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Ah, the rise of populism around the world: troubling and fascinating in equal measure.

I read an analysis in the Walrus which pulled together polling by Frank Greaves, about the policies (lack of) and popularity of Pierre Poilievre.

Of course most of his cautious nods to right-wing extremists run in parallel to the views of deluded Trumpists around the world.

Here, for what it’s worth, are my insights.

1. The rabid followers of populist ideologues are right: they are getting screwed. Including young people working at Walmart as they desperately try to pay off student loans that were supposed to be a ticket to the middle class; including middle-aged factory workers made redundant, suddenly losing half their income; including the working poor who increasingly turn to food banks because minimum wages don’t pay the bills; including the disabled, the homeless, the inadequately educated, the impoverished senior citizens - in fact, anyone who can’t compete in a morally corrupt capitalist society. (The most competitive, Canada’s top corporate executives, make an average of $15 million a year in salary and bonuses, but ordinary people, not so much.)

2. But the rabid followers of populist ideologues are wrong: they have hitched their anger and fear to charlatans like Trump and Bolsonaro, Poilievre too, who parrot their resentments but offer few or no solutions apart from ridding their countries of immigrants and the ‘other’ and backing off initiatives to reverse climate change. Due to a myopic lack of political education they don’t understand that underlying populist values and resentments is hard-right, libertarian ideology sold to them, the masses, by billionaires who only care about keeping government and taxes down. This sounds like socialist rhetoric, but don’t write it off: it’s the truth.

3. All this should be a gift to the left, the NDP in Canada and similar tame social democratic parties around the world. But where are they? Asleep at the switch, unable to activate this mess of furious, deluded citizens. Why are east Germans demonstrating in their cities against Ukrainian refugees and arguing that, to end the war, what Putin wants, Putin should get? Why aren’t social democrats, including our very own Jagmeet Singh, offering a coherent vision, and taking it to the streets and doorsteps? Activism has been coopted by the right.

4. Why has the politics of ideas - yes, again and again that’s what traditional social democratic parties offer - been replaced by a politics of fear and resentment? Obviously because ideas, including science, realism, rational thought and evidence-based analysis and solutions, have been replaced by feelings, primarily fear and resentment, that are amplified by social media and political demagogues (don’t call them leaders until they produce serious-minded solutions to our problems) like Poilievre.

5. Start, I suggest, with some empathy for the protesters, whether their gripes are pandemic controls; job losses due to switching manufacturing to low-wage, minimum-benefit countries like China and Mexico; distrust and dislike of anyone who is visible racially, ethnically or due to sexual orientation; or anti-woke fury directed at the academic, journalistic and political ‘elites’. Their emotional analysis, devoid of facts but felt acutely nonetheless, has it largely right - they are being short-changed. Ignore the fact that their ‘solution’, support for the empty rhetoric of far-right populists, has it all wrong, and will lead to further deterioration of their quality of life.

Let’s listen to the people, people. Then, to those leading the left, let’s take action!

Michael Craig, Owen Sound




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