“Don’t be surprised when we elect another liar,
Have we learned nothing from five seasons of The Wire?
When it comes down to it, everybody meant well
Before their lives went to hell.”
-From the song ‘So Far, So Good’ by Sloan
By Chris Marchand
I’m an optimist — a statement you might have trouble believing by the end of this column — yet I find it’s really the only way to be in divided times such as these. How useful is pessimism and negativity to moving forward when our problem is that nobody is prepared to agree on what colour the sky is?
In January 2016, everything appears in some manner to have changed, but is it going to change the way we live our lives? I have a roof over my head, an intact natural gas line feeding my furnace (more than our neighbours in Sioux Lookout can say) and enough Christmas baking to last my family until spring.
Doing pretty good.
Ours is a crisis of confidence in each other, a disorienting pendulum swing between the values of two generations that are fed up with each other’s BS. As a GenXer, I feel a little caught in the middle.
Now eight years into the Great Recession, Millenials are finished listening to Baby Boomers bleat on about hard work and education being the recipe for success, the great lie of ‘trickle down economics’, the failure to punish the architects of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. As a generation, they’re challenging society’s values and writing their own rules because they’re not sure those in charge deserve to be anymore. They’ve got a point there.
But the problem, as I see it, with the Millenial-backed progressive movement which steamrolled its way into 2016 challenging every possible social more on gender, race and sexuality is that too often its proponents throw the baby out with the bathwater (such a Boomer expression) — advocating against things like ‘due process’ and ‘freedom of speech’ with little regard for the lessons history has taught us about abandoning these core values. Parts of the system might be broken, but it doesn’t all need to be burned to the ground.
The Jian Ghomeshi trial was one of those trying moments. The popular rage-fueled argument suggested Canada’s justice system be reformed to operate with a presumption of guilt in cases of sexual assault — a staggeringly bad idea, but one that you argued against at the risk of losing friends, being accused of misogyny, or being outed as closet Albertan.
The great tragedy of 2016 was the death of respectful discussion, the shocking regularity with which we found ourselves using ‘fighting words’ without ever having to get punched in the face for it. Maybe we didn’t argue and retreated into our own polarized political bubbles formed by social media algorithms that filter out everything that challenges our values, building us an echo-chamber where we need not tolerate dissent, even if our ideas go too far sometimes.
To paraphrase the insights of one anonymous Internet voice, the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives want, above all things, the laws of the land to be applied equally amongst everybody. It’s not that Liberals don’t subscribe to that theory themselves — it’s that they recognize that for a variety of complicated reasons (that conservatives may not care about) that there are imbalances in society that make it hard to execute this theory.
But swing too far in one direction and you’ll find an equal and opposite reaction. Every obnoxious voice on the right now has its equally obnoxious counterpart on the left. Every Bernie Sanders has their Donald Trump.
It’s a great case for centrist politics: keeping politicians boring, civil and rooted in common ground.
Do we turn back from this new model of politics that has been forged over the past year, or do we let reality TV fascist Kevin O’Leary lead Canada’s Conservative Party into a campaign based on the Trump model?
Regaining that common ground, those things that tie us to the centre, to reasonability, is the challenge that faces us both as the media and consumers of media in 2017.