The Withering of
**]By Rori O’Keeffe
Copyright © 2017 by Rori O’Keeffe
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Table of Contents
It goes without saying that I am a poet by temperament, if not marketable talent. As a poet, I find it very difficult to write a coherent essay; my nature is to turn, turn, turn, and turn in my prose, until after turning at 90° four times, I find myself in the fourth dimension with no way back to familiar space. I find myself in a quandary though: I can hardly write poetry these days, just as one can barely utter a word while watching a loved one die. The times are disastrous in America for democracy, and catastrophe looms on the horizon in Canada. First, we’re taking it from authoritarians on the right, but later we’ll be getting it from authoritarians on the left, too. We’re between a rock and a hard place, I’d say.
All I can do is write an essay, when poetry just won’t come out. My readers out there (I think there are some,) might recall that my poetry has dealt with the coming tidal wave of right-wing authoritarianism for several years. Alas, as America goes, so shall go Canada, I have no doubt of that. I can no longer hold my thoughts in – it’s just that they no longer come out in poems.
In this somewhat meandering, hastily-written essay, you will find in a nutshell what I think of contemporary politics. I just don’t have the heart to say what I think the prognosis for democracy in North America really is, looking out to a decade from now. I just wish that so many of my intelligent fellow-citizens weren’t so escapist in their tendencies. Sometimes you’ve got to face the real world and deal with it. Now is such a time.
June 16th, 2017
The Withering of
Under assault from authoritarian forces on both sides of the political spectrum, how much longer can liberal democracy hold on in the United States and Canada? In the current confusion of labels, under which neoconservative may or may not be synonymous with fascist, and politically correct may or may not synonymous with liberal, I will quickly dispense with popular labels and simply refer to the broad entities on either side of the spectrum as the “authoritarian right” and the “authoritarian left.”
Obviously, authoritarian right and authoritarian left are umbrella terms for a multitude of particular ideologies. The authoritarian right, for example, includes most of the ultra-wealthy, many conservative religious groups including the Fundamentalists, and the difficult-to-define, but notably influential law and order patriots (mainly gun-ownership rights advocates.) The authoritarian left can be seen to include communists, socialists, and that poorly-defined demographic, the politically correct.
It’s worth creating a definition for political correctness at this point, as I will invoke that term throughout the essay. The definition which I prefer is “Utopian authoritarianism.” In the mind of the politically correct citizen the world ought to have no intolerance, no pornography, no misogyny, no discrimination, no prejudice, no stereotyping, and as a strange throw-in perhaps,no self-harm (especially from cigarette smoking.) How this curious and malignant offshoot of liberalism came into being is a matter for others to research and is beyond the needs of this essay. Let us just say that in a society with so very many authoritarian individuals, and perhaps an equal number of citizens who can, and sometime do sympathize with authoritarian points of view, it is not surprising that liberalism has been infected by a large number of people who adopt the ideals of liberalism as standards by which others ought to be measured, and attempt to impose these “enlightened” ideals on anyone within their reach.
You might say that the difference between a liberal person and a politically correct person, is that the liberal tolerates and accepts all others, including the intolerant people in her or his midst; the politically correct person tolerates only those in agreement with him or her, and will not stand down or walk away from confrontation with those who are, or seem to be, intolerant. A liberal person ideally would confront an intolerant person in the act of harming another with their intolerance, but a politically correct person takes the initiative to harm those that they deem to be intolerant, before the supposedly intolerant person has acted to harm anyone. Other good terms for the politically correct are “liberal bigots,” “totalitarian liberals,” “liberal puritans,” and many more apt oxymorons. It also seems that the politically correct usually apply the label “liberal” to themselves, since they sincerely believe themselves to be good liberal-minded people. That mislabelling of the politically correct, along with the often intentional smearing of genuine liberals by the association of liberalism and political correctness, has created in the minds of many the notion that liberalism is one and the same with politically correct culture, and that it is antithetical to democracy. How liberalism came to be seen this way is another long story, but much of it has to do with neoconservative media figures and the politicians those media support. Why create this confusion in the first place? Simply because the far-right segments of North American society see genuine liberalism and liberal democracy itself as impediments to the kinds of social order those far-right groups wish to create, and that frightening people into believing liberals want socialist dictatorship, or something like that, serves the purpose of undermining the most persuasive opponents of the new class society.
The authoritarian right has to undermine, subvert, override or dispense with liberal democracy if it is to be successful in creating a new class society, with an aristocratic element at the top, white male Christians as the foundation of the society, and women and minorities put back into roles of subservience to the will of the white male Christian. In both countries, the democratic constitutions practically forbid the creation of such a hierarchy in the societies, and so those who want white male Christian privilege fully restored, and who support as allies the grasping ultra-wealthy, could – and will, given an opportunity – sweep those constitutions aside and impose a new order. This new order could be imposed with stunning suddenness in the current climate of the United States, and in Canada, it would follow upon the election of a Conservative government. (That the Conservative Party in Canada is now guided by forces on the far-right, is beyond doubt now. Unfortunately, most Canadians seem to be unaware of this fact. Some of those far-right forces have their origin in the United States’ social conservative movement, and as you might expect, seem to be well-financed.)
