Many of us on the left can’t seem to wrap our minds around our friends on what we would call the ‘crazy right’, the Trumpian banner being carried here in Canada by Kellie Leitch. As recent reports have shown, Dr. Leitch doesn’t even necessarily hold the beliefs that she is proposing in her run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, but is instead making propositions based on what she perceives a certain group of people want. It’s distinguished, however, from simple populism because what the people want is not specific policy, or even good ideas.
In the 21st Century, people want a performance.
It’s not actually about facts then, or even ideas. Donald Trump has never been about facts, about thoughtful policy, about ideas. Instead he performed a certain role, a role granted to him over the past number of decades, and in particular, through his recent Apprentice shows. This character captured the hearts of a certain group of people, and for a variety of reasons. What the reasons are is beyond the scope of this post. My point, in short, is that for many on the right it is about performance and nothing more.
Those of us who think about the world in terms of facts, ideas and hard science have a hard time even speaking the same language as a performer, let alone can sway people looking for a performance. How can you “perform” the fact that our climate is changing in a negative way, and we are the ones doing it? That’s not a compelling narrative. Now global warming being invented by the Chinese to steal American jobs? That’s fun! It’s compelling, if not a little silly. But it sounds great on TV and makes for a great sound bite, just like the inevitable “You’re Fired!” was heard in millions of households during the long run of Apprentice reality shows.
There has been a push in recent years to move people towards the Sciences, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics careers. Yet somewhere along the way we have neglected to include the importance of the arts in the development of society, and the role that reading, writing, painting and theatre, among the many different arts, have had in moving and shaping the political world. Some places have begun to shift their thinking, moving towards an education in STEAM, where the A stands for the Arts. Here in Kitchener, the new 44 Gaukel building has recently been outfitted as an Arts and Technology Space, with mentorship opportunities for people working at the intersection of arts and tech. As we continue to see many of our political conversations move from discussions about facts, ideas, policies and science to performance art, those of us on the left are going to have to get a whole lot more creative in how we tell our stories.
In the age of politics as performance, this young conservative taking over Facebook, Tomi Lahren, who reminds me a lot of Canada’s own Ezra Levant, sums it up this way in her discussion with the BBC.