Trump and the Rise of Hate

You know, there are just some times when I hate being right.

Several months ago I predicted that the far right wing of the North American population would rise triumphantly in the wake of the extremist rhetoric of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

This would not rouse the wisest and most humane of our elders to lead their communities. Rather it would inspire the bigoted and ill-informed to scurry from the ditches and strut their ignorance loudly in public. These are the followers of populist demagogues whose uneducated opinions are largely formed by the bogus untruth websites and big boys locker room talk that provided the fodder for a narcissistic megalomaniac to become President in the U.S.A.

So, when I dropped by a local family restaurant to pick up my youngest son’s weekend breakfast treat and saw a group of men, who always sit at the same table pontificating their views on the world, I couldn’t resist joining in on their conversation.

I admit I committed the sin of stereotyping when I first checked them out: good old boys club, maybe high school education; they read the Sun newspaper mainly to ogle the Sunshine Girl, vote Conservative, watch Fox news, listen to right wing radio talk shows, and think Donald Trump is the Second Coming. I wanted to be wrong.

But then one of the men began a long sermon on the glory that was Donald Trump and the horror that was Barack Obama. I had no idea, until I listened to his holy words, that Obama was responsible for every disaster from hurricanes to floods to the financial crisis that pre-dated his presidency. Nor had I realized the extent of the horrible scandals that Barack and Michelle hid away during their eight years in the White House.

The youngest man tried to explain that the U.S. economy was on the upswing, like employment figures and growth expectations, but he just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The older man was in that zone where, as my mother used to say, “Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is made up!”

Now, this elder couldn’t name any legitimate sources for his opinions, but that didn’t stop him from believing in nonsense and passing it on. The earth is flat, the sun revolves around us, and the planet is only 6000 years old. And Donald Trump sits next to the right hand of God.

On later visits to the same restaurant I heard other members of the group, on three separate occasions, threaten that they would love to get any Liberal leader from the Premier to the Prime Minister in their “crosshairs” and take them out. When I called those threats in to the local OPP. I was told the men had freedom of speech, and if I hadn’t seen a weapon, there was nothing the police could do. I was incredulous. If a child at a school even verbally threatens another child, the police come to the school. But apparently you can threaten to shoot the Prime Minister of Canada without consequence.

So, I took down all of their license plates and submitted a full written report asking the police to check gun ownership records. Then I decided to write a column, The Ignorance of the Elders, in one of our local papers. .

Well, I must have touched a nerve, because weeks later, when I walked into that same restaurant, one of the group accosted me, shouting out my name. There he was, waving a copy of the paper in which my Ignorance of the Elders article had just been published. In front of a line-up of parents and children. he unleashed a string of defamatory epithets and curse words that had no place in a family restaurant. After threatening me with “This isn’t over yet!” he stormed out of the restaurant. I called that slanderous incident in to the police as well.

After that incident, and reflecting on the horror of the Quebec City mosque massacre, the perpetrator of which was reportedly inspired by Donald Trump’s Islamophobia, and then the subsequent vandalism of a mosque in Montreal, I decided to write this column.

As children we are taught to respect our elders. Their years on Earth have supposedly given them insights into life. They made all the mistakes that the passion of youth demands, learned from those mistakes, and grew in wisdom and vision. At least, that is what the best of our elders bring to their communities. Unfortunately, we have unleashed the exact opposite.

The rise of hate and extreme far right political ideology that has been encouraged in recent months by the rise of Trumpism in the U.S.A had come home to roost our own community. It is here now, alive and well and loud.

Imagine members of your religious community murdered while praying in their Church, their place of worship smashed and defiled. Imagine for just a moment that we had to comfort our children every Sunday before we went to Church not to be afraid of being shot or bombed. Imagine that we had to assure them that they wouldn’t be bullied or beaten up at school because of the colour of their skin or their religious beliefs or their sexual orientation. Imagine that we didn’t have to protect our loved ones from being taunted or told to leave the country because of the clothing they wear.

I think we need to all remember that scene in the movie “A Time to Kill” when the defense lawyer describes in graphic detail the brutal beating and rape and attempted murder of a little black girl. Then he looks at the jury and says, “Now, imagine that she is white.”

The jury responds with Hollywood shock and the avenging father is acquitted. In real life we should also be responding to this rise in hate incidents with shock and horror. Our community should be standing up for the inclusion, social justice, and diversity that has taken our young nation one hundred and  fifty years to embrace.

