Visit Media Indigena
Visit Media Indigena
✎ Wayne K. Spear | March 15, 2018 • Politics
T MUST HAVE BEEN a let-down for the President when Rick Saccone lost his Pennsylvania seat to Democrat Conor Lamb, earlier this week and in a Republican district Trump himself had carried by 19 points. But there was consolation. Paul Ryan claimed that the President had in fact helped Saccone, in a race that he described as even more dire before Trump’s rally, and on Fox and Friends the hosts re-cast Conor Lamb as a Republican supporter of GOP policies. Fake news, they call it. Anyways, Steve Doocy added, Lamb’s PA18 district won’t even exist after November, so no biggie.
What Doocy didn’t mention was that PA18, a suburb of Pittsburgh, has been redrawn by order of the state’s supreme court. It’s the first time a state court has abolished district boundaries ruled to be the work of partisan gerrymandering. PA18 was engineered to make Democratic wins impossible, and for a while the effort paid off. So, yes, PA18 won’t exist after November, but the reasons ought to shame rather than encourage the GOP, assuming they are capable of shame.
The rise of Rick Saccone corresponds with the fall of David Levdansky. For twenty-five years Levdansky represented Pennsylvania’s 39th, but the Democrats went into the Obama 2010 midterm with a narrow, one-seat majority. The Republicans made no secret of their plan. They would pour campaign money into the state legislatures and, if victorious, re-draw the state districts in ways that favoured the GOP’s congressional ambitions. The work was handed to something called the Republican State Leadership Committee, under Chris Jankowski, and is the subject of a 2016 book, Ratf**cked: The True Story Behind the Secret Plan to Steal America’s Democracy. The Republicans code-named the operation REDMAP, the Redistricting Majority Project, and as I said made no secret of it.
The first step, ousting Levdansky, was simple enough. On Saturday October 9, with three weeks left in the race, the Republicans began a saturation campaign, filling the airwaves and the mailboxes each day with attacks on the Democratic candidate, claiming he had championed a $600M Arlen Specter Library. (Specter, as you know, had recently defected the Republicans to run as a Democrat. Thus by association Levdansky was labelled as not only a liberal, but a traitor.) The smear worked, the Republicans took over the legislature, and madly off in all directions went the gerrymander.
The redaction of PA18 was even messier than the GOP’s midterm assaults. The new congressional district excised Pittsburgh, and its urban Democratic voters, and produced a delirious map where one side of a street was in one district and the other side of a street in another. As I recall it, one of the candidates lived in a house that became the only house on the street in its district. The overall effect of this dog’s breakfast was to produce reliably Republican blocs in the southwestern suburbs of Pittsburgh, which was what the REDMAP operation had set out to do and what the state’s supreme court has now undone.
And let’s not forget what was special about this month’s special election. Rick Saccone was after the seat vacated by Republican Tim Murphy, a pro-life politician with a lover, an extramarital affair, and a “pregnancy scare” on his CV. Bad as that may be, it’s not what brought him down. Once the bad news started, it kept coming. Murphy’s staff provided the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette with astonishing and lurid stories of an office culture spinning out-of-control, and soaked in abuse, hostility, and corruption, where there was 100% turnover and where it had become impossible to recruit and retain competent staff. (Sounds familiar, right?)
Down went Murphy, like the PA18 gerrymandering project, and up came Saccone. In a statement about the court-mandated map, he said he would run and win, regardless of the district, “because it’s not about the lines that are drawn, but about the values I represent.” Haha, and yes, the lofty values of the GOP—we’re all experts on that now, living as we are in a moral universe where Republicans hold Roy Moore godly and where President Donald Trump champions an abstinence-only curriculum. Saccone likes to brag that he was Trump before Trump, but the voters have now weighed in on the GOP’s values and there’s nothing to be proud of. Let the Trumpists fall, let the conversation turn to life after this administration, and may the work soon begin of undoing the GOP’s dirty deeds.
✎ Wayne K. Spear | March 13, 2018 • Current Events
T’S NOW CERTAIN that a battle, between the people and the elite, is coming to Ontario. As it did in the days of Mike Harris, the province is about to flirt with populism and might even go beyond flirting, to courtship and consummation.
