Some Completely Fair Questions About Normalizing Extremist Rhetoric in Canada

By Josh Lieblein

Now that the electorate has rendered an overwhelming verdict of “meh” on Faith Goldy and her fairly desperate attempts to inject white-nationalist flavoured fervour into an otherwise crashingly boring mayoral campaign, we can finally talk about her without being accused of “normalizing” her and her rhetoric — hopefully.

Although Goldy wasn’t the first semi-mainstream candidate to play this social-media daily shitstorming game, and will definitely not be the last, commentators and media had almost no idea how to deal with her. Everyone seemed so afraid of giving her the oxygen that she obviously craved that they started reflexively pretending she wasn’t even there, creating a painfully obvious and rather awkward media blackout that she ruthlessly exploited for even more attention. When Bell refused to run her ad, and their rivals at Rogers had the clever idea of agreeing to run them only to be shamed into changing their minds, Faith played those obvious screw-ups for sympathy, too.

When people did talk about her, they either: hurled abuse at her, using ridiculous epithets like “The Woman” instead of her name; fretted about whether it was a good idea to ignore her without really talking about what we should be doing instead; condemned her and told other conservatives not to support her, which led to accusations of “intellectual and moral complacency; argued in a manner most unconvincing that she didn’t deserve the derision and anger that her intentionally and deliberately divisive campaign was generating; rolled their eyes at the entire proceedings (this was my chosen option); or attempted an actual sunlight-is-the-best-disinfectant sit-down interview, which triggered a minor backlash over how this “normalized” her.

Finally, after some months of this stupidity, the definitive guide on how to cover Faith emerged. Some followed it, others did not, and she wound up with 3.4 per cent of the vote, leaving it unclear as to whether anything anyone did, herself included, helped or hurt her mayoral bid. While the official guide is helpful, it leaves several questions unanswered — questions that will probably go unanswered because of our collective fearful refusal to solve the problem of how to engage with characters like Faith. We don’t understand how, or if, a campaign like hers can actually succeed in Canada, and in many cases it seems like we don’t want to fully understand it.

Meanwhile, the people who think she poses no harm continue to insist they are right, and the people who think that she is a clear and present danger continue to insist they are right, while Kevin J. Johnston, one of her fellow travelers, gets 13 per cent of the vote in Mississauga because everyone had their eye on the Faith Goldy ball and nobody was watching him.

If we are going to have a serious discussion about unacceptable candidates and unacceptable rhetoric, and what should and shouldn’t be normalized, we absolutely need to have a clear definition of terms.

Who should not be “normalized”?

Okay, we have a guide on how to cover Faith Goldy. Does the same guide apply to Kevin J Johnston? How about when the person is a politician like Maxime Bernier? When does Patrick Brown become someone not worthy of coverage? What about Doug Ford? What if an entire news outlet, like the Toronto Sun, is taking an editorial direction that tends towards views that should not be “normalized”? Can someone from the left get on this list, like when Ontario NDP Opposition Leader Andrea Horwath said that we should “keep our foot on the neck of Doug Ford“?

What is the threshold for behaviour that should not be “normalized”?

Does simply saying something controversial exclude someone from polite society? Does it matter whether someone is an avowed Nazi, or a white nationalist, or a nationalist more broadly? Does associating with one of these people amount to “normalizing” them? Are we required to shun these people in public? Are we required to shun the people who defend or cover them, even if they are just doing their job as lawyers or journalists by doing so?

What does “normalizing” mean?

If you hold the view (as some do) that Canada is a settler-colonial state built on stolen land, then isn’t racism already “normalized”? Does talking about “normalizing” hateful views presume some ideal that is being violated by these views? Does talking about historical expressions of racism, like those in To Kill A Mockingbird, amount to normalizing racism? How do you track “normalization” of hateful views? Are hateful views more or less “normalized” as a result of Faith’s campaign?

What if people come from a culture where the “wrong” views are already “normalized”?

In America, commentators like Ben Shapiro operate within the bounds of acceptable discourse, while up here, he’d likely be put into the same category as Faith. We’ve also seen instances of religious leaders from abroad censured for their hateful views in Canada. But we also know that implementing any kind of “values” test for immigrants is in and of itself a proposition that cannot be “normalized”, while at the same time Steve Bannon should be uninvited from appearing at the Munk Debates.

Finally, what should the penalty be for “normalizing” the wrong views?

If a person like Faith is repeatedly unrepentant in the face of public shaming, what should be done? Can, or should, anything else be done? What if someone goes overboard in publicly shaming someone who espouses views that should not be normalized, such as when Lauren Southern had urine thrown on her or when hot coffee was thrown at protestors protesting Marissa Shen’s murder of Faith was spit on? Is that going overboard? Who decides?

Answering these questions is important because they all centre around gaps or inconsistencies that candidates like Faith can and will exploit. Failing to deal with these issues will also contribute to cynicism on both sides that the other side is acting in bad faith, and that is something that cannot be “normalized” if our discourse is to improve.

 

 

 

Leave a Reply