Meanwhile, south of the border, The New York City Police Department reported in January that there has been a 115% rise in hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump. It is as if his ascendency has given permission for the far right to take it from venting in the coffee shops and bars and Tweets, to taking it to the streets. It’s like they’ve been given permission to hate openly. And the only defense against that is to call it out, stand tall against it, and never accept this extremism as a new normal.

I feel like I’m back in the sixties again, marching for civil rights, and environmental security, and nuclear disarmament. The greatest danger facing humanity is not social injustice or accelerating climate change or a nuclear winter. It is the ignorance of the elders who may lead us there.

*****

Skid Crease, Caledon

The Ignorance of the Elders, Part 1

You know, there are just some times when I hate being right.

It happened last week at a popular fast food and coffee spot in Bolton. Now keep in mind, that as a storyteller and author, I love to observe people, join in on their conversations, and get to know their stories. Every once in a while you meet an elder, the kind we are taught to respect and honour. I have found them in some of the scientists, artists and authors, spiritual mentors, systems thinking engineers, and educators with whom I have had the privilege of knowing. I have equally found them in farmers, hunters and trappers who, contrary to popular belief, deeply love the land from which they gather our food, and they pass on those wisdoms quietly and firmly with few words.

I also meet the synapically challenged, whose uneducated opinions are largely formed by the bogus untruth websites and big boys locker room talk that provided the fodder for a narcissistic megalomaniac to become President-Elect in the U.S.A.

Ideally we all try to see the best in others, accept other people on their individual merits, and avoid stereotyping. But every once in a while we fall into the trap.

So, when I saw a group of three older men, who are always sitting at the same table, having coffee, pontificating their views on the world, and hoarding a stack of free newspapers, I couldn’t resist. My first reaction in observing them (and picking up on snippets of conversation) was: white old boys club, maybe high school education, read the Sun newspaper mainly to ogle the Sunshine Girl, vote Conservative, watch Fox news, listen to right wing radio talk shows, and think Donald Trump is the Second Coming. I wanted to be wrong.

I walked right over, sat down at their table and said, “Gentlemen, I’d like to join your table. I’m a storyteller and a writer. What’s the latest news?” A chill spread through the group. I had violated their sanctum sanctorum, but I just sat right down and introduced myself. There was a younger man with them that day, the only one among us who wasn’t retired.

They ducked out for a quick smoke break, and when they returned the fun began. The older man, who had retired from something when he was only forty-five, began a long rant on the glory that was Donald Trump and the horror that was Barack Obama. I had no idea, until I listened to his holy words, that Obama was responsible for every disaster from hurricanes to floods to the financial crisis that pre-dated his presidency. Nor had I realized the extent of the horrible scandals that Barack and Michelle hid away during their eight years in the White House.

The younger man tried to explain that the U.S. economy was on the upswing, like employment figures and growth expectations, but he just couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The older man was in that zone where, as my mother used to say, “Don’t confuse me with facts; my mind is made up!”

Now, our elder couldn’t name any legitimate sources for his research, but that didn’t stop him from believing in nonsense and passing it on. The earth is flat, and the sun revolves around us, and the planet is only 6000 years old. And I thought all the dinosaurs were extinct. My worst fears were confirmed. I came, I stereotyped, I was right.

As children we are taught to respect our elders. Their years on Earth have supposedly given them insights into life. They made all the mistakes that the passion of youth demands, learned from those mistakes, and grew in wisdom and vision. At least, that is what the best of our elders bring to their communities.

I have had the privilege ever the years, through my work in Outdoor Education, to work with some of those elders from the First Nations from Manitoulin Island,, Brantford Six Nations, Inuit hunters from Nunavut, and the Mississaugas of New Credit. During those times I developed an even deeper respect for their wisdoms and their stories. They have survived the lies of broken treaties, forced relocations, the residential schools – what doesn’t destroy your culture makes you stronger. However, their wisdoms were attained through Vision Quests in their youth and a life deeply in touch with natural systems. Not so in our society.

When I encounter elders like the ones I sat with briefly at the restaurant last week, it makes me fear for our future. The greatest danger facing humanity is not accelerating climate change, or a nuclear winter. It is the ignorance of the elders who may lead us there.

