CALGARY—Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, will be a day that will live in infamy—the day armed domestic terrorists laid siege on Capitol Hill, the first time since we did it in the War of 1812. The year 2021 is already making 2020 feel as soothing as a Supermud Glam Glow mask from Sephora.
On the morning of Jan. 6, the president’s supporters descended on Washington, D.C., to protest Donald Trump’s electoral defeat. By early afternoon, rioters were pushing their way into the Capitol Building. The violence continued until the evening, when law enforcement finally gained control of the grounds. After weeks of incessant lies to supporters about the illegitimacy of the election, the president committed sedition.
The insurrection is the violent outcome of an adherence to a belief system that argues for the elevation of whiteness above all, including democracy. It dominates every section of society, and therefore, those who believe in it believe they should have an unlimited hold on the levers of power. Violence is what is used to enforce that belief system, since those for whom whiteness is a social and political identity are threatened by an increasingly diverse society. This is the whitelash and it was bound to happen once Barack Obama, a Black man, was elevated to the presidency, which until then, had been the domain of power that white men owned exclusively.
In Trump, white voters saw the return of their prominence or a natural order of things where white women were the foot soldiers of patriarchy, LGBTQ2+ people were back in the closet, religion was at the core of American life and weighing heavily into policy, Black people were criminals, Mexicans were rapists, and other people of colour were subservient to whites. America was the perfect oasis for fascism, and if authoritarianism had to ensure that the socioeconomic order be preserved, so be it. White supremacy > democracy, since true democracy gave too many rights to those who weren’t worthy of it, since America is not really their country.
There is no “bothsidesism” to this realization, even though those committed to objectivity would disagree. Racial anxiety flows one way, towards conservatism. In their paper, Maureen Craig and Jennifer Richeson, from Northwestern University, studied whether changing racial demographics influenced white American political identity. “Further, research has found evidence for a conservative shift—a shift in political opinions toward conservatism (and away from liberalism)—after individuals perceive or experience threatening events.” Their results led them to conclude that “making the U.S. racial shift salient led to greater endorsement of conservative policies.”
This fact had not escaped the Republican Party, even if it did escape mainstream media who inundated the public with articles of “economic anxiety” as the reason for Trump’s support. Trump supporters have anxieties, alright, but they’re not economic. And as Ta-Nehisi Coates’ seminal essay in The Atlantic, “The First White President” stated: “But the researchers also found that voters in their study who supported Trump generally had a higher mean household income ($81,898) than those who did not ($77,046).”
Conservatives on both sides of the border have galvanized this racial anxiety to form a fervent base of voters who vote consistently and promote conservative politicians through ardent use of social media. In his latest Maclean’s article, professor P.J. Fournier argued that “the proportion of Trump supporters shot up to just over 40 per cent among CPC voters (compared to six per cent of NDP voters, six per cent of Liberals),” When asked if the U.S. election was fair and therefore shouldn’t be contested, the Angus Reid Institute found that “18 per cent of Canadians and 41 per cent of conservative voters disagreed to the statement.” Quelle surprise.
Some MPs on Canada’s political right have profiles on the now tenuously existing Parler site. “Among the prominent voices in conservative and right-wing circles are some Canadians: Maxime Bernier, the leader of the People’s Party of Canada has an account, as does prominent Conservative Member of Parliament Michelle Rempel Garner,” the Calgary Herald reported, also naming Conrad Black (who tried to convince Twitter that it was Antifa and Black Lives Matter who stormed the Capitol) and columnist Brian Lilley, since Parler is so on brand for them.
Sites such as Parler and Gab promise free speech, but deliver hate speech. The mainstream sites are seen to have sold out to the leftist mob who use “cancel culture” to get their way—or so right-wingers complain. Along with free speech, these are two weapons Conservatives and Republicans have used to deny a voice, ironically, to marginalized people. As The Guardian confirms, “it provides a safe space for people who want to use hate speech.” Conservatives seem to have made a pact with the right-wing and they are now tied to them, for good or for ill.
The same white grievance industrial complex that was erected in America to advance white supremacy is the same one that Conservative MPs—and a former prime minister—have used to build their electoral base of support.
A little more than five years ago, Stephen Harper’s government lost re-election, partially due to fanning the flames of racism with virulent Islamophobia: the barbaric cultural practices tip line (introduced by Kellie Leitch and Chris Alexander), the niqab debate, Harper making reference to “old-stock Canadians” during a debate about refugees and proclaiming that niqabs are “rooted in a culture that is anti-women” are some of that government’s greatest hits. No wonder they only managed to win one majority since Brian Mulroney’s second win in 1988. One would think they’d get a clue.
Andrew Scheer was no better. Besides his anti-same-sex marriage position of 2005, which he has yet to refute, Scheer boarded the Yellow Vests convoy to irrelevance gleefully, even though they wore “Make Canada Great Again” hats and railed against “open borders.” He spoke at the same Parliament Hill rally that welcomed Bernier and white supremacist Faith Goldy. It takes a Herculean effort to look more racist than the guy in blackface.
The party has also used what now seem to resemble Trump-like tactics of convincing voters its opponent was stealing an election in a now-deleted donation page on the Conservative Party website—predating the 2019 election and jumping off of legislated changes to the Elections Act—that read, “Justin Trudeau is rigging the next election in his favour.”
Current leader, Erin O’Toole, shows no sign of reversing this trend. In December, he was caught downplaying the residential school system, explaining it as trying to provide education to Indigenous children. He then attempted to weaponize this horrible lie by stating that Pierre Trudeau opened more schools than Egerton Ryerson did, to “own the Libs.” His intent was to use this as an identity politics wedge issue: “O’Toole addressed what he described as the ‘woke’ campaign to rename Ryerson University,” as written in CBC News, but instead took a wrong turn and ended up sounding like Bernier.
His leadership campaign slogan, “Take Back Canada,” is also the same language used by Trump in his speech at the Save America rally last Wednesday: “We’re going to try and give them the kind of pride and boldness that they need to take back our country.”
Are all Conservatives racist? No. But does the party court racism as a political strategy? Indeed.
Erica Ifill is a co-host of the Bad+Bitchy podcast.