Lester Pearson and Robert Stanfield... Where are today’s honourable politicians?

Bob Brehl: Election sparks social media silliness

  • October 16, 2019

As we near the end of the election campaign, many comments on social media remind me of something Mark Twain wrote 112 years ago: “I am quite sure now that often, very often, in matters concerning religion and politics a man’s reasoning powers are not above the monkey’s.”

Time and again, from both left and right, I kept reading inane comments on social media from people whose reasoning powers rivaled not only a monkey, but, perhaps more appropriately, a donkey — or the other name for that animal that begins with an “A”.

It used to be religion and politics were avoided in civil discourse, but social media has changed the rules. The darndest things — often very mean things — are said to supposed “friends” in the digital world.

It’s all rather tiresome. For example, a friend (who in the real world is pleasant and level-headed) routinely calls people supporting Conservative Andrew Scheer brainless idiots and other foul things. She even tells people with opposing views not to bother posting their reasons because she won’t read them.

Those opposed to Liberal Justin Trudeau can be bad, too. I’ve seen many references to Trudeau that change the position of the “r” and first “u” in his surname to start his name with the word “turd”.

I really “liked” a comment from one woman who exasperatingly wrote this simple message on one particularly nasty election exchange: “I’m so sick of name calling.” Amen to that.

Of course, there has been some humour, but not enough. One that got a giggle after the Trudeau “blackface” incidents were revealed, was a wag who began referring to him as Prime Minister Al Jolson. More wittiness and less nastiness would be appreciated.

As stated, the blatherskite comes from both extreme sides of the political spectrum. I like to call it the Alt Right and Alt Left and the silent majority remains around the centre and (hopefully) are still the majority, although that is under question as the fanatics raise their voices ever louder.

Comedian and TV personality Bill Maher, a long-time lampooner of the hard right, has noticed the growth of the zealots and has begun mocking both the sanctimonious Alt Left as well as the hard-headed Alt Right.

“Religions always talk about the one true religion,” Maher is quoted in a recent interview. “Now on the left we have the one true opinion. If you go against that, you do so at your peril. That’s why the air on the left is becoming stale.”

A woman on my Facebook feed proved Maher correct. A like-minded person to her posted a picture of a turkey with a message to use Thanksgiving dinner as a time to talk family members out of voting Conservative.

“I’m telling you right now, talking politics at family dinners does not convince anyone who is voting Conservative to not vote Conservative,” the woman wrote. “It just makes everyone else at the table target practice for their bigotry, hate and wilful stupidity.”

Hallelujah for her “one true opinion” and her smugness. In this woman’s mind, if you vote Conservative you must be a bigot, filled with hate and incredibly stupid. The adage about hatred corroding the vessel it’s carried in seems to apply here. These hard left opinions reek of the very intolerance they accuse the demons on the right of espousing.

This seemingly growing obscurantism and era of half-truths is worrisome. But is it a chicken and egg argument? Where are politicians like Lester Pearson and Bob Stanfield in Canadian politics today? Without solid, honourable politicians do we turn into profanity-laced tribal yellers? Or is our nastiness and lack of civility chasing away decent men and women from representing us?

Around the time Mark Twain made his observation about our reasoning powers, Winston Churchill uttered this: “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

When it comes to politics and elections, it doesn’t feel like we’ve evolved much over the last hundred years. Technology and social media can’t make us more informed if we refuse to listen, and prefer to yell and pound our fists on the proverbial table.

Still, make sure you vote. And don’t forget, no matter how it turns out, the sun will come up on Oct. 22 and we’re all Canadian, not simply Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens.

(Brehl is a writer and author of many books.)

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