Lessons from Charlottesville

It helps to learn from others’ mistakes. Right now, Canada should be looking long and hard at the violent events in Charlottesville, VA, to ensure that this is a path we dare not follow.

The trend is clear: for whatever reason — insert your own pet theories here —white nationalists have felt emboldened since the rise of now-President Donald Trump. The President has disavowed their support — though certainly not sufficiently enough for many critics — but their support for him appears largely unshaken by recent events.

What this means for the president and for the United States, we’ll leave that speculation up to Americans. What we fear is the prospect of this kind of politics taking root in Canada.

As we’ve warned in this space before, when you flirt with nationalist politics, you also flirt with its ugliest components. Politicians should tread these waters carefully; attempts to court the far right for political gain might prove to be shrewd politics, but once unleashed, these movements have a history of moving in dangerous directions.

Luckily, those resentments haven’t been successfully unleashed in Canada; politicians who have even winked at nationalism have found themselves on the losing end of elections and of leadership campaigns. That’s a good thing, as it suggests that most Canadians are defensive of the county’s pluralistic and multicultural approach.

The Canadian Conservative movement appears to be heeding this trend, too. In Ontario, Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown has gone to great pains to steer clear of identity politics to present a moderate message; if a report yesterday in The Hill Times is to be believed, more progressive elements within the federal Conservative Party are trying to gain more influence. Simple political calculus suggests that they feel this is the path to success, and we don’t think they’re wrong.

Looking south of the border, we might be seeing a watershed moment in action following the violence in Charlottesville. Support for Trump’s brand of politics, already on shaky ground after six months in office, is taking a major body blow. The backlash against the president has come from both liberal and conservative voices. Though many fear the worst is yet to come, we’re hopeful that Charlottesville will serve as an alarm bell to prompt some serious self-reflection on the American right.

North of the border, we hope that it will confirm us here that the politics of nationalism and of division should be rejected, not embraced.

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