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#MeanwhileInCanada: The masks are coming off

Running on empty, with nothing left in me but doubt
I picked up a pen
And I wrote my way out

So… things are fucked.

Limping towards the second anniversary of pandemic life we had to go and toss in a literal insurrection in the nation’s capital, apparently?

You’re not here for the breaking news, obviously. So let’s assume you know what I’m talking about or are proficient enough with the Google Machine to figure it out. Things are fucked, things don’t seem to be on a trajectory to get unfucked any time soon, and everyone I know seems to be spiraling between rage and dejection; disbelief and resignation.

And the anger. Jesus, the anger. With no shortage of reasonable targets for it, the rage flows forth from the fingers of a million tweeters. Anger at the police who are either complicit, incompetent or both. Anger at the leaders who embolden. Anger at the leaders who condemn with hollow gestures. Anger at the fascists behind the uprising and anger at the useful idiots who swell their ranks.

Then there’s what follows in the wake. The fear. The uncertainty. And for me, at least, the sense of powerlessness. I’m running on empty and left only with doubt. How can we ever have faith again in the institutions ostensibly tasked with keeping us safe? How can we ever have faith in what we’re supposed to be?

That is, of course, the point.

We’re here by design

Smarter folks than me have noted that that the FUD is the feature, not a bug. This was never about mask mandates or vaccine passports anymore than January 6 was about election fraud. And while there’s compelling evidence that this is part of an astroturf movement “funded by a global network of highly organised far-right groups and amplified by Facebook’s misinformation machine” I worry that view perhaps lets us off the hook for the domestic machinations that got us here too.

I’ve worried for a long time about how casually we accept attacks on the integrity of our democratic institutions in this country: The almost universal acceptance that taxes are bad and amount to theft by governments instead of seeing them as investments in our social fabric; the t-shirts and bumper stickers and lazy punchlines about all politicians being crooks.

It’s been an assault on many fronts. We have political parties that build entire platforms on government being bad. We have commentators that argue thugs and fascists deserve a voice in the halls of Parliament – the inevitable byproduct of the bothsidesism that seems to dominate media narratives.

These things aren’t uniquely Canadian, mind, but it seems that the impact of them has been compounded by the naive belief that Canada is somehow immune from the worst of what we’ve seen in other countries. The dangerous myth of Canadian politeness has become a belief in some vague Canadian exceptionalism.

Meme’ing our way to insurrection

So assured we were of our immunity from and superiority to alt-right fanaticism we’ve turned #MeanwhileInCanada memes into defacto government policy. We’ve allowed public establishments to be eroded in the name of austerity. We’ve allowed vacuous and unserious leaders to build cults of personality that masquerade as political parties then we’ve rewarded them with power because we don’t really believe governments matter much anyway and because we’re Canada, bad stuff doesn’t happen here. We’re too nice!

As journalist Matt Gurney so aptly put it on Twitter, “the Canadian political class is weak and naive. The entire purpose of it is dividing up the spoils in a country that is considered to be rich, stable and peaceful as just the natural, unwavering order of things. It’s not. Our leaders and whole governments are clueless.”

It’s why even now, three weeks into a literal occupation of the streets of the nation’s capital, people are still out there tweeting things like “this isn’t my Canada.”

Yes, it fucking is your Canada. And no heartwarming story about firefighters rescuing a moose that fell through the ice is going to change that. 

So what now?

Which brings us back to where this started. We’re angry. We’re scared. We feel powerless. In part because there are roving bands of self-deputized vigilantes infesting Ottawa but in equal measure, I think, because the very myth of Canadian niceness has been shattered. Middle class white folk like me have had no choice but to face up to the reality that our POC and marginalized pals have been trying show us for years.

Our leaders have failed us. Our institutions have failed us. And a subset of our neighbours, fringe minority though they may be, are cheering their demise. Step one is clearing the streets, yes, but steps two through 𝑥 are going to be even harder.

We need new leaders. Leaders who can rebuild not just our institutions but our collective faith in them at the same time. Leaders who lead, not pander, even when that means telling us things we don’t want to hear. Leaders who see, think and act with a eye to a future far beyond the next trip to the ballot box. Leaders who realize there’s more to lose than an election and act in a way that shows respect for their office as well as their electorate.

Conventional wisdom has said those leaders are unelectable. But conventional wisdom is what got us to this point.

The mask is off now. It’s been torn from our face by the angry hordes and it’s not coming back.

So fuck it. Let’s dream big.

Published inThe state of things
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