Our Huge Cultural Blindspot

Commentary by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

Donald Trump is the bogeyman. I get it. He’s also the Grinch, Darth Vader and Hitler.

In fact, he was once on an episode of the Simpsons as an imagined future president in a dystopian America.

But in a world of bogeymen, he may just be the most televisual and carnivalesque, not to mention social media friendly.  I wonder what Hitler would have done with all the social and other media currently at demagogues’ disposal? Somehow, I think, he wouldn’t have been as slick and televisual as Trump — likely more awkward and sweaty like U.S. President Richard Nixon was.

Trump is the id of the American people; the comments section come to life.  He says things openly that other politicians think but dare not speak. He epitomizes the American tradition of waves of immigrants arriving only to demonize the next wave.

In the same way that ISIS (Islamic State) is a very modern horror (as opposed to a recreation of historical Islam), Trump is also the perfect conflation of American obsessions with wealth, race and “security”— and a simplistic worldview. His is a fascism writ large for the Internet age where opinions are formed by memes, sound bites and hysteria rather than historical precedent and analysis. And, he finds fertile ground in America’s growing underclass of the disaffected, uneducated and underemployed, for whom the American dream will never be a reality.

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″][H]e finds fertile ground in America’s growing underclass of the disaffected, uneducated and underemployed, for whom the American dream will never be a reality.[/quote]

Banning Muslims

And yet, mainstream Republicans are quick to distance themselves from him. A Rasmussen Reports survey says that 66 per cent of Republicans favour Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from America.  And his ideas about walling off Mexico and racially profiling Muslims, are mere knock offs of American ally Israel’s own policies. Hearing the likes of Dick Cheney and Benjamin Netanyahu call Trump a racist were rather unconvincing exercises in the kettle calling the pot black. Perhaps they are afraid Trump — or one of his outrageous outbursts — will give away the game.

While Trump may be somewhat confused about the actual way the internet functions, his Republican colleagues seem to have a limited grasp of the concept of international law and what constitutes a war crime.  Besides, Trump’s recent suggestion about shutting down ISIS by blocking its internet access would be right at home in many Middle Eastern police states (and U.S. allies) who have tried — with limited success — to stop various groups from disseminating information via social media.

And Trump is certainly not the first politician to favour showmanship over substance (he is, after all, channeling the ghost of Ronald Regan with his populist, Hollywood ways).

Our Canadian blindspot

And even though we Canadians love to point a collective finger at our neighbours to the South as being the exclusive purveyors of racism, the fact that we have a “mosaic” while they have a “melting pot” is no excuse for a huge cultural blindspot. We just express it “differently’, like say, via forced sterilization of native women in Saskatchewan, or ongoing incarceration of refugee claimants.

There are many different ways of “banning” people from entering a country. Canada has a proud history of doing just that — from anti-Asian exclusion laws, to turning away boatloads of Sikh migrants, Jewish refugees in WW2 or more recently criminalization of Tamil “terrorists.”

Were past Conservative Minister’s like Jason Kenney and John Baird really that different than Trump?

[quote align=”center” color=”#999999″][T]he fact that we have a “mosaic” while they [America] have a “melting pot” is no excuse for a huge cultural blindspot.[/quote]

While their rhetoric may have differed, their intention was the same. They manifested their Islamophobic policies that mirrored the most right-wing of Israeli policies in a variety of ways.

The previous government’s unprecedented support for Israel began as soon as Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected but swelled when the government cut funding to KAIROS — a well regarded NGO deemed too “pro-Palestinian” —in 2009, and reached a peak in 2012 when, alone among G8 leaders, Harper refused to embrace Obama’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan based on pre-1967 borders.

Canada’s vote against a Palestinian bid for statehood later that year (contrary to the wishes of a majority of Canadians, according to polls) further damaged its status at the UN and its international reputation.

Indeed many Canadians are still shocked and embarrassed by Canada’s loss of the UN Security council seat in 2010, which was widely attributed to its pro-Israel Middle East policy — and was often held up by the Harper government as a badge of honour.

Refugee policy

Harper’s policies on refugees were criticized by everyone from Amnesty International, Canadian Association of Refugee Lawyers, and No One is Illegal. Just because we have a new photogenic Prime Minister who is bringing in 25,000 Syrian refugees does not mean that endemic issues with Canada’s refugee and immigration system will magically disappear, along with all the racist trolls who grace the comments sections of our national dailies.

This Christmas, let’s look beyond the pantomime villains we love to boo and hiss at and unmask the ones hiding behind masks of “respectability.” And let us remember that every pantomime fool reveals uncomfortable truths, even if they arrive via outright lies and outrageous statements.

In a way Trump’s opera buffo shines light onto some rather darker stories we’d rather not dwell on — ones we ignore at our peril. In our zeal to demonize him, let’s not forget that what he reveals — the de facto complicity of more “mainstream” politicos and the deep racism inherent in North American history — may be more important than what he says.

Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman’s Journey Through Iraq, was a past editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from Africa and the Middle East for two decades.Hadani is also a musician who believes that world music can be a powerful vehicle for peace.

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