We heard quite a lot about the elites—always plural—when Rob Ford was mayor and Doug was the hype man and principal enabler of his brother. The word comes to us from an Old French noun derived from the Latin verb ēligĕre, to elect. The elite, in other words, are the elected, or chosen. Like Doug Ford.
Only, to hear Doug tell it, he’s no member, or even friend, of the elites—too-clever snobs who bore the common folk with lessons in etymology. They’re not defined by income or by power, but by culture and attitude. They live downtown and drink Chardonnay, and they use big words, and they mock the lives and values of the town and suburbs. Elites think they know better than you, and they think that they are better than you. And they have been chosen to lead and have made a balls of things.
There’s no necessary connection of this elitism with political power, beyond annoyances like support for bike lanes and streetcars. The list of elitist traits which drive Fordies around the bend has few explicitly ideological entries. Mostly it’s stuff like fixed-gear bikes and smugness and drinking champagne with a pinkie extended. Doug Ford complains about the elites the way that anglos are sometimes known to kvetch about the smell of east Indian cooking.
Elites are irritating, and you know them when you see them. The circularity of this term applies to its cognate, liberal, which is also defined as someone who is irritating. Critics may thus be condemned as elites and liberals, without further ado, because the terms boil down to something which is entirely in the eyes of the beholder.
Populism has some of the same characteristics. Nothing is objectively populist—the thing is set of attitudes and postures, a performance that is front to end a matter of individual interpretation. It helps to use rough and “plain” language, and to express ideas that would be scolded in polite company. Populism requires the claim that what matters most in this world is the little guy, and as a rule a populist will go out of his way to affect an unvarnished outlook and demeanour, the little guy being typically conceived as rough around the edges. None of this is incompatible with ulterior political motives like self-advancement and self-enrichment. History is filled with populist candidates who ascend to power on a pile of corpses.
The principal evil of elitism, which populism ostensibly sets out to vanquish, is the idea that some people or ideas or pursuits are objectively better than others, for instance that a Harvard graduate is a better choice of governor than an unlettered man who says y’all and ain’t. Moreover, it’s impossible to talk usefully about the Ford Nation idea of elitism without mentioning the aesthetics of social class.
It’s no coincidence that Doug Ford, like his brother, is large, whereas his political opponents have tended to be relatively slim. (The same is true of Donald Trump.) Class snobbery is such that large bodies will be subjected to often unspoken but condescending judgements, especially when they are bodies that sweat and that are clothed in ill-fitting clothing. Stephen Harper and Preston Manning, well aware of eastern prejudice, invested in makeovers before attempting to run for national office. This earned them a great deal of suspicion and ridicule, but all politicians make their concessions to the masses. Ford is no different. His populism, however, is less accommodating than its predecessors, and as such it is more nakedly a display of something that is common to all populism, the compilation of resentments built up over time.
There is an entirely different way to conceive of populism, as an expression of the inherent decency and dignity of ordinary people, ordinary being defined as neither wealthy nor politically powerful. Many decades ago, generations of the political left cultivated the revolutionary conception of the self-educated worker, possessing a mind and consciousness of her own and equal in physical and intellectual prowess to her presumed social betters. This form of populism established workers’ libraries and orchestras and universities, and it advocated not only bread but roses, which is to say the attainment among the common people not only of bare necessities but of beauty. Rather than tearing things down, out of resentment for those at the top, radical populism sought to lift up the people and to make privilege a universal condition. Nothing was thought too good for the working classes—whether champagne, Bach, or caviar.
The populism of M. Trump and Ford is not, however, radical or revolutionary, and it doesn’t look very deeply into the nature of the system against which it has declared war. The anti-elitist populism we will get from the Ontario PCs, assuming Doug Ford becomes Premier, will very likely resemble the program of M. Harris. It will be a negative form of populism, conceived entirely in relation to an enemies list of cultural foes and special interests who must be brought low. And when one is consumed by the work of bringing things low, a generalized condition of lowness, with perhaps a few winners, is likely to take hold. After eight years of watching the Harris Conservatives tear things down, the voters tired of anti-elite populism and chose another path. We forget this at our peril.