Of Mobs and Men

Mobs. Who would have seen them as a factor in a modern Canadian election?

Yet there they are, especially in rural and small-town Ontario, making it too dangerous for a Canadian prime minister to make a speech at a rally and following his tour from town to town. This is how fascists operate. Since the movement began in the 1920s, one of their most common tactics is to bust up meetings of mainstream political parties, and intimidate moderates from public life. What kind of person with would want a political career in this shabby political climate?

Fascists don’t tend to go after the hard left until the centre is delegitimized. In fact, they need leftist extremists as whipping boys, just as radical Marxists profit from the existence and threat of fascism. It shouldn’t be surprising that, in the political strife that undermined Germany’s democracy in the 1920s and early 1930s, Nazis and Communists lived side-by-side in Berlin, and some were buddies who’d go out for beers after a night of political violence.

The mobs that are turning out with the intention of shutting down Trudeau rallies and seizing control of the news agenda are not Brown Shirts. Not yet, anyway. They appear to be working-class Canadians who have bought into the yet-unnamed ideology that, for now, we can call Trumpism. They are angry, they are manipulated into believing “elites” are somehow screwing them. Some may be paid agitators, but I haven’t seen proof of that.

Like other extremists (see my 2016 book The Killing Game on jihadi recruitment), they use social media to whip themselves up. Facebook and Twitter are being used as meeting places to organize the mobs that are showing up at Liberal events. Some of the Facebook groups make a mockery of the social media company’s pledge to clean up its act.

Media commentators seem much more scandalized by mob cries of “fake news” than by outlandish and disgusting claims and threats made against the Prime Minister. There was a time when protests were media friendly. After all, like a tree falling in the forest, a protest makes no sound that people hear unless journalists give it some air time or column inches.

Now, mob organizers know they will get coverage by skirting the edges of violence, whether they are nice to the media or not. At this point, I don’t think journalists who cover the Prime Minister’s campaign tour are in much danger, but that could change.

What does trouble me? The fact that this ugliness is being covered as though it’s normal, and that the Prime Minister’s campaign has somehow failed and is in trouble with the entire voting population because fifty or a hundred people have managed to shut down a campaign rally.

The media has a lot to answer for.

In the 1980s, under pressure from lobbyists for media companies, Ronald Reagan got rid of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting, the rule that required media outlets to give air time to people who have differing views from opinion broadcast on TV stations. This gave rise to outlets like Fox News on Cable TV and Patriot Radio on Sirius FM.

The changes to broadcasting standards, along with the arrival of Rupert Murdoch in New York, emboldened print media to become simplistic, sensationalist, and driven by social constructs about winners and losers. The media business, once a refuge for bright poor kids, became flooded with middle-class journalists obsessed with status. “Who’s up, who’s down?” became a big part of media coverage, while complicated issues and expensive investigations were simply cut from the news budget.

And we are seeing this  play out in Canada right now. A mob has made Trudeau unpopular, a sin to journalists who vale popularity over courage. This shows up in their coverage, gets picked up by voters, is reflected in polls, and a campaign that is victimized by a small mobile mob becomes a campaign in trouble. A mob that has this much success is bound to stick around and try for more.

They see themselves glorified in the pages of the PostMedia papers, coddled by most columnists, praised on toxic right-wing web sites like Small Dead Animals. Why wouldn’t they keep this going and, when they feel they need to, up the ante? 

A leader is not in political trouble when this is allowed to happen, or when a mob is encouraged by publicity and its own media clippings. It is democracy itself that’s in trouble.

Yet the Conservative campaign, literally operating out of a TV studio in downtown Ottawa, is said to be doing fine because no one is screaming at Erin O’Toole.

It’s got to stop. No matter who is targeted this way, mobs have no place in Canadian politics. There are only two ways to deal with the: denounce them or ignore them. My preference: the latter, after a short period of denunciation and, if possible, mockery.

Meanwhile, here’s an interesting video on the state of the American body politic. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it raises some interesting points: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8zqNDHBtl8U