A long time ago I saw a poster of a very overweight man, sitting at an elegant table that was covered with crystal glasses and fine china. He was dressed in a fancy dinner jacket, sitting with hands holding a fork and knife raised over his plate.    But then I saw that on the plate in front of him was a steaming pile of manure. The caption underneath read: “Eat excrement. 10 million flies can’t be wrong.”  Choose your elders wisely.

Like young Anthony who, in busy line-up at a gas bar later that same morning, calmed down an impatient older man with the words: “Life is short – don’t rush it. We’re all going to get to the end sooner or later.” Now that is wisdom.

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

The Ignorance of the Elders, Part 2

Well, I must have touched a nerve. I walked into my local restaurant yesterday morning to pick up my son’s weekend treat breakfast sandwich, and was accosted by a very irate older man.

“Skid Crease,” he shouted.

I looked around, and there he was, holding a copy of the latest Caledon Citizen in which I had published an article titled The Ignorance of the Elders. “Yes?” I asked.

“You creep! You’re a stalker! You  whiny little b___h!” he shouted

Now keep in mind that I was in a line up, a young girl and her mother in front of me, more than a little shocked by this man’s outburst.

“You join our conversation and then jump up and leave the table like a whiny little b___h!” he shouted.” He stormed out of the restaurant with a final, “I’m going to call the cops. This isn’t over yet!”

Ah, it finally registered. This must be the man whose pontificating I had been shocked by several months before. I had been researching the rise of hate crimes and far right political thinking that had been encouraged in recent months by the rise of Trumpism in the U.S.A. I hadn’t expected to find it in my little town, but there it was alive and well and loud.

I had joined a table of older men, introduced myself by name as a storyteller and a writer, and asked if I could join their conversation. The conversation, it turned out, was more unsettling than I had anticipated, and I left the table with the words, “I’d like to stay, but if I listen to any more of this, I’m going to be sick.” That conversation later became the inspiration for the article.

On later visits to the restaurant I heard other members of the group, on three separate occasions, threaten that they would love to get Kathleen Wynne, Dalton McGuinty, and Justin Trudeau in their “crosshairs.” All of those threats I called into the local OPP. I was told they had freedom of speech, and if I hadn’t seen a weapon, there was nothing they could do. Incredible.

My wife is a Principal in an elementary school, and if a student even just verbally threatens another student, the police are called in. Not so when disturbed older men make death threats against our political leaders.

When I had approached one of the men after hearing him wanting to kill the Canadian Prime Minister, one man told me loudly to “F___ off!” and another taunted me with “You poor old pathetic f___ing piece of s__t.” Obviously the intelligence level of this exchange was going nowhere, so I left. I went home and called my friend Justin to tell him about the exchange and invite him to drop into my neighbourhood on his coffee shop tour of Ontario.

“Skiddy,” he replied, “if I had to worry about every disgruntled older man venting in coffee shops, I wouldn’t get much sleep.”  Such a wise man to be able to park all of this and carry on with classy calmness.

I let that one go, but after the last slanderous personal attack, calling me out by name and defaming my character in a public audience, I called in a full report to the OPP and submitted a full written report. The very professional young officer who handled the case, said he would put a “head’s up” flag on it and suggested that this was a case of miscommunication.

“Make sure you include ‘journalist’ along with ‘storyteller and writer’ the next time you do this kind of research,” he wisely cautioned.

Of course he was right, it’s part of my Canadian Press Code of Ethics. In my defense, I had never intended to do a news article on this event. It was only on later reflection and hearing the vehemence of the subsequent threats that I decided to write it. That and the horror of the Montreal mosque massacre, the perpetrator of which was inspired by Donald Trump’s Islamophobia.

From what I have seen since the misogyny and racism and lies of the Presidential campaign, to the first chaotic dysfunctional month of the new “so-called” President’s term, I am not encouraged. The New York City Police Department reported in January that there has been a 115% rise in hate crimes since the election of Donald Trump. It is as if his ascendency has given permission to the far right to take it from venting in the coffee shops and bars and Tweets, to take it to the streets. It’s like they’ve been given permission to hate openly. And the only defence against that is to call it out.

I feel like I’m back in the sixties again, marching for civil rights, and environmental security, and nuclear disarmament. Yes, indeed, once more into the breech dear friends, once more!

***

Skid Crease, Caledon

Fake News and “so-called” Climate Change

“Once more into the breech, dear friends. Once more.” William Shakespeare, Henry V

It seems like at least once a year my editor asks for an update on the accelerating climate change file. So once more we present the latest in scientific consensus from NASA, NOAA, the Hadley Centre for Climate Science and (the now un-muzzled) Environment Canada. This is NOT fake news.

