Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Don't Count Your Hope and Change Before They're Hatched

I suppose I'm glad that Justin Trudeau won the Canadian elections, but I'm wary of the celebratory response his victory has been getting among liberals, both in Canada and in the US.  I don't know much about Trudeau, but I'm not really talking about him anyway.  I'm talking about liberal reaction to him, which I think bears a very uncomfortable resemblance to the liberal reaction to the election of Barack Obama, of Pope Francis, and to the campaign of Bernie Sanders.  I could add the election of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, the election of Bill DeBlasio as Mayor of New York, and others.

I guess what I think is that the celebration is premature.  Trudeau's Canadian supporters, those who worked in his campaign to get him elected, are entitled to cheer before buckling down to the hard work ahead; we outside of Canada, mere spectators, aren't.  Even if Trudeau doesn't reveal himself to be the kind of corrupt hack that Obama turned out to be, even or especially if Trudeau really means to make a decisive break with his right-wing predecessor Stephen Harper and has some idea of how to do it, he's going to face strong opposition every step of the way.  Liberals love to fantasize that their heroes will be assassinated, for some reason, but I'm not talking about that possibility; I'm talking about hysterical smear campaigns, massive amounts of corporate money from within and without Canada poured into funding his opponents, and attempts to block his every move.  Those attempts may come from unexpected quarters.  Think of the pressure exerted on Greece after Syriza was voted in, defying the Eurobankers: they caved in almost before they took office.  Or think of this poignant bit about South Korea from Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine (Holt, 2007, page 270):
[T]he end of the IMF negotiations coincided with scheduled presidential elections in which two of the candidates were running on anti-IMF platforms. In an extraordinary act of interference with a sovereign nation’s political process, the IMF refused to release the money until it had commitments from all four candidates that they would stick to new rules if they won. With the country effectively held at ransom, the IMF was triumphant: each candidate pledged his support in writing. Never before had the central Chicago School mission to protect economic matters from the reach of democracy been more explicit: you can vote, South Koreans were told, but your vote can have no bearing on the managing and organization of the economy. (The day the deal was signed was instantly dubbed Korea’s “National Humiliation Day.”)
It's not news, to anyone who pays attention, that most citizens of most countries want more economic equality, more social services, less war.  But political and business elites don't want those things, and are very effective at blocking their implementation.  The mass media reflect the views of those elites, so it's not necessarily a deliberate conspiracy that they tend to go into attack mode when anyone to the left of Ronald Reagan is elected to high office: they're just doing what comes naturally, as anyone else would do.  It's common to hear liberals complaining that American voters often seem to vote against their interests, less common to hear the same liberals complaining that they themselves rely on corporate media for most of their news, though corporate media do not reflect liberals' interests -- at least, as they claim to see their interests.  There's no reason why corporate media shouldn't report from the point of view of the investor class; there is plenty of reason why non-investors should look elsewhere for information about the world.

I've written before that Barack Obama has done more damage to the dogma of the vital importance and effectiveness of voting than any other American politician since Lyndon Baines Johnson.  What's the use of "voting the rascals out" if there are only rascals available to be voted in to replace the old rascals?  So far I haven't noticed any of my liberal friends crowing that Trudeau's victory vindicates the importance of voting, though I'm sure they will start soon.  But as I say, it's too early to declare victory now: the struggle in Canada is just beginning with Trudeau's election.  I would be delighted if my pessimism is proven wrong by events, but history is on my pessimism's side.  At the very least, let's not ignore the pressures that will be brought to bear on Canada's new PM, and save the celebration until he actually succeeds in facing them down and defeating them.