The hallmark of fools is that they can’t admit when they’ve been fooled. American voters who still would support Republican Party candidates, as well as Canadians who would vote Conservative, are fools. But what ingredients make up the character of a fool? You would find fairly large measures of being easily scared, or outright paranoid; ignorance of the principles of the operation of a democracy, or a lack of comprehension of those principles; self-centred, childish views of society’s best functioning; and poor logic skills. All these factors in a person’s intellect make him or her highly gullible, the kind of person who can believe that Justin Trudeau or Hilary Clinton are dangerous liberals, or that President Trump is anything but an incompetent would-be autocrat.
It’s worth a quick digression here to note the failure of American and Canadian democracies to adequately educate and monetarily compensate their citizens for the purpose of peaceful and democratically stable societies. There is a quiet battle between conservatives and liberals in Canada on the issue of low-cost or even free post-secondary education; conservatives are playing the politics of resentment to undermine taxpayer support for such initiatives, as well as invoking bad economics to oppose fair minimum wage laws in the provinces. (A higher minimum wage would mean less-stressed and less-gullible people on the economic margins.) Paradoxically, the poorer and more demeaned by poverty that people are, the more they are targeted by media and politicians for their support of conservative views. The simple answer to this paradox, where the poor can be duped into voting very much against their interests, is that several factors, including desperation, set them up to be gullible in the arena of politics.
When a fanatical patriot, or President Trump, demand that others show loyalty to the flag, or their superiors, it is actually a command for obedience. Stephen Harper, as Prime Minister, expected not only loyalty to party values from his caucus and cabinet, but obedience to his stated positions. Obedience shrinks the stature of the subordinate, and enlarges the image and vanity of the superior, hence the crux of the problem with over-reliance on hierarchies to order society. Master-slave relationships easily form in the environment of command and obedience, and so authoritarian personalities, both dominant and submissive types, can thrive despite having emotional and intellectual impediments relative to their more egalitarian counterparts. What does this have to do with the purported withering of liberal democracy in Canada and the United States? Stepping back for a moment, allowing my role as a kind of subjectivist poet to emerge, I would say that in my lifetime, I have witnessed a waxing of authoritarian sentiments and the acceptance of class order, and a dramatic waning of democratic egalitarianism in those I have known over the years. Clearly, at least, neoconservative points of view are triumphant in the United States and gaining footholds among the public in Canada; and more push to the right is manifested by the election of Trump, the control of all three branches by the Republicans, and the selection of Andrew Scheer (likely to turn out to be a social conservative and trickle-down economics leader,) by the increasingly far-right Conservative Party.
The clear failure of electoral democracy in North America to prevent powerful anti-democratic movements to emerge is owing, as I stated above, to the failure to adequately educate the citizens so that they might, for themselves and others, exploit the opportunities of a free society. It is also owing to the democratic limitations of the electoral system, where who-knows-what legislation will be passed after the election is over and the winners proclaimed. It seems that a good long-term answer to the dilemmas of the American and Canadian democracies lie in improved educational opportunities, and a more participatory model of democracy. However, those are long-term solutions, and participatory democracy isn’t even on the radar of contemporary national politics of either country. What can be done to stop Trump and his cohort of ultra-wealthy would-be aristocrats? What can be done to prevent a similar outcome in Canada should American democracy collapse into Corporate Government or some other neologism for aristocracy?
The answers, I’m afraid, lie in the vociferous qualities of our resistance to the end of democracy, should that appalling outcome occur in either country. A minority of voters can, even after seeing their preferred candidates lose in elections, resist forcefully the prerogatives of a new government (witness what the liberal media and voters have accomplished so far in stifling President Trump’s autocratic ambitions.) If millions of people in each country would rather die than see their countries go down to dictatorship, then the expected and required obedience from police forces and soldiers won’t emerge to enforce a new rule by fist on the societies.
The reader might ask if we are really that close to dictatorship in the United States and Canada, for good reason. The mainstream liberal media aren’t reporting any apparent conspiracy by the pertinent elite in North America (the ultra-wealthy and politically connected,) and so, it seems, the next sitcom after the news is a safe harbour for the bored citizen. Let’s just say that advertisers won’t let the mainstream report extensively on the activities of the ultra-wealthy and politically connected elite, for the simple reason that people don’t often turn on themselves, even if what they are doing is very wrong and treacherous. You won’t see an intelligent news anchor tell the audience what the ultra-wealthy have done to democratic ideals in both countries, and where they now seem to be headed; such views simply won’t make the air. That’s why it takes political historians, or people like poets and artists, to fill in the blanks for the citizenry; unfortunately, readership of serious poetry and patronage of the arts is at a nadir; and those who consult political historians? They are as quaint as horse-and-buggies in the modern citizen’s eye. I hate to say it, but our fates in the short-term are going to be determined by a small but passionate minority of genuine liberals, versus a sea of authoritarian forces.
