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