submission matter more. Whereas a volunteer phoner or canvasser might go off-script or might view their voluntary contribution of labour as entitling them to some sort of joint control of a political or activist enterprise, a paid canvasser presents no such challenges. They too, can, mostly be fired at will for expressions of dissent or difference.

At the same time, as these individual donations constitute a smaller share, other forms of highly vertical authority assert themselves. A generation ago, the small-donor charity was the norm in much of Canadian civil society. Today, far more civil society organizations function, de facto or de jure as family trusts. One or more wealthy lineages decide to fund an important charitable or activist enterprise and, presto! there is most of the money. Often, this is tied to the employment of members of this wealthy lineage as the key decision-makers and spokespeople of the organization.

Sometimes these wealthy, influential families will self-fund the enterprise through an annuity or regular donation. But, just as often, these wealthy individuals will function in a role that US political jargon calls “bundlers.” Small, informal gatherings will be held in which other key people or organizations will be invited to join the family in staking this civil society organization, with the understanding that real decision-making power will rest in the lineage not the formal corporate organization.

And how could it? The fundraising arm of the organization are precariously employed people living in poverty, whose job is contingent on performances of submission and accord. Because the funds they raise are typically supplementary to large donors, even the withdrawal of their labour in a unionized context presents little threat. And such organizations’ boards of directors similarly understand that they are being consulted as a courtesy by the family representative whom they are there to support.

One reason small donations have slipped through the fingers of non-profit civil society organizations in recent years, even as the availability of wealthy elite patrons as grown, as an inevitable consequence of the New Gilded Age, is because of competition from political parties. As I have written previously, the 2003 Elections Act reforms of Jean Chreitien have had paradoxical and far-reaching consequences. One such consequence is that, because corporate and union donations are prohibited, political parties must obtain small, individual contributions because their lives depend on them.

But like civil society groups, political parties have come, increasingly, not to be co-governed by volunteers but professionalized. Whereas the intellectual labour of political parties a generation ago was largely carried-out by volunteers employed outside the party, seconded during campaign periods but continuously generating strategic and policy ideas while outside the organization, the same bloat in administration that we have witnessed in universities has taken place in political parties.

As I discussed in previous pieces, the rise of “vetting” processes has meant that paid political staff design an exhaustive process that requires the payment of a deposit (to weed out people of the wrong social class) and the completion of a questionnaire that typically requires that the potential candidate make false or incomplete claims. One is asked to enumerate all comments ever made on social and conventional media since birth, and other such silliness. While this might have begun as a surveillance project, it has undergone an identical metamorphosis to welfare fraud legislation. The point is to establish a set of criteria that every potential candidate will violate, thereby permitting the arbitrary exercises of absolute authority by party staff. As 100% of candidates will have committed an offense meriting disqualification, any candidate may be disqualified at will at any time.

And, as morale declines in left parties, as decision-making power is stripped away from members, a growing proportion of work during elections is carried out by temporary employees hired by the permanent staff cadre, temporary staff who can be dismissed at will. It is in this context that performing unremunerated intellectual labour for the party becomes just as transgressive as in the academic or civil society spheres.

Individuals who hold and express opinions about the party’s strategy or policies fall into three categories: (1) the staff cadre, (2) dependent temporary employees or (3) ordinary members. But as ordinary members have never really possessed the de facto power to actually make policy, except through their selection of candidates, reducing them to a rubber stamp for pre-selected candidates effectively deprives them of any power or relevance in the system. Dependent, temporary employees are selected, as is inevitable in such a vertical, authoritarian labour system, based on their capacity to perform submission, accord and deference. And this leaves the staff cadre to make decisions.

Of course, this staff cadre retains its robust and consistent character because of the interpenetration between the New Democratic Party and what Vladimir Lenin termed “the labour aristocracy.” I think I will leave that relationship for a subsequent post.

Instead, let me just conclude that the Canadian left is unable to think its way out of its present predicament because we have fallen into a set of interlocking labour systems that are all producing highly vertical, authoritarian relationships, relationships that are inhibiting our capacity to think together at the very moment when our very survival depends upon doing so.

 

What if #ElbowGate Isn’t About Canadian Politics At All?

In January 2013, I wrote a blog post on Tom Mulcair and the politics of Canadian masculinity. My basic thesis, premised on the seemingly reasonable, yet ultimately discredited, assumption that Mulcair would run for Prime Minister as “Angry Tom” from Question Period, was that the NDP had a real chance of winning the 2015 election because of the way English Canadians think about the masculinity of French Canadian politicians.

