(Image Credit: Leo-seta at flickr.com; the image is at this link. Used without modification under Creative Commons Licence)
The ultra-viral response to ‘#TrudeauMustGo’ on Twitter reveals widespread opposition to the govt’s demonizing of many Canadians. Even more revealing is the attempt by politicos to discredit this grassroots movement. A turning point lies ahead.
UP NORTH, STRONG & FREE
Early this week, Twitter user @Martyupnorth_2 tweeted out his frustration with & strong opposition to PM Trudeau’s characterization of unvaccinated Canadians as racist and misogynistic, followed up by his suggestion that these Canadians shouldn’t be tolerated. The format of Marty’s tweet was simple: first, a bit of personal info, then the reference to Mr. Trudeau’s uncharitable characterization of people like him, and then ending with the hashtag #TrudeauMustGo. Unwittingly, he had touched a nerve of untold numbers of Canadians, who started tweeting their own versions of Marty’s tweet in the same format. The hashtag started trending and as of now, is approaching nearly half a million tweets (setting aside the speculation that Twitter is suppressing the real numbers, which are a lot higher). It is quite likely that this hashtag will set a record for Canada in terms of trending – if it hasn’t already.
It is, of course, humanly impossible to keep up with all these tweets, but my Twitter timeline for the last few days has been flooded with them (as is yours, I suspect). Judging from this admittedly small fraction of the total number of tweets, these are real people with real stories; I am in communication with many of them both on and outside Twitter. And it is precisely here that things have got interesting – and in my opinion, caused a reaction that could determine Canada’s future over the next little while.
NEWTON’S THIRD LAW (VIOLATED)
Surely, this kind of widespread expression of disapproval of the Prime Minister couldn’t be allowed to continue unimpeded (from the partisan / sycophantic angle), and thus the attempt to discredit this grassroots movement was begun. The opening salvo to this effect came from none other than the eminence grise of Canadian politics, Gerald Butts, formerly the Principal Advisor to PM Trudeau until being forced to resign in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin scandal in early 2019. As we may expect, he took a line that we are all familiar with by asking who was paying these expressions of dissent. In the world inhabited by Mr. Butts and people like him, mass movements can only be the result of behind-the-scenes scheming by anonymous but sinister powers, carried out by handing out gobs of money to disloyal citizenry. In that world, ideas such as ‘organic’ and ‘spontaneous’ are alien, because individuals are assumed to be lacking in agency.
Separately, disgraced media personality Dean Blundell contended that the tweets were coming from bots rather than real people. Mr. Butts reinforced this accusation by tweeting that “Sending a ton of (bots) to insist this isn’t a (bot) campaign is not a super strong strategy.” In another corner, long time talk show host John Moore offered that if anyone was offended by Mr. Trudeau calling some Canadians racist, white supremacist or misogynistic, then their being offended was proof that they indeed were all those things.
It doesn’t need to be pointed out that unfounded accusations of being paid, or being a bot, don’t prove anything. What I find interesting in John Moore’s argument is that he is saying, in effect, that if you take umbrage at being called names in an undeserving manner, then you are deserving of the epithets. Even Joseph Heller, the celebrated author of Catch-22, couldn’t have done better than Mr. Moore; the contention was that being offended by an unwarranted accusation was proof that the accusation was entirely warranted. On a side note, it is painfully disappointing to see people with such flawed reasoning (or hopeless levels of partisanship) to be occupying the most prominent spots in public discourse in Canada; unless remedied, this malady will lead to our undoing as a free and prosperous country.
For anyone who follows Canadian politics closely, this should look very familiar: in various ways, the attempt was to discredit the people voicing disapproval of PM Trudeau. The (completely unfounded) assumption – presented with the air of certitude normally reserved for indisputable facts such as ‘The sun is a star’ – was that they were either being paid to voice a message of disapproval, or they weren’t real people, or they deserved those epithets and therefore (presumably) had no valid grounds to be opposed to the PM or his words. The common thread running through these variations is that people who think that they are our betters were looking at us down their noses and lecturing us; only they know what is really transpiring with this phenomenon, and we, as the lesser humans, better accept their words without question or else be branded.
Parallel to these attempts to discredit the dissenters, there was an effort to launch a counter-campaign of hashtags in support of PM Trudeau. The idea (or hope) was that Newton’s Third Law would prevail (reaction being equal in quantum to the original action) – but that didn’t transpire; the number of tweets for the counter-campaign is around 1% of the #TrudeauMustGo movement.
Thus far, everything is as we have come to expect, disheartening though it is – but my focus is on what comes next – or is likely to. I believe that this phenomenon, and the reaction to it by certain segments of the media and members of the political class, is likely to either (a) cause the phenomenon to spiral and become more serious, or (b) manage to suppress it temporarily while the underlying disaffection festers and causes a worse eruption at a point in the future.
