Want to stop Trumpism spreading to Canada? Support public education

Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr

In just a few days, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the President of the United States. It’s really happening. Feelings of anxiety, despair, and disbelief are hard to shake. As the northern neighbour of a declining empire now led by an erratic and uncouth bully, what can we do in face of this surreal new political reality?

There’s actually a lot we can do, starting with offering our unqualified solidarity to those endangered by Trump and the rise of the atavistic and xenophobic far right. We should take this terrifying moment as an opportunity to build stronger links with groups south of the border fighting for migrant justice and LGBTQ rights. After all, if Washington state alone had decided the U.S. election we’d be celebrating the inauguration of President Bernie Sanders. (Bernie won a landslide in the state’s Democratic primary.)

For people in B.C., our immediate southern neighbours in Washington share progressive values and arguably have better organized movements for social justice and equality. Trump and everything he represents is anathema to the vast majority of people in Seattle, and their municipal government has made it clear they will remain a “sanctuary city” for migrants.

There’s a long-held Canadian tradition of getting smug about U.S. politics, especially when there’s a Republican in the White House. With Trump starring in a reality TV remake of Idiocracy it will be hard to resist the temptation of smugness, but we should because it’s misplaced and unproductive.

The cultural and political swamp of neoliberalism from which Trump emerged is present throughout North America, and we’d be foolish to think the virus of Trumpism can’t spread north. By neoliberalism I don’t just mean the deregulation, privatization and regressive tax changes that have for decades systematically transferred wealth from the working classes to the rich and super-rich; I’m also thinking of our culture, which has made the accumulation of wealth an unquestioned virtue. Our society treats billionaires like the ancient Greek gods, worshipping them despite their capricious, self-indulgent behaviour (and not infrequent transgressions against women). Celebrity Apprentice, and indeed the Trump presidency, is what happens when for decades a society treats Gordon Gekko’s favourite line – “greed is good” – as a motto instead of a warning. When you worship oligarchs and the super-rich, it’s only a matter of time before one of them descends from their Olympus (or their tower on Fifth Avenue) to take on formal political rule over us lowly mortals.

There have been countless post-mortems analyzing how Trump defeated Hillary Clinton (though let’s not forget of course that he lost the popular vote), but amongst the recriminations many have missed the bigger conclusion: Democracy and billionaires are incompatible. If you want to know why Hillary Clinton lost, just look at that ridiculous photograph of the Trumps and Clintons laughing it up at The Donald’s last wedding.

Back to Canada: What can we do stop Trumpism? Of course we should resist the Conservative leadership candidates selling cheap knockoff versions of Trump’s xenophobia (Kellie Leitch with her immigrant screening proposals) and bombast (Ayn Rand acolyte Kevin O’Leary).

More importantly, we should champion our institutions that promote knowledge and equality. At the top of that list is our embattled public education system. Here we should pause to thank the BC Teachers’ Federation, who recently won a long battle against the BC Liberal government. In 2002, then Education Minister Christy Clark and the Liberals stripped teachers of their right to collectively bargain on issues like smaller class sizes. In 2011, the Liberals’ bill was ruled unconstitutional. The Liberals passed another bill in 2012, which was once again deemed unconstitutional. After a landmark Supreme Court ruling in November, this month the government finally conceded defeat.

Last week, Education Minister Mike Bernier announced $50 million for “priority” hiring of new teachers and support staff. “This new funding will help to kick-start the changes we all know are required following the recent Supreme Court of Canada decision,” Bernier stated. The BCTF welcomed the emergency funding infusion, but estimated the Court ruling means that approximately $300 million a year of funding will be needed. Teachers, parents, and the courts should never have had to spend 15 years to make this government do the right thing for public education.

High quality, free education for all is the bedrock of a democratic society. In fact, a society in which educational opportunities are grossly unequal is bound to produce monstrosities like Trump, who never misses a chance to rhetorically wave around his degree from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, part of the “Ivy League” where the children of the elite are sent to reinforce their class-based sense of superiority.

Ultimately we should extend fully accessible public education beyond kindergarten to Grade 12. There’s no reason we can’t have affordable pre-K child care and free post-secondary education for all.

Society can afford equal education for all, but only if we stop worshipping the billionaires and start taxing them properly instead. Trump has refused to release his tax returns, but he’s openly boasted about taking advantage of loopholes that allowed him to pay little or no federal taxes for many years. And there would be no President Trump if he hadn’t inherited a fortune and a head start on his real estate empire from his father.

Trump is a giant billboard advertising the need to increase income and wealth taxes on the super-rich. Billionaires aren’t gods, and they shouldn’t be our masters.