Trudeau shouldn’t insult his political opponents

ANDREW PHILLIPS ANDREW PHILLIPS IS A TORSTAR STAFF COLUMNIST.

2023-01-25T08:00:00.0000000Z

2023-01-25T08:00:00.0000000Z

Metroland Media Group Ltd.

https://waterloorecord.pressreader.com/article/281655374203550

OPINION

Remember Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables?” She came up with that peculiar turn of phrase in September 2016, when she was campaigning for the U.S. presidency against Donald Trump. Half of Trump’s supporters, she declared, were among those deplorables — people who are “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamophobic.” There were plenty of reasons why Clinton lost to Trump, but pretty much everyone agrees that dismissing maybe a quarter of American voters as racist, sexist, etc., was one of them. Even Clinton conceded the point in the end. In her memoir of the campaign, “What Happened,” she said she regretted handing Trump “a political gift” by insulting millions of well-intentioned (but wrong) voters. The lesson is that while it’s fine to attack your opponent it’s hardly ever fine to attack their supporters. In the end, you’re after their votes. Not all of them, certainly. Some will never be won over, and some no doubt will be “deplorable” in one way or the other. But you want to persuade the persuadables, and tarring them with labels like racist and sexist is bound to push people away, not bring them over to your side. At least, that’s how it turned out for Clinton, with tragic results for the United States and the rest of us as well. In light of that, what to make of Justin Trudeau’s most recent diagnosis of what’s fuelling support for his Conservative rival, Pierre Poilievre? In a revealing interview with Susan Delacourt, the prime minister was eager to take on Poilievre. Trudeau, Delacourt wrote over the weekend, accuses the Conservative leader of “whipping up the anger to appeal to those Canadians who are nostalgic for a country that worked well for them, maybe not so much for others.” In Trudeau’s words: “He’s playing and preying on the kinds of anger and anxieties about some Canada that used to be — where men were men and white men ruled.” This is red meat for Poilievre and his supporters, so it was no surprise to see him jump on those words. The Conservative leader posted a three-minute video, one of those, “Hey Justin” jobs he’s become expert at, accusing Trudeau of saying “the reason you claim you’re so unpopular with Canadians is that Canadians are racist.” So, basic fact check: is that what Trudeau said? Certainly not. Is Poilievre distorting his words for crass political advantage? Of course. But is there something to what Poilievre says? Trudeau didn’t say Canadians are racist; he didn’t even say Poilievre’s supporters are racist. But he did link Canadians’ anger and anxieties to something that could reasonably be interpreted as racist — a fond memory, or nostalgia as Delacourt put it, for a once-upon-a-time Canada where “white men ruled.” At this point there are people thinking something along the lines of: Right on, Justin. That’s what Poilievre’s really all about. Good for you for “calling out” him and his sleazy supporters. To those people, all I would say is — fine, go ahead and think that. But to Trudeau and those around him I would say — don’t go there. If you didn’t actually cross the line into accusing Conservative supporters of being racist, you did edge up to it and took a good look. Trudeau is actually very thoughtful on these issues. After living through the pandemic and the convoy protests he’s had plenty of opportunity to reflect on what animates anger — including the fury directed at him personally. He’s quite right that many people are upset at the way society has changed, and not always for good reasons. But his job isn’t to be a political analyst; it’s to manage that change in a way that unites people and brings as many as possible over to his side. To succeed at that, he needs to take on board the lesson Hillary Clinton learned the hard way. Don’t insult people on the other side. It’ll only come back and hit you in the face.

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