As Donald Trump burst into an orange fireball melting down the Republican Party, one pundit telling us why was the Globe and Mail’s Marcus Gee. His analysis on Saturday echoed others: Gullible Republicans had fooled themselves into believing Trump could be tamed. They shrugged off his deep personal flaws and the divisions his bigotry would sow. Now “the Donald has come home to roost.”
If the GOP loses big “it will only have itself to blame” for siding with those who “seeded the clouds for Trump.” Blame some media, said Gee. Blame those “talk-show ranters” who cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal.
Which, by the way, is pretty much what Marcus Gee did six years ago. In February 2010 he cheered the rise of an unhinged narcissist with right-wing populist appeal in his column headlined: “Rob Ford, Please Run. You’re the Right Guy for a Lefty Race.”
By that time, Ford’s slim grasp of facts and drunken loutishness, even assault charges, were well known. Gee acknowledged it. But city council was too liberal for Gee’s tastes, and Ford was “the raw, sometimes lunatic voice of dissent” he craved:
“A Ford for Mayor campaign, if it happened, would be riveting to watch. (‘What will Rob say next?’)”
After all, wrote Gee, “it couldn’t hurt to put a little pizzazz in the race.”
Today, Torontonians are still digging out from all that crack-fueled pizzazz Gee helped summon. But it all seemed a lark back in 2010 when Gee assured us Ford had little chance of winning and would supply “entertainment value” to a bored and hungry media. Sound familiar, CNN? Gee wrapped up with a little cloud-seeding of his own: “Run, councillor, run.”
Canadians like to congratulate ourselves that our media culture is more sober than that of the U.S. Our most influential pundits don’t rant on talk radio or Fox News. They are well-bred and well-spoken. Yes, conservative views dominate the pages of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail and the National Post. Still, biases aside, we might tell ourselves, at least our right-leaning pundits wouldn’t say the sort of stuff that would lay the table for a Donald Trump here.
Or would they?
The country club conservative Margaret Wente, for example, drolly makes fun of Donald Trump. She also happens to regularly nurture the climate that helps Donald Trump thrive. Wente may shake her head at the “angry man yelling at me on TV.” She may marvel that “What’s stupefying is that so many people can’t see that the emperor is naked.” But Donald Trump and his supporters would resonate with much else she says, and they would appreciate her digs at his enemies: We have Trump, she argued in August, because “The Democrats have morphed into an alliance of liberal elites and minorities, with a relentless agenda of political correctness that has driven millions of people away.”
In saying so, Wente endorses one of the cudgels Donald Trump has long used to beat back his critics. Call him a bigot, a sexist, and you are just being politically correct — and everyone knows oversensitive political correctness is the opposite of free speech. In truth, as Dara Lind eloquently argues in Vox, speech surely wasn’t freer for assaulted women in the era before political correctness. Nowadays they feel freer to speak out, and they are exposing Donald Trump for the morally deficient candidate he is.
“Politically correct!” is an insult hurled at people who point out that rape culture exists, and who note that one way to help rape culture fester is to say it does not exist. One influential columnist who denies the reality of rape culture is Margaret Wente:
“The manufacture of ‘rape culture’ is a triumph of ideology over substance. It has inflated a serious but uncommon threat into a crime wave. It infantilizes women, strips them of their agency and treats them like Victorian damsels in distress. As for those armies of would-be rapists lurking in every shadow — they’re your sons, your grandsons, your nephews and your brothers. I used to think the war on men was an exaggeration. I don’t think so anymore.”
Here again, Donald Trump, accused by nine women of sexual assault and still pulling a majority of male voters, might be pleased, relieved, to read Wente’s views. Let’s suppose someone tomorrow hands Donald Trump Arwa Mahdawi’s superb weekend piece in the Guardian, highlighting this passage:
“If you’re confused by the term, ‘rape culture’ describes the normalization of sexual violence in society — and it’s this very normalization that makes it a difficult thing to explain. Rape culture doesn’t so much actively encourage rape as passively condone it. You can’t pin it down to one particular thing; rather it’s the accumulation of a number of social norms that perpetuate the idea that women are sexual objects, and that sexual objectification is simply a fact of life.
“Trump is a one-man textbook of such norms.”
Trump might read it and just hand back a few of Wente’s marked up columns and laugh off rape culture as a conspiracy of the politically correct.
To be fair, Google’s powers of recall have made punditry a dicey line of work. Doubly so for certain Canadian pundits now clucking their tongues at how the dysfunctional American political culture, including its media, made Trump possible. In an Oct. 7 column the Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson sternly advises Canadian politicians to take heed of the Trumpism tearing apart the country to our south: “Let’s not sign those trade deals until we know which jobs will be at risk and what we can do for those workers.”
But four years ago, in the Report on Business, when Ibbitson was given the task of assessing the impact of 25 years of Canada’s free-trade deal with the U.S., he sounded no such alarms. After a nod to critics and some hand-wringing about lagging worker productivity, Ibbitson chose his landing spot, what he called the “real legacy”:
“Free trade helped Canada to grow up, to turn its face out to the world, to embrace its future as a trading nation, to get over its chronic sense of inferiority.”
Over at the National Post Michael Den Tandt thinks Trump would not have gained traction had he been much earlier exposed to the “klieg lights of high-stakes, high-level investigative media scrutiny.”
Den Tandt writes for a newspaper whose braintrust, in 2010, seeded the clouds for Rob Ford by officially endorsing him for mayor. That editorial doesn’t exactly read like someone flipping on the klieg lights to illuminate the precautionary principle.
Ford was “the best choice” because “policy-wise, Toronto very much needs a proverbial bull in the china shop. A great many precious, expensive things at City Hall need shattering... ”
What about the booze, the bullying, what the paper’s elders quaintly called “Mr. Ford’s penchant for bumptious behaviour?”
Sounding a lot like GOP strategists emerging from their post-convention meeting with Trump, they soothed: “Toronto needs Mr. Ford to pursue his agenda doggedly, not recklessly. But we believe he’s serious when he pledges — as he did in a recent meeting with our editorial board — that the most egregious of his gaffes are behind him... ”
Thanks for the heads up, NatPo.
The lesson in all this is that Canadians would be fools to trust corporate media’s conservative “analysts” to act as any sort of early warning system on the kinds of conditions that might produce a Donald Trump here. Beware the self-important wordsmith in service of the bloviating, law-skirting power addict. Sometimes the National Post gives us both people in one. That would be Conrad Black. In July, Black scolded a fellow National Post columnist for having the gall to predict a Trump victory would be “a recipe for disaster.”
Black called this “bunk.” Because, sadly, “intelligent people fail in droves to understand what Donald Trump has accomplished.”
Think of Ronald Reagan, Black urged. And the “economic boom” that Reagan delivered. “Such a performance is more likely than the triumph of bigotry, discord and international conflict.”
Forget the “prevailing wisdom” of Trump's bashers, exhorted Conrad Black, as if rallying his prison-mate skeptics to a game of cribbage. “These parrots of gloom should be celebrating the fact that one of the only moderates among the Republican candidates won.”
So much to celebrate.
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