Anglos, and especially Anglo men, have accorded a special cultural role for prominent Quebecois politicians in our bicultural national political dynamic: they are permitted to express more aggression, physical violence and rage than Anglo politicians. Because middle and upper-middle class English Canadian masculinity remains entangled with Victorian ideals of reserve, continence and restraint, Anglo expressions of aggressive masculine behaviour has ambivalent, self-limiting effects on the national stage. The kind of physical aggression displayed by Pierre Trudeau, Jean Chretien or, most recently, by Justin Trudeau would be far more problematic and elicit far more criticism and concern if expressed by a politician of an equivalent class position coming from English Canada.

The roots of this double-standard are complex and multifaceted but it is worth noting that until half a century ago, Quebecois and Acadian Canadians were underserviced, unequal, racialized populations in this country, over-represented in unskilled, seasonal and migrant work, dominated by Anglo elites, and ruled by despotic, violent, theocratic regimes like Maurice Duplessis’ Union Nationale. (Indeed, one might want to rethink the politics of the niqab in Quebec in 2015 in the context of the province’s own experience of secularization and the role that religious dress played in that process.) In the US, a consolation prize for such historical wrongs is cultural permission to enact a more aggressive or macho performance of one’s male gender, including over-representation on the teams of the nation’s preferred professional gladiatorial sport.

Anyway, whether in Pierre Trudeau’s actions during the FLQ Crisis or his actions at the St. Jean-Baptiste Parade of 1968, Jean Chretien’s “Shawinigan Handshake” or pepper-spray remark, or in Justin Trudeau’s successful boxing match against Patrick Brazeau or his recent parliamentary gaffe, part of the appeal our French Canadian leaders have for English Canadians is that they are authorized, culturally, to participate in a more violent, macho, unproblematically aggressive masculinity than their English counterparts. In this way, one of the functions such leaders have is as people through whom voters, but especially male voters, get to vicariously participate in kinds of masculine behaviour, in which barriers of culture or power prevent them from engaging in daily life. And we need to place this understanding uppermost in our minds to understand the bizarre national debate that has been engendered by the events in parliament last week.

Last week, the Liberal government was attempting to rush some progressive legislation on end-of-life medical care through parliament. Whereas only the Conservative Party actually opposed the substance of the legislation, all opposition parties were upset that it was being rushed through the house without normal opportunities for MPs’ input. In response to this, NDP and Tory MPs used some venerable delaying tactics to slow the passage of the bill. In fact, these parties were so united in their concern over process issues around the legislation that they collaborated to effect this delay.

Visibly angered by these antics, the Prime Minister physically intervened, first by shouting at the NDP MPs who were failing to take their seats and then pushing his way through them to physically grab the Tory whip and drag him to his seat so that voting could commence. During the tussle, a small female NDP MP was elbowed in the chest, in an incident very similar to Toronto mayor Rob Ford knocking councillor Pam McConnell to the ground in 2013. Like McConnell, Ruth Ellen Brosseau had not been the intended target of the physical altercation but, as my friend Jeremy says, “accidents happen when people throw things.”

Almost immediately, the Speaker of the House and, to his credit, the Prime Minister himself, recognized that charging across the floor and inadvertently striking an MP in an effort to coercively manhandle another who protested “take your hands off me,” was all-out wrong. And so, the Speaker ruled that the PM had fucked-up and the PM apologized. To many of us, it seemed that the sorry, tawdry story of the most powerful man in Canada losing his shit was over.

But then, about a day and a half after the incident, it became clear that the story had entered a second, and far more unpleasant phase. My Liberal MP and several others began to suggest that Trudeau had been wrong to apologize, that he had been “set up” to elbow Brosseau in the chest and drag Gordon Brown to his seat because they were deliberately delaying a process. In this re-narration, Trudeau was understood to be a frustrated boss at a workplace with recalcitrant, attention-seeking employees who had provoked him, unjustly, into justly putting them in their place. It soon came to be suggested by many on social media that MPs moving slowly or standing still when a vote was being called was, itself, a form of violence and probably a criminal act. Soon a “defense of necessity” argument was being put forward that Trudeau was engaged in something like a citizens’ arrest in which we was heroically using his body to fight against “violent” opposition MPs engaged in an illegal act. And in all the social media posts and mainstream media comments pages I have read, this latter view comprises the overwhelming majority of opinion.