The authoritarian right has exploited the vulnerabilities of societies that have not rid themselves of the imperatives of class distinction and the attendant hierarchies, and have not overcome the legacy of preliterate ignorance. What does it say about North American society that so many citizens are imbued with medieval beliefs? After generations of public education, legions of voters go to the ballot boxes after consulting their bibles or their pastors for insights into God’s will; some use their uninformed intuition about who to vote for; many others simply vote for whoever is promising to fatten their wallets the most, damning the consequences to the poor and future generations. For the most part, what can be said about the right is that it is composed of individuals who believe that an entirely self-centred point of view on political issues is wise. A society of people who only vote in their interests and the interests of people just like themselves cannot sustain a democracy. Everybody for himself is not the way democracy works; it is the end of democracy.
The authoritarian left, on the other hand, sit in wait for the pendulum to swing back towards socialism. Can’t the pendulum come to rest near the centre? The problem is that most centrists, i.e. non-authoritarians, have given up on electoral democracy for the time being, and they are not inspired by the likes of Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party tweaking, in infinitesimal ways, the balance of power back to the middle class and poor; and they are not impressed by a clearly corrupt Hilary Clinton vying to be President. Perhaps the least-noted aspect of Trump’s electoral college victory was his use of the monicker “corrupt Hilary,” as it drew attention to her most evident flaw as a candidate, a factor she herself will never admit to, for obvious reasons. Voters could envisage a presidency plagued by ethics scandals, and potential democrat voters stayed away in droves. Bernie Sanders, a social democrat, would have been a much more logical choice than Clinton, and likely would have beaten the incompetent Trump. Again though, Democratic Party corruption worked in Hilary’s favour, and Sanders was never given a chance. Perhaps the epitaph on the grave of American democracy will be, “Shoulda’ been Bernie.”
Authoritarians have taken the right. Their leftist counterparts are stalking the left now. Was Clinton not the politically correct choice for the Democratic nomination? Just watch the farcical goings-on in the NDP leadership contest. Next, the NDP candidates will swear their opposition to smoking, and the need for helmets on Sikh bicyclists that are culturally sensitive to the need to wear a turban. They have beaten us off on the right, and now the left is under assault. How long can democracy survive under such circumstances?
How did we get into such a mess? Maybe it’s all the politically correct brainwashing-type children’s programming, ever since good old Loony-Tunes fell out of favour with the helicopter parenting generation. I would lay generous odds that people who grew up on classic Bugs Bunny cartoons are a helluva’ lot more world-wise than those who suffered with Smurfs and Barney and the Square Sponge or whatever he is. I watch those kids’ programs and wonder what kind of Utopia the creators believe in making through the mind of the viewers. All I’m trying to point out is that programming for young children just might be one of the main factors behind the proliferation of political correctness. In those programs, no one is happy until all vestiges of misunderstanding and intolerance are dealt with. Sound like political correctness? Watch some, and judge for yourself. Cartoons like Bugs Bunny helped warp the young mind just enough so that the child was prepared for an adult world of often perverse and unjust outcomes. It also taught them to laugh at perversity and injustice, and work against them, rather than take a sombre, humourless approach to solving social problems. When the revolution comes: First, shoot the Smurfs.
They’ve taken over the right wing parties. They appear to be taking over the left wing parties. Justin Trudeau may be the last liberal-minded Liberal leader we have in Canada. The Democrat Party in the U.S. is succumbing now to the forces of political correctness. Will there be anyone to vote for a decade or so from now? Or will democracy itself wither, for lack of democratic political parties? I don’t know, but there is a vacuum in the centre waiting to be filled. Hopefully, it will be filled by new, visionary leadership of one or more traditional parties, or by an entirely new democracy-friendly political movement.
It should be a lesson to people on both sides of the border that complacency, apathy, even disgust at the status quo are negative reactions to a challenging situation. People should put down the remote, stop getting their wisdom from Friends reruns (what is it with that show? Five young white people and their Italian friend? It’s nauseatingly conservative, to say the least.) Maybe Miley Cyrus and Beyoncé aren't really profound musicians. Perhaps 99% of your reading list is a waste of time when the consequences of escapism are becoming lethal. I think people should start challenging their minds, rather than simply feeding their vanity with sure-to-please entertainment. Life itself is not sure to please, far from it – life is hard, in good times and bad, and there's no escaping that truth. Get up and defend Liberty, before the authoritarians come and getcha'.
About the Author
Rori O’Keeffe was, until recently, a very modestly successful poet and writer. She now hides in whereabouts unknown, waiting for her enemies to turn her and her cats in to the Canadian Gestapo. Or something like that.
I make no pretense that this little essay is good fodder for academics or the politically fluent. What I offer it for is as a primer for those not up-to-speed on contemporary politics in the United States and Canada. From the point of view of a liberal person - not politically correct, and not conservative - I show the reader that democracy in the two countries is under assault by authoritarian forces on both the right and left sides of the political spectrum. I am certain that there are enough intelligent (but escape-minded) people out there to make a huge difference in the fates of our democracies, if only they become engaged. I encourage the reader to take part in the political process; there are no innocent bystanders in politics, if you consider those who won't vote in an informed way. I also hope that the centre will become strong again, and offer real hope and progress to people, rather than just spouting the rhetoric of defeat. ~3,000 words. No adult-only content.