Pop­ulist ex- con­tender com­mit­ted only to power

The Enterprise-Bulletin (Collingwood) - - OPINION - SHAN­NON GORM­LEY

It is un­kind to kick some­one when they’re down, as failed Con­ser­va­tive party lead­er­ship con­tender, dis­graced snitch- line ped­dler and hap­less al­tright band con­duc­tor Chris Alexan­der cer­tainly is; but what is one to do when they kick them­selves, de­ter­minedly and with great gusto, only to ac­cuse you of com­mit­ting bod­ily as­sault?

As few peo­ple could reach his heights, few could ever fall so far as the preter­nat­u­rally in­tel­li­gent, ac­com­plished and worldly Alexan­der could. In this, at least, he ful­filled his unique po­ten­tial.

Alexan­der’s abilities are clear. Sadly, they are not quite so clear as his record.

The man who once ad­vo­cated for the free­doms, rights and dig­nity of all Afghans be­came the man who wanted Canadians to phone in “bar­baric cul­tural prac­tices” they imag­ined oc­curred be­hind neigh­bours’ doors; who, through a pol­icy a court found “cruel and un­usual,” wished to deny child refugee claimants med­i­cal care; who, when asked by a jour­nal­ist about re­set­tle­ment of Syr­ian refugees, hung up on- air; and who, hav­ing spo­ken at a rally held by an ex­trem­ist- lean­ing me­dia or­ga­ni­za­tion, in­dulged ex­trem­ists in a chant to jail their po­lit­i­cal op­po­nent.

For this, he was voted out of of­fice and laughed out of a lead­er­ship race. Now here’s the kicker:

Alexan­der, the man who re­fuses to go qui­etly or with any sem­blance of dig­nity, has writ­ten a Ma­clean’s op- ed in which he im­plores peo­ple to please quiet down and con­duct our­selves with greater dig­nity.

“Jour­nal­ists should show sus­tained con­cern for Cana­dian politi­cians,” he writes. Main­stream “scribes” give the ex­trem­ist right “its open­ing,” he writes. There’s not enough “cred­i­ble news” here, he writes, and not that much ex­trem­ism. And we should all come to­gether, for he of the bar­baric cul­tural prac­tices hot­line hates “in­flam­ma­tory” at­tempts to di­vide.

He does say, in a pan­tomime of an ad­mis­sion, that his gov­ern­ment was “tone- deaf.” But he knew ex­actly what tune the far- right sings to — he ad­justed his pitch ac­cord­ingly.

The best defence for Alexan­der, then, is that he was in­sin­cere: per­cep­tive enough to see op­por­tu­ni­ties to win and am­bi­tious enough to go for them.

Alexan­der’s prob­lem isn’t that he’s an un­for­giv­ably bad per­son ( by all ac­counts, he isn’t), that he did an un­for­giv­ably bad thing ( by rea­son­able his­tor­i­cal stan­dard, he didn’t) or even that he hasn’t is­sued a mea culpa.

The trou­ble is Alexan­der is still scape­goat­ing sup­posed elites, a favoured tac­tic of far- right pop­ulists he in­sists he al­ways de­spised, be­cause they don’t “re­flect ( Canadians’) re­al­ity.” Which is to say, a re­al­ity that could have won him an elec­tion.

He won’t be the last Western politi­cian to do this, now that the suc­cess of the far right is more pre­car­i­ous than it re­cently seemed.

Hav­ing made doc­u­mented ap­peals to dem­a­goguery, and their ap­peals hav­ing failed, these pop­ulists of con­ve­nience may, like Alexan­der, make con­tra­dic­tory excuses for their con­duct: That they op­posed dem­a­goguery all along; but also, that dem­a­goguery isn’t a big prob­lem here; but also, that the dem­a­goguery here is un­der­stand­able; but also, that dem­a­goguery — the thing they hate but that also is not real but that they sym­pa­thize with, you un­der­stand — was pri­mar­ily the fault of those peo­ple dem­a­gogues al­ways tar­get. Fake news! Main­stream­ers! Not- oneof- us folk!

Adding in­sult to self- in­flicted in­juries, per­haps they should be pitied and po­litely ig­nored. Only, in largely blam­ing others for their own fall just as they blamed them for so­cial de­cline, pop­ulist mis-op­por­tunists di­min­ish the truth and the so­cial co­he­sion they claim to de­sire — these are ex­pend­able to the pop­ulist with­out a cause, whose truest po­lit­i­cal com­mit­ment is to his own power, even once he’s lost it.

The de­cent thing to do is wish them well in life but not their fu­ture elec­toral en­deav­ours. Safe trav­els, then, to all the Alexan­ders. Don’t let your foot kick you on the way out. Shan­non Gorm­ley is an Ottawa Cit­i­zen global af­fairs colum­nist and free­lance jour­nal­ist.

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