A Trump in the North?

Canada is not immune to populism

Immediately after the shock of Donald Trump’s presidency win wore off in November, Canadians started asking themselves: “could this happen here?”

For many, the answer is yes. Yes, it could. And it’s not a “could,” it’s a “when.”

When questioned, most Canadian university students will vehemently deny the possibility of a Trump winning in Canada.

They have a substantial amount of faith in our system.

There is a small, but vocal, group of people with intolerant ideologies on campuses, but they are not the norm. Those people are susceptible to half-cocked ideas fueled by passion, primarily as a reaction. For the most part though, the majority of university students remain ignorant of the idea of a Canadian Trump.

This ignorance is the reason why it is inevitable.

Most Canadians would not vote for the Trump who won. But the Trump who campaigned was a different person. He was a populist, fighting for the working class, as the mainstream politicians fought each other, he fought them – for you.

A report from the Cooperative Congressional Election Study found that 12 per cent of the people who voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries voted for Trump in the general election. Populism resonates on a deeper level than right or left. When people feel strongly enough that they are being forgotten or ignored they align with the people who seem to listen to them – understand them.

Trump fed off these emotions, and he used them to mould his platform to align with them. He reacted to whatever they wanted. And what they wanted, was what his team told them they wanted. These feelings are cultivated and amplified by significant events which, luckily, Canada has been able to avoid.

Canada hasn’t had the same growing pains as the U.S. Sure, there have been issues, but there was never a 9/11, and the crash of 2008 didn’t hit here with the same devastation.

Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas I witnessed how both changed the social and political landscape. People whose parents marched against the Vietnam war now supported a full-scale invasion of Iraq. Even so many years later – even after many people have admitted the war may have been unjustified, a deep distrust of the middle east exists.

Poverty has racked the middle and upper classes. Now graduates will work two part-time jobs only to skim by barely, all the while still relying on parents for a home and health insurance due to subpar wages, low job prospects, and excessive student loan debt.

The scars of recent history were never more apparent than in this last election. But, it’s only a matter of time until some significant event does happen. Then the question will be who will take advantage of that opportunity.

Unfortunately, warning signs tend only to become apparent after the fact. Here Canada has an advantage. The U.S. should have seen it coming. Now Canadians have no excuse not to recognize the signs, and work to prevent what, if left ignored, is inevitable.

To assume Canadian politics are safe from the level of incompetence found in the current U.S. administration seems like a safe bet.

But, given the proper conditions, anything is possible.  Under enough pressure, anything will crack. Luckily, there hasn’t been much real pressure on Canadians. Everything that currently seems to be an issue in Canadian elections is trivial, relative to the problems facing other nations. So far, Canadians have had it well.

This is changing, and fast.

Fears on both sides are fomenting. The most apparent problem is the growing gap in understanding between Canadian university students and those currently in the workforce. Universities are great for creating innovative ideas and fostering intellectual growth. But, when university students isolate themselves in academic communities, there begins to be a disconnect with how the world outside of academia functions.

Not being able to articulate a progressive stance beyond “it’s the right thing to do,” alienates people who aren’t going to be affected. If they are alienated, how can a reasonable discussion about political ideology happen?

This was a significant issue in the U.S. in 2016 and continues to be one going into the 2018 midterm election. What is less apparent of an issue, is the growing number of university and college graduates who are now finding themselves under or unemployed. Combined with rising costs of living and an inflated housing markets…

It is all strikingly similar to the build-up witnessed before the rise of Trump.

Failing to see where society is trending will be our undoing. We need to be able to secure the economic future of our large and growing aging population, and our future as the rising youth in Canada.

Social and political activism is a good thing. But, too many people are only looking forward – ignoring the present. Everyone wants things to be better. Students have long been a catalyst for progress and social change. How will that change transfer out of the vacuum of academia and into the real world?

In the summer of 2017, the Dalhousie Student Union tried to pass a resolution to boycott Canada Day. A decision which was seemingly ignorant in its application and of its reception. It reinforced the notion that university students don’t understand the world outside of their bubble.

Which prompted a fiasco of media attention that ended with a quasi-disciplinary action against Masuma Khan. A perfect scenario for increasing the far-right.

But why are we talking about the DSU instead of how our ageing population can’t afford to retire? Or have accessible, quality healthcare? Or talking about economic security, ensuring Canadians’ gainful employment instead of their disappearing careers?

Progressive issues are excellent, and a good ideal to strive for. But what are the end goals of those ideas, and how will they transfer to the world. People will vote for progressive issues if they can afford to. For many though, they’ll vote for someone who addresses their more immediate concerns.

A person who campaigns like Trump.

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Andrew Hall

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