By Elsbeth Heaman
In September 2016 I published at Active History an argument that the 2016 election in the United States was shaping up like the 1911 election in Canada. The previous elections had seen a diversity candidate (Catholic and French in Canada, Black in America) win the highest office. But instead of inaugurating a new and more equitable political life, the consequence was electoral repudiation of the progressivism and partyism that delivered such results, and a turn towards plutocrats who promised effective business-like governance.
Of course, the real interest in the piece, as in the book manuscript I had just completed, wasn’t what happened in 1911 but what happened at the next election in 1917, namely, the most racially polarizing campaign in Canadian history. The plutocrats couldn’t run on their record because they had too spectacularly enriched themselves—and had too obviously continued to do so amidst a global catastrophe, the First World War—that seemed to require better things. So they campaigned on racism. The dog-whistle was dropped and racism, along with voter suppression and a host of other nasty tricks, became the core of the Conservative government’s campaign. They claimed to repudiate “party” and embrace “union,” but this was party politics rebranded and intensified.
“Good luck in 2020 guys,” I was warning Americans, should they elect Donald Trump.
My forecasting was dismayingly accurate. I didn’t predict either the pandemic or the economic collapse of 2020, of course, but the more predictable pattern of plutocracy and racism was confirmed. And plutocratic rule does tend to have catastrophic consequences.
Of course one can only carry the parallels so far: Robert Borden was no Donald Trump. Continue reading