Now, many people are suggesting that this consensus around the fundamental rightness of the PM’s actions arises from high levels of support for the Liberal Party and a willingness to excuse any action by its very popular leader. In the minds of many of my long-time NDP friends, this is just the cynical old Liberals ginning-up public opinion in their favour, or people so attached to the idea of the PM being a “progressive” or “feminist” that they will justify anything he does. But this interpretation is inadequate and fails to answer some obvious questions:

  1. Why are so many NDP and Tory supporters still siding with Trudeau and against their own parties’ narratives of events?
  2. Why are Trudeau’s supporters not agreeing with Trudeau’s own interpretation of what took place and talking about what a big, generous, dignified man he is for apologizing so readily?
  3. Why are Trudeau’s supporters disbelieving the account of events offered by the Liberal Speaker of the House which is in accord, not just with that of the opposition parties, but with that of the Prime Minister himself?
  4. Why are Trudeau’s supporters not touting how progressive the legislation was whose vote was being delayed?
  5. And, most bizarrely, why are so many pushing a conspiracy theory in which the Tory whip was not colluding with the NDP to delay the vote but was secretly betraying his own party and begging Trudeau to help him to his seat, even though this entails disbelieving everything Gordon Brown has said both during and since the incident about what happened?

Perhaps we need to consider the possibility that this debate is no longer about partisan politics at all. Perhaps we should consider the possibility that this is about something bigger, more universal and more disturbing than the gong show that went on in parliament this week.

What if what matters here is not Trudeau’s function as Prime Minister but rather his function as a means of experiencing vicarious masculinity for English Canadians? Haven’t we all, white collar, blue collar, service sector, all of us been in some meeting at work where we wanted to get something important done and it has been stymied by attention-seeking asshats who want to slow everything down for their own stupid, self-serving purposes? Haven’t we all been working on a project that ends up being late because some asshole is deliberately dragging their feet for some bullshit reason? And haven’t we all wanted to shout at those attention-seeking, self-serving little shits to get out of our way?

Haven’t we all been at work and seen a co-worker standing next to their desk or their tools instead of getting on with the job? And haven’t we all wanted to shove them down into their chair or push their tools into their hands and just fucking make them get to work?

Aren’t we all too sick of bullshit, meaningless process at our jobs, slowing everything down and rewarding shitty, lazy people at the expense of good industrious people? And haven’t we all wanted to grab those lazy people and drag them along with us whether they like it or not?

On top of that, there are some less universal experiences that insecure young and middle-aged men have, like frustration at how they have to accommodate the sensitivities and bodies of young women, especially young women they feel were accidentally and unfairly promoted into their jobs? Is Ruth-Ellen Brosseau, the paper candidate who made good not the epitome of that, one of only two NDP MPs who increased their margin of victory in 2015 due to good constituency work but who continues to be dismissed as “Vegas Girl”?

At this point, what Trudeau and the other politicians in Ottawa say about this issue is now irrelevant. Our Prime Minister is not part of this debate as an interlocutor; he is part of this debate as a symbol, whose words are now irrelevant. Our national #ElbowGate conversation is about the expression of universal and widespread frustration with our workplaces, homes and civil society organizations, and our flirtation with increased physical force as a solution to what ails us.

Like most people reading this, I too have come home from meetings and privately expressed to my close friends or romantic partner about how much easier some meeting would have been if only people were allowed to hit one another more. But let’s remember why we have those no-hitting rules, no matter how much they inconvenience us.

Even at a Symbolic Level, Hillary Clinton’s Candidacy Sets Feminism Back

To date, debates about whether a vote for Hillary Clinton and against Bernie Sanders is a feminist vote have centred around policy differences between the two candidates and have compared the two candidates’ platforms and records, and Sanders’ record is clearly superior when it comes to the issues. Left uncontested until now, however, is the idea that electing Clinton would be a victory for feminism at the level of symbolic discourse, that the election of a woman over a man would, at least symbolically, strike a blow for feminism and against patriarchy. This was a view that I myself held. But now I am not so sure.
In 1986, Ann Richards was elected governor of Texas. A feminist, pro-choice Democrat, Richards faced all the usual character attacks one might expect and then some. That was because she was a divorced, recovering alcoholic who refused, on dozens of occasions, to deny second- and third-hand claims that her past drinking had been matched by an equally prodigious cocaine habit. In this way, she challenged, in every way, the double standards of respectability women face on a host of questions concerning personal and familial morality and lifestyle. Four years before William Jefferson Clinton was nominated to run for president, Richards had given the keynote address to the Democratic convention that nominated Michael Dukakis.

