Although Canadians have little actual stake in the American election, there is much shared sentiment on both sides of the border. Following the lead of the American media, many Canadians declare themselves to be supporters of one candidate or another, and expose by their vehemence which candidate they morally, if not actually support.
Most of this political craving for an entrance into a neighbour’s political travails gets expressed in the perfect venue for such concerns, either Facebook, where the poster’s name is known but can only be seen by a close circle of friends, or as anonymous comments under news articles or YouTube videos. I have been blessed or cursed with having read a number of these attempts at coherence and I’ve noticed the tenor of the repartee indicates much more about the poster than they might wish.
The general plaint about Clinton—who the media and the general public insist on calling Hillary (this may be to distinguish her from her husband, although feminist scholars have long noted the tendency to denigrate women in positions of power by referring to them by their first name while men receive different treatment)—is that she cannot be trusted. Most of their vitriol does not stand up to journalistic or legal scrutiny, in which cases Clinton has been cleared of what her supporters see as spurious charges. For Trump, most complaints against him have to do with his unprofessional, unbecoming, crass, and by times illegal behavior, as well as his dearth of knowledge of geography, international relations, American politics and, some would say, even of the business world that is ostensibly his especial area of concern.
Of course arguments against their candidate of choice have little traction with the supporters. Much like they have embraced the bumper sticker—my country right or wrong—most supporters in either camp heap ill-informed ridicule on their opponent, as they view them, and glowing praise for their candidate. Much of this has been assisted by the tendency of the Republican Party, and its principal poet laureate, Fox news, to tell their viewers that any notion that goes counter to their opinion is likely a lie. The media lies to you, Fox media tells their naïve audience, and that message, combined with the fearmongering about immigrants and terrorism, means that supporters from both parties feel excused from the demand that they expose their opinions to journalistic scrutiny. It doesn’t help that journalism under capitalism means that sales at any cost take precedence over integrity. This leads to an if-it-bleeds-it-leads type of sensationalism and debauch that has further undermined the public’s faith in journalistic integrity.
Disillusioned, the viewer turns to conspiracy blogs and YouTube’s legion of self-diagnosed experts. Thinking of themselves as even-handedly judging differing opinions, of researching carefully each topic or controversy, these Google PhDs peruse articles and rants that algorithms have given them based on past choices. Without knowing they do not have access to random information, they set about planking up the flimsy foundation of their ideology. Their idea of research—a term now so chewed over by the popular mouth that many do not even know the demand for critical thinking that it refers to—is scrolling through comments on Facebook posts. The idea of holding their opinions up to scrutiny—of the peer review process—is literally limited to being scrutinized by similarly minded peers.
You would think that this distant banging of pots and pans would have little to do with Canada, but such is the strength of the American media in Canada—after all we invented cable television in order to access American shows—that we have become infected by the same contagion. Canadians declare themselves supporters of one candidate or another, even though they are largely aware that they would look silly turning up at a voting booth.
This popularity of the election competition even in another country largely has to do with the shared narrative that the media has constructed. In hard economic times we naturally look for scapegoats, and just like the voters in the US, Canadians would like to offload their financial woes on the back of a recent immigrant who is working a job they would refuse, or express their fear and hatred of a group of people they only became aware of recently.
This is the crux of the problem. For many Canadians—if I can use the comment sections as my guide to their mentality—have become increasingly anti-immigrant. This would be comical if it were not so problematic and hypocritical. The notion of a Canadian who is not indigenous claiming that they won’t share their stolen booty can only be embraced by those with serious cognitive dissonance.
What most of the support through behind one candidate or another, especially if we consider the ranting and vitriol of the groups who cry the loudest, has to do with is hate and fear. The immigrants will take our jobs, they confusingly claim, and live on welfare, and destroy our way of life. The numbers do not back them up, and the same people who crow the loudest about this are often the supporters of the temporary foreign worker program, which exists so that foreigners will actually be able to take their jobs.
They say Trump won’t cause wars, although they must have missed the clip where Trump declared he would have given the order to blow the ship out of the water whose Iranian sailors had given the finger to an American ship. Trump will keep America safe, they declare smugly, thinking no doubt of the racial profiling of immigrants and the widely publicized farce of “the wall” and, if that’s not enough, the more ominous wish to deport American citizens depending on their religion or ethnicity.
Unfortunately the campaign of fear and hatred has as much currency north of the forty-ninth parallel as below it. Canadians have their own fears and hates and many do not consider it burdensome to take on the hatred of another. America has long exported its media, and since the first European war, its weapons, but they have largely kept their hates to themselves. To the outsider, the Jim Crow laws, the fight when they attempted to desegregate their schools or to extend the franchise to black voters and women, were seen as incomprehensible noise in the background of a progressive nation.
Using the distrust of the media that they have sown, the present candidates have encouraged their suspicious voters to trust no one, and the voters are too ignorant to realize that this would involve their beloved candidate. With their most recent export of hate, dark clouds hang over the border cable television stations, and even international media, aghast at the embarrassing mockery that is the current political race, use its farce-like nature to sell clicks, to encourage views, and ultimately to generate money for the machine that has failed those who spent the money. Caught in the still spinning gears of that machine is the ignorant Canadian, and the ignorant world viewer.
This is the same person who watched the American show Survivor, which, as Thomas King calls it in his Short History of Indians in Canada, is “a show about people who go to an island to practice their bad manners.” Lest we are completely lost in the bad manners of the current and hopefully short-lived anomaly of American politics, we might want to return to that show, so that we may learn of the root causes of our cynicism about human nature, our distrust of the journalists, and where we began to think of bad manners as appropriate entertainment or political process.