2016 was the warmest year on record, month for month, of any year in the history of weather record keeping. Period. This is often hard to fathom if you are now digging out in the Maritimes from the Atlantic coast to the B.C. coast. Keep in mind, however, that we are but a tiny corner of this vast planet.

In Australia they are suffering through record heat waves. In India the temperatures are nudging 40ºC. The Arctic sea ice enters 2017 at a record low extent. The open warm waters of the oceans, and the open warm waters of the Great Lakes, when hit with a wave of cold Arctic air produce massive snowstorms.

So, shoveling all that snow this year was proof of accelerating climate change, just as obvious as cooking an egg on the sidewalks in Hay, New South Wales, Australia where the temperature reached 47.5ºC this week.

This is a time when the 97% of practicing, published and peer reviewed climate change scientists who agree that accelerating climate change is real news, need to be embraced by political and business leaders. This is when we need to come together as a planet to find ways to mitigate the impacts of this very real accelerating climate change.

That it was why it was so unsettling on the morning of February 18, 2017 to wake up to the news that the so-called President of the Disunited States of America had just confirmed the appointment of Scott Pruit as the new Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Remember that name and hope it doesn’t go down in infamy. Scott Pruit was the former Attorney General of the fossil fuel energy rich state of Oklahoma. As such, he sued the EPA 13 times by the last count for trying to regulate his energy lobbyists. The far right fundamentalist conservatives love him because he supports religious freedom (as long as you are white and Christian), is against gay marriage, women’s rights to choose, mortgage settlements, the Affordable Care Act, and environmental regulations.

One of his most memorable moves was to vote against the Clean Power and Water Act. And now, as Director of the EPA, he has vowed to gut the Environmental Regulations that it took thirty years and a lot of hard science to develop.

Keep in mind, Scott comes by these opinions easily. His campaigns are funded, after all, by the oil, gas, and coal industries based in Oklahoma. These include the big players like Kinder Morgan, the Koch brothers, Devon, and XTO (Exxon Mobil). There is also, to our chagrin, a big Canadian connection with enthusiastic support from our companies like Syncrude, Talisman Energy, Husky, and Suncor.

Scott Pruit is a climate change denier, although in the hearings to confirm his Directorship of the EPA he did state: “Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change. The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”

Sorry Scott, but to let the 3% of deniers and skeptics who disagree with the 97% of legitimate climate change scientists  get equal airtime is like letting Kevin O’Leary into the hen house. We know the fight is fixed, and the lobbying power of big business and industry can no longer be allowed to contaminate what is left of our clean air, water and soil.

Keep a very close eye on his proposed deregulations. Remember back to the days of Acid Rain? Back in the sixties and early seventies it was the big canary in the coal mine. The sulphuric acid laden clouds blowing north through the coal country of the Ohio valley was dropping its effluent on Ontario and Quebec with devastating effects on the Canadian Shield watersheds. Our ancient granite provided no buffering defense against the acid onslaught and we watched fish-rich lakes die. It took three decades of relentless environmental regulation and rehabilitation to bring them back to life.

Thanks to Silent Spring and the mass marches of the first Earth Days, we got the EPA’s Clean Air Act and the clouds of acid rain slowly abated. Now, Scott Pruit and his so-called president would like to roll that all back. Dig, drill, and burn baby, burn. If it’s good for business and industry and job creation it must be good. Wildlife and wild spaces be damned.

There is a very intelligent magazine published in the U.S. called Harpers. The most recent February 2017 issue contains an excellent article titled: “Trump – a Resister’s Guide” worth the price of admission alone.  But it also contains a single page, published every issue, called “Harper’s Index,” a collection of random statistics from real, legitimate sources.

When I used to do my conference presentations on environmental issues and resolutions, I took quotes from the Index to warm up the audience. The index is full of those marvelous trivia facts with which you can razzle and dazzle your friends at parties.

Here are a few that should be repeated:

% by which the global wildlife population has declined since 1970: 58%

Number of floors by which the Trump World Tower’s advertised height exceeds its actual height: 19

Rank of corrupt government officials among American’s greatest fears: 1

Rank of climate change among American’s greatest fears: 17

And to conclude, a sobering quote from the Nazi past to the  Trump present:

“If you tell a big lie and you tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Adolfus Hitler

****

Skid Crease, Caledon