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The Munk Debates: Moving public discourse to the right

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For what was supposed to be a fresh news story, an old report from the Beaverton circulating on social media yesterday actually came closest to accurately describing what went on in the so-called debate last night between alt-right U.S. political agitator Stephen Bannon and the neoliberal propagandist David Frum.

The Beaverton is a Canadian news-satire website. But what's funny about two powerful men connected to the two worst administrations in postwar American history arguing rhetorically about, in the Beaverton's insightful words from two months ago, "whether hate crimes are better than war crimes"?

Bannon, the former political strategist for Republican President Donald Trump who is frequently described as a white supremacist, has based his career on provoking hate crimes with the goal of bringing something approaching outright fascism to the United States. So far, he seems to have been remarkably successful, and lately has been spreading his malignant agenda further afield.

Frum, a speech writer and advisor for the war-mongering Republican administration of George W. Bush, helped lay the intellectual foundation for the long and bloody American "War on Terror" in his famously disingenuous "Axis of Evil" script for the 2002 State of the Union Speech. We all know how that worked out.

Both men remain senior apparatchiks in the increasingly unhinged American right. The latter, though, is apparently seen by Canadian media as some sort of liberal because he appears to still believe there's a modest role for the U.S. Constitution, or maybe just because he has roots in Canada.

This is no joke, though, even though the Beaverton's old advancer for last night's "Munk Debate" at Roy Thomson Hall in downtown Toronto was pretty funny.

The Beaverton certainly set up what actually came about yesterday more discerningly than last night's mainstream media accounts of Toronto Police pepper spraying and arresting Canadian demonstrators who dared to protest this travesty.

Why would any Canadian organize a local debate between two factions of the American corporatist right and try to pass it off as a serious policy dialogue between a conservative and a relative liberal, a notion that is preposterous on its face yet seems to be the predominating media narrative?

Actually, this is easier to understand if we consider the apparent agenda of the organization behind last night’s event.

Press Progress reminded us earlier yesterday that the Munk Debates are bankrolled by the Aurea Foundation, established in 2006 by the late Peter Munk, the Canadian gold-mining billionaire.

The Aurea Foundation says on its website that it "gives special attention to the investigation of issues related to the political and economic foundations of freedom, the strengthening of the free market system, the protection and enhancement of democratic values, human rights and human dignity, and the role of responsible citizenship." Whatever that means in practice, former Munk Debate participants include Henry Kissinger and Tony Blair, so obviously the foundation isn't allergic to war criminals.

Regardless, Press Progress pointed out, "the Aurea Foundation is one of the biggest funders sustaining a network of right-wing think tanks in Canada." The goal of such efforts, it is clear, is to move the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse ever further to the right.

This too was the effect of last night's event. The substance of the debate -- "be it resolved, the future of western politics is populist, not liberal" -- isn’t really the point, or, given the well-known positions of the "talent," even particularly relevant.

As has been argued in this space before, our government should have been less concerned about the free speech rights of a foreign right-wing agitator who wishes nothing good for Canada, and more concerned about the real threat a racist visitor with a proven record of provoking violence presents here.

God knows, we have enough of our own right-wing loons. Let them argue the merits of domestic fascism themselves!

Nothing good will come of the fact our doormat of a government meekly allowed this clown to cross our border. The well-heeled ticket holders in Toronto, who got a vote, apparently plunked for hate crimes.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

David Frum: Flickr/policyexchange
Steve Bannon: Flickr/gageskidmore

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