05 April 2016

Us and them #nlpoli

This is the story of two politicians.

One is a successful business man with major land developments in the works.  He got into politics to defend his people against foreigners out to exploit them. With a quick temper, a tendency to just make stuff up, and hair from the 1970s, the politician loves to attack the news media and liberals for undermining him in his selfless efforts on behalf of his people.

The other politician is Donald Trump

This is the story of two different reactions from the same people to those two politicians, as well.  Since Christmas,  it’s been fascinating to watch people locally attacking Donald Trump for all sorts of reasons. More often than not the folks hating The Donald are folks who loved up The Danny.

Take Bill Westcott, for example.  He’s no relation to Craig.  In fact,   The Danny freaked out when the Liberals hired Craig in 2010 and right on cue, Bill freaked, too. Craig had no business criticising The Danny and his legion of supporters:  right because he was popular and popular because he was right after all.

But Bill Westcott – no relation to Craig – has no time for American presidential candidate Donald Trump.  ‘Truly repulsive”  Bill called him in a recent letter to the Telegram.  “Trump encapsulates all the worst qualities of a politician. He should stick to his endless area of operation, namely huge business and backroom deals.”

Bill Westcott never did say why he finds The Donald so reprehensible.  He did go on at great length once to show how much Williams was like Obama.  Williams was a great scholar, according to Bill W.  The whole thing was much in the style of that video someone produced of folks mouthing the words to a Danny speech as Danny’s voice boomed out. 

Truth was there was no more similarity between the Danny-worship video and the one someone had done for Obama.  Just like there wasn’t really anything to tie Williams and Obama at all.  It was no more about the actual Barack Obama than Bill W’s scholar.  The whole thing was just stuff Williams made up:  Williams actually claimed that Obama was following Williams’ economic recovery strategy at one point.

Making stuff up.

Not a big Obama trait.

A very big Donald Trump thing, though.

And a Danny Williams thing. Big time.

Ottawa stealing our offshore royalties.  Stephen Harper threatened the province, didn’t deliver his promise on Equalization.  “Quebec” constantly trying to screw “us” over.

All made up.

Grandiose claims of success. especially when the comparison stroked his own ego.  Made him out to be the greatest at whatever.  Accountability.  Openness in government.  Job creator. Financial manager.
Greatest.  Ever.  Anywhere.

Very much a Trump thing and, very much a Danny thing, too.

The media are out to get him.

Not an Obama thing at all, but very much a Trump thing.

And certainly one of Danny’s favourite talking points.  He loved to complain about how hard it was to live in a fishbowl, with people constantly asking questions about things that no one cared about. Brave fellow that he is, though Williams soldiered on for the good of everyone else.  Williams also liked to lash out at the news media in his fall speeches to a Tory fundraiser or at the party convention.

Nowhere though, is the comparison between Trump and Williams stronger than in the way both used the simple construction of a besieged group – the “us” – who are struggling against the vast conspiracy of people  - “them”  - looking to take advantage of “us” or attack “us.” 

And the only thing between “us” and “them” is the politician,  Trump or Williams as appropriate.    The “us” versus “them” frame is a key element of what some would call a populist, nativist campaign.

Nativism – advancing the interest of established inhabitants compared to newcomers – is at the heart of Trump’s appeal. Nativism was also a key element of Williams’ message.

The idea turned up repeatedly whenever it came to talk of jobs in the province.  A labour shortage was a chance for all the ex-pats to come back,  the homing pigeons could return.  It didn’t matter whether we ere talking about a junket to Fort MacMurray or the release of a report on how demographics would leave us needing to fill 70,000.  “Us”  was always preferable to “them”.  Never as naked as in Trump’s rhetoric but unmistakable nativism nonetheless.

That’s the thing about Newfoundland nationalism,  the folks Williams liked to dog-whistle to whenever the chance came up.  They are very much a group of “us”,  clustered largely on the eastern end of the island.  They are worried about “them.”  Williams once said the government needed to build up a large war chest for the next time the federal government came to get us. 

Williams also said that “we” can’t be a dying race, a phrase as spectacularly out of place in any public discussion these days, made all the more conspicuous by the speed with which so many people refused to discuss it  “We” all knew what he meant, according to some.  “We” certainly did, as one local freelance writer and staunch Williams supporter put it:
Anyone who is offended by terming the majority of people here a "race" certainly needs to be educated on their culture and history.
The culture and history that fellow was talking about certainly didn’t include Innu and Inuit people, for example. They aren’t part of the race aggrieved in Confederation, or in the offshore, or in the numerous other ways Ottawa has stolen “our” resources and given them away. Indeed, those grievances,  the ones of Labradorians, for example,  have to wait until later.  “Stop your more for me please rants” as the Conservative 2007 campaign song told them. And as the Conservatives told the province, the Liberal idea of pledging to spend a mere $100 million a year in Labrador on development ran the risk of bankrupting the province.

It is truly bizarre to see people talking about Newfoundland nationalism – as decidedly and exclusively white as could be – and seriously ponder how such a philosophy could be made to include non-white folks in it.  Bizarre, yes,  but the core of a recent talk at Memorial University about Newfoundland “nationalism” if an account of the talk is accurate.

And for those who disagree with “us”, there is a word for them: traitor.  The word became popular during Williams’ reign as  Geoff Meeker once documented.  At the forefront of the quisling-hunters was none other than Bill Westcott, as Meeker noted. 

These ideas – nativism,  us versus them,  ethnocentricity – all go together.  They were obvious to some people at the time these ideas were supreme in local politics just as they are obvious in American politics these days.. People in Newfoundland and Labrador who  are “educated on their culture and history” don't see the ideas they accept as being odd, strange, or anything other than good and right and positive.

In looking at Americans who believe very similar things,  these Newfoundlanders may well not appreciate that the Americans who rally behind The Donald believe they are as hard-done-by as the Newfoundlanders who rallied behind The Danny. They are just as right and just as wrong. 

Right and wrong isn’t really even part of it. We should just note the similarities in the two sets of beliefs. Those similarities are something that these folks would likely find very hard to accept, mostly because it is not how they see themselves.

But if you look at these things from the outside,  you may well find there are more similarities than differences in groups that practice the politics of us and then.