The American democratic experiment is stuck in gridlock. It has become clear that Joe Biden will be the next president with a lead of over 4 million votes. More importantly, Biden has passed the 270 electoral vote threshold needed to win. However, Trump-style politics are still in favour with millions of Americans.
Even though the election has been called and Biden as the winner, Trump has assembled an army of lawyers ready to contest the results. Some states may even do a recount – drawing the results out even longer. This is a real test of faith for America’s republic.
It is often said that the USA is a divided country. This has been true since the founding of the country, but this is also true everywhere. No country is a monolith. What is true is the country is more polarized – its divisions are much more defined.
What has become clear is that American’s have still not outright rejected Trump-style, far-right politics. Trump has correctly pointed out that he has won the most votes ever for a sitting president. This, to anyone on the left, is a scary thought given all the harmful policies and actions he has taken over the past 4 years.
Some common feelings among Canadians on social media have been of both relief and gratitude. Donald Trump has been defeated and many Canadians can now take a deep breath. We are thankful that it could never happen in Canada, right?
Don’t be so sure of that.
Donald Trump is not the root cause of America’s problems. He is a symptom of a much larger movement that has swept through Europe, Asia, and South America as well. This movement has shown its face in the form of anti-immigrant policies, xenophobia, nativism, and outright racism at times.
Examples of this can be found in the Covid-denying, military-dictatorship-supporting, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. In the Netherlands, the PVV party’s leader, Geert Wilders ran on a campaign fueled by Islamophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric. During their last election, the party gained 5 seats and got the second most seats in their parliament, ultimately losing to a coalition party. Other examples of this movement can be found in the Philippines, India, Germany, France, and many more countries.
Canada first politics
Canada has been affected too – the Covid-19 pandemic has provided fertile grounds for the far-right and anti-lockdown folks to cultivate and collaborate. The party closest aligned to these ideals is the People’s Party of Canada, lead by Maxime Bernier. They lost in the last federal election with a feeble 1.6% of the vote.
While this may seem like an irrelevant, fringe party, this could have easily not been the case. It is extremely difficult for newer political parties to gain a foothold in Canadian politics. In lockstep with his counterpart down south, Bernier has joined the choir of democracy denial:
If we rewind a few years to May 2017, you may recall that Maxime Bernier came in a close second to Andrew Scheer during the Conservative Party Leadership race. It was a close call – Bernier finished with 49%, just behind Scheer with 51%. In the first round of voting, Bernier actually had the most votes.
What if, instead of losing and forming his own party, Bernier had won and become the Conservative leader? Would he have defeated Trudeau? Would he have gained a bigger following? What if it was someone more like Donald Trump?
These questions are asked in order to reveal how vulnerable our democracy is. Canadians need to stay vigilant because far-right populism has not gone away. A long chunk of modern Conservatives have aligned themselves with conspiratorial thinking.
Whether the ‘cancelling’ of Trump by his fellow citizens reverses this tide still remains to be seen. Canada’s electoral system is too similar to the USA’s for Canadian’s to shrug their shoulders at the last four years down south.
Canada needs to safeguard our electoral system and prevent the system from being undermined. Our system needs to be democratized further.
Jagmeet Singh, leader of the federal NDP has put forward his support for one reform that would help make our system more democratic. Instead of the winner-take-all first-past-the-post system that we currently have, proportional representation would be a great improvement to our democracy.
It may seem that a proportional system could make it easier for fringe parties such as the PPC to gain a foothold in Canadian Politics. If we look at the previously mentioned case of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, ultimately they didn’t stand a chance. Left-wing or center-left parties can (and did) form a coalition to prevent them from taking power.
Reforms similar to this will help Canadians prevent this new, 2020 version of far-right politics from gaining traction. It is healthy for all of us to breathe a sigh of relief now that we know Trump will be gone. However, we cannot simply shrug our shoulders and think that it cannot happen here.