HASTY TO THE HUSTINGS
For some time, there has been low-key speculation going on that PM Trudeau may call an election during this Fall. This speculation received somewhat of a boost when Althia Raj reported in the Toronto Star that the federal government was ‘considering end to COVID-19 vaccination mandate at border and random testing’. If that actually happens, then the government would be in a much better position going into an election, as a good deal of the difficulties currently being faced by Canadians would disappear. Therefore, the explosive emergence of the ‘Trudeau Must Go’ hashtag couldn’t have come at a worse time for PM Trudeau, the Liberal party and their operatives (both inside the political circles as well as in the media). In this scenario, it becomes an imperative requirement to stop this movement in its tracks. Sadly, the only way that these people know how to do this is by resorting to innuendo, casting aspersions and character assassination. Hence the attempts to discredit the movement by suggesting (without a shred of evidence, I might add) that these were either bots, or real people who were doing this for money at the behest of sinister forces, or (failing both), deserving of the epithets.
I think this approach amounts to playing with fire; it may have worked earlier (such as in the scandals relating to SNC-Lavalin, WE Charity etc.), but that was because a small number of people were getting discredited. In the present instance, they are taking on hundreds of thousands of Canadians (going by the number of tweets) or perhaps millions of them (going by the number of unvaccinated Canadians and those who are sympathetic to them). Therefore, the difference between the two scenarios is so vast that the term ‘orders of magnitude’ doesn’t even begin to describe it. Let me illustrate this point via an example from India.
SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT
In 1975, the then Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi, declared a state of national emergency, and effectively became a dictator (the emergency was her personal one, but let’s not digress). She was then surrounded by all sorts of yes-men, sycophants, grifters and shysters, who always said what she wanted to believe (for personal gain or to remain in the good books of a dictator). And so it was that in early 1977, they told her that her popularity was running so high that she would handily win an election. She went to the hustings in March 1977 – and suffered a humiliating defeat. At this point, it is worth exploring as to how a person as politically astute as Mrs. Gandhi could have made such a serious error in judgement.
The answer is simple: the feedback mechanism around her was so badly broken as to be virtually non-existent. The media was strangled and suffocated by threats of retaliation and even in ordinary lives, people were reluctant to express their real thoughts. There was a tremendous amount of opposition to her rule, but in the absence of a feedback mechanism, she was blissfully unaware of it. The opposition / dissatisfaction was below the surface. The most crushing defeat for her party came when she lost her own seat. But the one that I think offers a more dramatic portrayal of her failure came from a different corner of India (in the state of Bihar), where the opposition candidate, one George Fernandes, won by a record-setting margin of victory amounting to more than 250,000 votes while he was in jail and therefore could not campaign. I consider this to be worthy of reiteration: the candidate opposing Mrs. Gandhi’s party won over 250,000 more votes than Mrs. Gandhi’s candidate without campaigning. At the time, his margin of victory was a world record.
If PM Trudeau calls an election in the next few weeks, the #TrudeauMustGo movement is likely to get reignited in an even more explosive manner. If I, as a layman, know this, then the people in the inner circles of power within the Liberal Party know it even more. Unless they believe that they have a way to counter this movement (at its escalated level), they would be wary of going for an election this year. This brings us to the alternative scenario.
Let us suppose that the hashtag movement is allowed to run its course. At some point, it would come to an end, like everything must – good or bad. People would have expressed their discontent, but to no ultimate avail. They would still be looking for ‘closure’. As to exactly how this festering frustration would influence their vote in the next election (whenever it takes place) is a subject for exploration by people more qualified in sociology and psephology than I. But in the meanwhile, it is certain that they would firmly remain in the anti-Liberal camp more resolutely that would have been the case otherwise. In the meantime, the segment of our media that habitually carries water for the Liberals (voluntarily or otherwise) would try to attach the newly chosen Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre with this movement. Would this attempt result in swing voters moving to the CPC in the next election? I think it is likely (for a variety of reasons, not the least being that such attempts could have the appearance of being a ‘stretch’). There is a large cohort of people who voted for the Liberals the last time, and may have taken 2 or 3 shots of the Covid vaccine, but are against the vaccination mandate and uncomfortable with painting the unvaccinated as racist, misogynists etc. The continued and obsessive focus from the Liberal side to do so would turn them off, and away from the Liberal Party.
In the 2021 election, PM Trudeau made vaccination into a wedge issue, and that tactic worked in his favor (in a kinda-sorta way, seeing as he didn’t win a majority as he may have hoped for by calling a surprise election in the middle of a pandemic). Using the same tactic again is unlikely to be successful a second time around, and may in fact be counterproductive. Perhaps the brain-trust (using the term loosely here) in the Liberal Party knows this. But because they forced themselves to respond to the #TrudeauMustGo movement in the only manner that they know how (i.e., by seeking to demean their detractors), they may have painted themselves into a corner. The issue is sure to resurface during the next election, and their response to the movement is pretty sure to come back and bite them in their collective Butts (pun intended).