I have a confession to make. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon in November, a friend and I bicycled over to the Legislature grounds in Edmonton to attend an anti-carbon tax rally organized by Ezra Levant, the “Rebel Commander” of the Calgary-based right-wing news and advocacy website Rebel Media. We were in a jolly mood, cracking wise about how we had minimized our carbon footprint to attend the pro-carbon protest.
Hovering near the back of the crowd, we listened to Ezra and a couple of other speakers fulminate against NDP Premier Rachel Notley and her government’s new carbon tax. As at all political rallies, the speakers did their best to nail their applause lines and the audience responded to their cues with ritual claps and cheers.
After one of the speakers hurled a particularly sharp piece of invective at Notley and her tax, I yelled what seemed to me an obvious and funny response: “lock her up!”
A handful of people within earshot turned and laughed, then went back to the speeches. My friend and I soon tired of the repetitive rhetoric, retrieved our bikes, and pedaled off to a pleasant ride through Edmonton’s river valley.
We were long gone by the time federal Conservative leadership candidate Chris Alexander took the podium and said something that prompted the audience to collectively chant “lock her up” for about 20 seconds. Alexander reportedly seemed amused by the crowd’s ironic mimicry of a Donald Trump rally.
Alas, there was a humorless Canadian Press reporter in the audience: the resulting story, which torqued the joke into a grotesque pantomime of misogyny, was picked up by media and columnists across the country. Alexander was badgered into reproaching his audience. Condemnations were subsequently issued by provincial conservatives including Jason Kenney and Brian Jean.
The mobbing went on for days. I was tempted to tell my story at the time, but I’ve been the target of politically correct pile-ons before and they’re not pleasant, so I holstered my pen and let poor Alexander take the rap.
The story was revived yet again this month in an Edmonton Journal article headlined, “In the face of ‘lock her up’ chants, how should a politician deal with prejudice?” The piece was predicated on the idea that the election of Donald Trump has unleashed an awful wave of racism and sexism because of some of the beastly things he said about Muslims, women and Mexicans during his campaign for the presidency. Local exhibit A, naturally, was the “lock her up” chant at the Alberta Legislature rally. The story quoted a pair of American social scientists and President Barack Obama bemoaning the terrible psychological impact of Trumpism, which apparently releases a raging inner Neanderthal from the sub-conscious of otherwise rational and well-behaved modern humans.
Despite my shockingly primitive behaviour at the rally, I don’t even like Donald Trump. I think he’s a liar, a cynic, and a blowhard, and the farthest thing from a principled conservative. I fear he’s going to hand eastern Europe to Vladimir Putin, incite even worse Islamist terrorism, and trigger hyper-inflation with a deadly combination of protectionism and borrowing for military and infrastructure spending.
I don’t know if my solo shout at the rally actually planted the seed that sprouted into the full blown chant during Alexander’s speech. But either way, I’m not going to apologize for it. It was a joke, and it got a laugh from people who can recognize and appreciate irony.
The reporter who didn’t get it (or chose not to in order to produce a three-alarm story about Trumpian barbarism arriving in Canada), and all the others who picked up the angle and ran with it, were strangely silent last weekend when a real hateful incident occurred at another rally at the Legislature.
One of many gatherings across North America and around the world to protest Trump’s inauguration as president, the “Sister March” attracted a couple thousand demonstrators including local NDP MP Linda Duncan, who exhorted the crowd “to be angry”. A young male protestor took her up on it and punched a female Rebel Media reporter who was covering the event in the face.
You might expect an assault on a woman, by a man, at a women’s rights event, to provoke some outrage and quite a bit of media coverage. Instead, female organizers moved in quickly to hustle the assailant away, and the media – including Canadian Press which had a photojournalist at the rally who took pictures of the melee – initially ignored it before running a few stories doubting the video evidence with words like “alleged” and “appeared”.
What’s really misogynist, chanting “lock her up” as a joke, or punching a woman in the face? And which is the bigger story? The answers to both questions seem obvious to me, but Trump haters and some in the media apparently view the world through a very different lens.
They are so terrified of what he might do to a whole herd of their most sacred cows, including abortion, climate change, and socialized healthcare, their moral compass has spun out of control. As a result, there will likely be more incidents like the assault at the Legislature rally and the recent livestreamed beating and torture of a mentally handicapped man in Chicago by four people motivated by Trump-hate.
In the stump speech Jason Kenney gives during his campaign to win the leadership of Alberta’s old Progressive Conservative party and merge it with the Wildrose party to create a single conservative party to defeat the Notley NDP government, he urges supporters to take the high road, practice rhetorical restraint and moderation, and not attack the premier personally. He’s right. Although people have plenty of reasons to be angry about what progressive governments are doing, and might be tempted by Trump’s success to emulate his outrageousness, they should stay cool. Canada is not the U.S., and the Trump presidency may well implode. In the meantime, the worse the left behaves, the better the right looks to legions of centrist voters.
So you won’t hear me shouting “lock her up” at any more political rallies, or even in Alberta movie theatres where audiences have been lustily booing carbon tax ads from the NDP government. But quietly, despite my yuge misgivings about Trump, I will be admiring his fearlessness in taking on the prosecutors of political correctness. He has already created more space for freer debate, and that is a profoundly good and necessary thing. Whatever awful behaviour it provokes from the left, if President Trump succeeds in lifting the taboos that suffocate open debate about so much in our culture, the result will be a freer and healthier democracy where, among other things, you can make an ironic joke at a political rally and everybody will get it, even if some don’t like it.