The long nightmare known as the U.S. presidential election campaign has finally come to its end. I feel stupider just for having followed it. Donald Trump, that unrestrained id of right-wing xenophobic politics, has been melting the world’s collective brain for more than a year.
That his opponent was a cynical, hawkish, Wall Street backed Democrat like Hillary Clinton made the whole ordeal even more uninspiring. The decline of the U.S. empire is not a pretty sight. Once the promise of democratic renewal and genuine reform offered by Bernie Sanders was snuffed out, the whole thing was a painful ordeal to observe.
Scarier even than Trump’s proto-fascist tendencies was the thought of what comes next. What will happen when a younger, more disciplined, and more intellectually capable Trump-like candidate comes forward echoing The Donald’s dangerous anti-immigrant discourse?
The new, rebranded far right in Europe shows that once these types of extremists polish their image a bit they can contest for long-term institutional power and build veritable mass movements. From Austria to France, Hungary to the Netherlands, the xenophobic right poses a mortal danger to the lives of people of colour, and to the future of democracy itself in Europe.
Canadian politics can sometimes feel tame and safe by comparison. Although Rob Ford’s otherworldly run as mayor of Toronto could be seen as a parallel to Trump in terms of his vulgar, outrageous style, contemporary Canadian politics has not seen as mainstream a manifestation of an openly xenophobic politics. Trump opened his campaign by slandering Mexicans coming to the United States as “rapists” and “criminals,” and by calling for mass deportation and the construction of a wall across his country’s southern border. We’d all like to think such a crudely racist appeal would end the aspirations of any Canadian politician.
But the danger of anti-immigrant bigotry is still very real in Canada and must be fought in all its manifestations, whether it appears above ground or below. White supremacists, for example, have recently been organizing openly in the Fraser Valley and parts of the Lower Mainland.
So imagine my surprise when, on Sunday as the B.C. Liberals were wrapping up their election readiness weekend gathering in Vancouver, I heard Premier Christy Clark and her party unleash their new slogan, “Putting British Columbians First,” along with the Twitter hashtag
#BCFirst. I was flabbergasted that they’d choose a line that echoes Trump’s “America First,” which has origins in the U.S. nationalist movement of Father Coughlin in the first half of the twentieth century.
Now, of course, Christy Clark didn’t follow up with a call to “Make B.C. great again” or lambast immigrants as criminals or rapists, but it was nonetheless disturbing to see this slogan.
Maybe it’s just the product of a communications team looking for a vaguely boosterish line that included B.C.; maybe they didn’t even consider the similarity to Trump’s slogan.
I don’t think “putting British Columbians first” is a conscious effort to appeal to Trump supporters; they’re just too few in number in B.C. But it may well be a nod to the xenophobia that motivates parts of the right-wing voting base everywhere, even if here in B.C. it often takes more subtle forms.
Maybe “B.C. First” is getting a test run to replace Clark’s old “Families First” slogan. Touting your commitment to families in a province beset by endemic child poverty is awkward. Perhaps better to turn the page to something more general.
The other possibility is that “B.C. First” is meant to encourage voters to forget that this province allows foreign and out-of-province political donations. The B.C. Liberals’ coffers are full, with significant money coming in from overseas donations, especially the real estate, mining, and oil and gas sectors. That’s a glaring threat to B.C. democracy that Clark has exploited for her party’s advantage.
In fact, one big donor to the B.C. Liberals is Holborn, the Malaysian-based multinational development company that has partnered with none other than Donald Trump to build a new luxury hotel and condo tower in downtown Vancouver.
There seems to be no escaping the toxicity stirred up by Donald Trump. The least Christy Clark could do is not copy his old bigoted slogans.