I remember the morning of Friday, November 9, 2016, vividly.
I, like many of my classmates, dragged myself to school with the knowledge that Donald Trump had won the presidency of the United States. I attended my political theory class to find a sliver of solace in my professor’s eloquence. Perhaps he would lecture about the irony of Trump’s election in a country founded on the unshakeable principles of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Instead, I listened to my professor explain, as countless others after him did, why Trump wouldn’t “be that bad” for America or the rest of the world.
My professors, most of them white, male, and in privileged positions, explained that the supreme court must undoubtedly uphold the American constitution and protect civil liberties. One in particular projected that Trump dared not implement his ludicrous campaign promises of a Muslim ban, a wall at the Mexican border, or attacks on free trade agreements. The tone in which they spoke was seductive. Perhaps the checks and balances of the state would maintain, at the very least, a status quo. I remember how badly I wished to believe my professors’ practical optimism.
But as I write this, after a long week of executive abuses and disappointments from the Supreme Court of the United States, I not only feel they were wrong; I know they are.
The same sinking emotion dawned on me on June 7 at 9:18 p.m. It was election day in Ontario and thanks to new polling technology, within minutes of polls closing, the projected results overtook my television screen: a Progressive Conservative majority with Doug Ford as premier. I did not want to believe the news. As a Canadian, the Trump presidency is painful and, frankly, exhausting, but the Ford premiership is immediate. Yet, for me, neither are particularly surprising. Both Trump and Ford rose in increasingly polarized environments, dedicated to their brand of populism, and hostile to minorities.
Populist leaders like Trump and Ford directly and disproportionately harm marginalized communities. In the United States, as we speak, the divisive politics of the Trump administration are seen both legislatively and socially. All the platform points that fueled Trump’s campaign are being implemented. Trump did not waste time in creating a not-a-Muslim-ban-Muslim-ban, in attacking reproductive rights, and deporting undocumented immigrants. Unlike many politicians, he unfortunately stayed true to many of his campaign promises. What are the results? Well, I am sure his voter base is excited about his commitment and consequently deem him “truthful.” But for the thousands of families separated by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or for the families in legal limbo because they come from one of the banned countries, not only is it as bad as many of us thought. It is worse.
In light of the current American context, my professors’ reassurances, much like those from other other privileged columnist and academics, that promised the constitution will salvage true American values, are disgraceful. The Supreme Court upheld the third formulation of the Muslim Ban and with the retirement of Justice Kennedy, I have no doubt we will see more of Trump’s legislation upheld, as the executive branch grows in power. Citizens who harbour privilege might be safe from these policies and dismiss these concerns as hysteria, but anyone who belongs to a marginalized community knows how this legislation manifests in other more than just offical ways.
Legislation is not abstracted from everyday realities of minorities. It affects families and communities, sometimes, like we are seeing south of the border, in life or death ways. However, there is another way policies are destructive and harmful. The constant demonization of minorities, whether women, Mexicans, or Muslims legitimizes this discourse and sentiments of groups on the ground who harbour similar animus. The more politicians dehumanize these minority with defamatory comments and discriminatory policies, the bolder the messages and actions of these groups. Take for instance the Charlottesville riots that ended in the murder of a woman and injury of many others. The unification of emboldened white supremacists cannot be separated from the political rhetoric that got Trump elected as president.
That intimate relationship between legislation, political rhetoric, and the rise in hate crimes, is exactly why I am afraid of a Ford majority government. Of course in true Canadian fashion, Ford and his candidates did not use identically inflammatory language to Trump. Yet countless candidates were unabashed about their anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-LGBTQ+ views. Particularly, as a Muslim, I am horrified that PC candidates with explicitly Islamophobic views not only presented their candidacy, but won their seats. Take for instance, the now MPP for Kanata Center Merrilee Fullerton who is far from apologetic for her anti-Muslim stance. One of her tweet reads: “Imagine sending your 4-year-old child to school for the first time under the authority of a masked teacher. Comfortable? #niqab”. In another tweet, she continues to attack Muslim women’s choice to cover with an attack on wear a Hijab day in 2016. In a similar vein, she casually equates Muslims to terrorists in a blog post she wrote about a the bombing in the U.K.
Fullerton is just one example of multiple candidates or their campaign staff with vocalized hate towards Muslims. Some might argue these were made when they were merely private citizens. My concern arises when these candidates become elected officials without an apology for their actions or attempt at public remorse. Their election does not necessarily prove all their supporters are racist but it shows that their bigotry was normalized enough they can safely win their seats. It is precisely the realization that civic apathy allows hatred to grow, that informs my dull outlook for Ontario in the upcoming years.
The election of Doug Ford demonstrates Canada is not immune to the rise of populism with undercurrents of bigotry. If Ford’s Progressive Conservatives are elected in the richest Canadian province that is home to some of the most diverse cities, the forces of hate, and those of privileged indifference, are stronger than I once thought. Today, Ford takes power at Queen’s Park. His slogan is “a government for the people.” I think soon we will see exactly who those people might be.
Barâa Arar studies Humanities at Carleton University, with a focus on art, politics, and resistance. She is a community organizer, writer, and the co-host of The Watering Hole podcast. You can find her at: www.livewellspoken.com
Photo: Benson Kua
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