Most of us went through the period when it seemed like some of the lurking demons of humanity had finally been wrestled to the ground through activism, legislative victories, and a growing sense that the world might finally be working towards a more democratic future.??The signs were everywhere – human rights, women’s rights, voting rights, etc.??We grew blinded to the reality that it was the Right itself that was actually on the ascendancy.
This isn’t new information, but witnessing the rolling back of previous victories hasn’t just left the progressive movement, but societies in general, confused and worried about the growing tensions in affluent nations. The victories mentioned above were just presumed to be permanent and secure.???It used to be that the concerns were over places in the developing world that experienced ongoing battles to overcome authoritarian tendencies; now those same concerns are being felt in America, Europe, and to a lesser degree, Canada.
The epicentre of the emerging right-wing authoritarian tendencies is firmly planted in America itself.??This is not a political statement, or a partisan jab.??Regardless of which portion of the political spectrum one adheres to, there has always been a willingness to respect legal decisions, even ones that had been fought viciously in the courts of both law and public opinion.
But in the United States we are witnessing a growing conservative movement that is increasingly bent on defying the law or just ignoring it altogether.??The Trump White House is perhaps the clearest example of this trend, but it is emerging throughout the entire nation.??It’s why no one can recognize the present Republican Party any more.??As Andrew Cohen cogently observed in the Ottawa Citizen months back:
“Ignoring law and judicial precedent is becoming a new normal. The view among rejectionists is if you don’t like it, challenge it, and hope a different court will overturn it. That this could happen to Roe v. Wade reflects the advancing conservatism here, which is playing out in the presidency, Congress and the courts. More and more, it seems that progressives lose more than they win.”
There is a subtle movement of similar goals working its way through Canada as well, as the conservative movement has largely dominated provincial governments and portions of it openly speak of reversing abortion laws or defying the rights of the planet to emerge out from under the carbon-induced fanaticism of modern life.
Undermining the political process seems to be the only way some more radical conservatives can see any way ahead. – if the courts are containing their tendencies, then they are willing to either defy law or subtly alter it back to the past.??The goal is to defy recent history and in the process be willing to risk that the demons of a longer history can be contained.??It’s a gamble unlikely to work, as racism, antisemitism, inequality towards women, ethnic groups and the poor, and the reintroduction of hatred as acceptable motivation, escape their cages and forage through democratic constituencies.
Most assumed that legal decisions that had been arrived at over much struggle would remain and guide modern societies on the path forward, but we are discovering that politics isn’t just the power to enact legislation but to undo or ignore it as well.
It would be correct to say that the majority of conservative minded individuals don’t condone the disruptive efforts and outcomes of their more extreme elements, but they don’t really oppose them either.??The same can be said of the moderate Left.??They have permitted those of their number supporting more extreme identity politics to occasionally overwhelm the political process in ways that make compromise and collaboration among parties impossible.
What results is political dysfunction leading to democratic decline.??It leaves moderates in all parties frequently out in the cold and unwilling to endure the demeaning chaos that inevitably results when they attempt to steer their respective parties towards a more balanced and collaborative outlook.??It also leads to the unwillingness of well-qualified and experienced candidates to run for political office.
What we thought was history is history no more, but forces unleashed into our present life that destabilize our cultural, social and political hegemony.??The secret to stability in these areas has always been the willingness to compromise in our tensions with one another, and that when laws are written to protect such victories, it is duly respected.??That is a pattern still followed in Canada, but it is fraying at the edges as more radical forces, this time from the Right, seek to destabilize our legal victories and practices.
The forces of modern authoritarianism, global capital, and climate change are more than enough to challenge us without having to fight against the re-emerging forces of our darker history.??It has been a brutal lesson learned at great expense on our human journey – history unlearned becomes a civilization undone.