Everything has changed in politics, since Trump. I should know.
In 1999 I was contracted to write speeches for Ontario Premier Mike Harris. A few years later, I was called up to work for Dalton McGuinty, a job I kept until 2012. I also worked in the last election in 2018. So, in total, I’ve written speeches for four Ontario Premiers: Harris, Eves, McGuinty and Wynne. Two Conservatives and two Liberals.
A lot of folks have asked me how I – a Liberal – could have worked for Conservatives. But it really wasn’t that hard. In politics, parties have usually agreed on the problems but differed on the solutions. The Harris government, for example, had a “Species at Risk” Program. It was a terrible solution, from my perspective, but they at least tried to solve an environmental problem. And most of them were pretty decent people.
For the last few decades, politicians have usually agreed that problems like homelessness, poverty and pollution need to be solved. Conservatives have tried to find market-driven solutions and Liberals usually develop government programs, but the starting point has been the same. That was how it has worked in the U.S., too – though the party divisions are a bit deeper.
Assault on truth
Then, a few years ago – just before Trump became President – something changed. Conservatives – who had once led the way on curbing acid rain and protecting the ozone – started saying that Climate Change was a “hoax.” Suddenly, you had one side trying to solve a problem, and the other side refusing to admit it was real. Same for poverty, and health care, and a host of other issues.
As U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said: “You’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” In the age of Trump, though, facts went out the window. Most notably when Trump’s spokesperson Kellyanne Conway said, in 2017, that the administration believed in “alternative facts.”
Since then, everything has changed.
In the last few years, we’ve seen Republicans deny facts. They denied COVID was a problem, and still do. They denied climate change exists, and still do. Instead, they have bought into a right-wing fantasy world spun by Fox News commentators and even bizarre conspiracy theories like “QAnon.”
The last four years have been a full-on assault, by Republicans, on truth itself. Politics in the U.S. has stopped being about different solutions. It’s one side living in a world where the climate isn’t warming, black men aren’t being shot by cops, where liberals are at once both weak “soyboys” but also ruthless enemies of America, where the election wasn’t lost, it was “stolen” and where violent insurrection is both the fault of some other group (Antifa) but also the work of patriotic “Real” Americans. A world where all that matters is having power, and punishing the other side.
There’s a word for all this, of course. The ideology that says the “other” needs to be destroyed, where only the leader has the truth and the “lying press” is “fake news” and where we need to go back to a simpler time – violently if necessary – because the nation has been corrupted by degenerates and muddied by other races and sexual deviants. That ideology no longer occupies the White House, but time will tell if Republicans can cut the cancer out of their own party. If they can get back to agreeing on problems but differing on solutions, or whether they’ll continue to spin a mythology of “alternative facts.”
If not, history tells us the next few decades are going to be very dark indeed.