When asked about being the first female governor of Texas, Richards was quick to correct her interlocutors and remind them that she was not, in fact, the state’s first governor due to a long-standing tradition in hyper-patriarchal Dixie. Ma Ferguson, wife of former governor James Ferguson, had been elected Texas governor sixty years previously. That is because the culture of the former Confederate States of America is not only highly conservative with respect to racial issues; this extends to class and gender politics as well. And that is why, as soon as women gained the right to vote in the South, the region’s planter aristocracy began dodging term limits and corruption charges by using their wives as electoral proxies through whom they could hold onto power, skirting the spirit of the law.

Such arrangements were public and blatant. Speaking to audiences of Klansmen and religious conservatives, disqualified male politicians could travel from town to town, proudly proclaiming that if their wives were elected, their regimes would continue without the slightest interruption. To such audiences, these claims seemed reasonable because, in a highly patriarchal society, it is inconceivable that a good wife or daughter would be anything other than a simple extension of her man’s will. This was the campaign of legendary segregationist governor George Wallace for his wife Lurleen in 1966. While she stayed home, her husband went back to the hustings to remind voters that she would rule in name only; he would be calling all the shots. And true to his word, upon “her” victory, he did just that.

And this sort of thing is not unique to Dixie. In 1970, social conservatives in India turned out to elect Indira Gandhi at Prime Minister precisely because they understood her personhood to be wholly subsumed in the greatness of her late father, Jawaharlal Nehru who had ruled the nation from 1945 to 1964. Next door, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s daughter Benazir succeeded him in a similar fashion in 1993. What we have often missed, watching such elections from the Northern US or from Canada, is that periodic election of a great man’s daughter or widow, functions to reinforce the greatness of a patriarchal lineage, showing that a man’s greatness is such that he can rule through a minor proxy from a sickbed, prison cell or even beyond the grave. However autonomous these individuals are, once elected, their election campaigns rely not just on exploiting but reinforcing popular beliefs about the inferior and subordinate character of women’s agency in religious, conservative, traditionalist societies.

For all the legitimate criticism Margaret Thatcher might face for her policies, her election in 1979 showed women in modern democracies that effacing of their own agency and deliberately campaigning in the shadow of a man was not the only route to national leadership. Thatcher helped blaze a trail for governor Richards, as well as for tough, independent national leaders of the right and the left, like Angela Merkel and Julia Gillard.

More than that of any other self-styled progressive in the industrialized world, Hillary Clinton’s so-called feminism is based on a retrograde political understanding of the meaning of gender in the public square. As I first observed in 2008, Bill Clinton, as any good campaign surrogate should, tailors his message to his audience when speaking for this wife. And, the more conservative and Southern the state, the more he speaks not of “she” but “we,” when it comes to the next Clinton White House. It is actually this phenomenon that has given rise to claims by analysis that the Clinton campaign has an African American “firewall.” Whereas the overwhelming majority of white voters in the South who identify as conservative and evangelical are diehard Republicans, the same is not true of black conservative evangelicals, who remain a major constituency for the Democrats. It is that demographic phenomenon that is conferring Hillary Clinton’s lead in South Carolina: a bloc of conservative evangelicals are, once again, hearing from her husband about how a victory for her is really a victory for him.

Clinton, herself, relies on this kind of thinking, as she has since beginning her first presidential run in 2006, by emphasizing how her “experience” distinguishes her from other candidates. Yet, curiously, the record, the experience she most frequently references—and the record and experience her adversaries are most likely to attack—are initiatives associated with her husband’s presidency. Holding no office other than “First Lady,” a royal consort equivalent office that reminds us that the US has not conducted an overhaul of its constitution since the 1780s, she claims credit for any major law passed in the US by dint of her husband’s signature appearing on it.

The move that Clinton is making here is not some clever feminist tactic to stick it to the man; it is an affirmation of the ancient English legal doctrine of “couverture” in which a man’s legal personhood wholly subsumes the personhood of his female dependents, his wife and daughters, who only cease to be part of his legal body through his death or their marriage to another man. Her claims of an ontology coterminous with her husband’s from 1993-2000 should be enough to sicken, never mind discourage, the deeper thinkers in modern feminism.

Compare this to her reluctance to take credit for the policies of the cabinet in which she served from 2009-12, her indifference to the accomplishments of Senate Democrat majority in which she served with Bernie Sanders from 2006-08, and the bizarre patriarchal traditionalism of her campaign is thrown into sharper relief. Ultimately, Clinton is claiming that her experience as a part of her husband is actually more real than her experience as an autonomous political actor.

In this light, we must ask whether, even in a symbolic universe of rhetoric, position, titles and ceremony, a Clinton victory will be a step forward, sideways or backwards for women in America and throughout the democratic world.