Saturday, November 10, 2018

U.S. midterm results remind how amoral and immoral conservatives are ruining it for the rest of us

Meme of Maclean's cover this week
Like most liberals, I was hoping for a giant blue tsunami to wash over the United States in this week's midterm elections.  While the victory for the Democrats - taking a clear majority of seats in the House of Representatives - was strong, I wanted it to be bigger.  

I had hoped that the country would correct its horrific 2016 technical error - when its Electoral College handed victory to the Child currently occupying the White House - by sweeping the GOP aside everywhere it could this week.  But the enduring amorality/immorality of many conservatives got in the way of that.

I'm not saying that most conservatives are bigots.  It's just that most conservatives don't seem to mind bigotry much.  For them, a clearly bigoted candidate is not a deal breaker.

For them, tax cuts and deregulation of the economy are more important than basic human rights and true equality.  On tax cuts and managing the economy, I can't say I completely disagree with them.  Reasonable people can disagree on how high or low taxes should be, as they can also disagree on how much oversight private industries need in order for the public interest to be served.

But if a candidate is clearly a bigot living in a climate-change-denying dream world, reasonable conservatives should refuse to vote for them. 

You can't claim to oppose or be upset by the hate being spewed or the childish behaviour by your conservative candidate, yet vote for them anyway and not be considered at best amoral.

Talk is talk.  Action is action.

Republican elites in Florida and Georgia were clearly stacking the decks in their favour forcing unfair election ID laws and other nuisances that were designed to suppress ethnic minorities from voting.  It was clear that the GOP candidate for governor in Florida was quite comfortable flirting with racists and using racist terms to denigrate his African-American opponent.  I had hoped that this would mean defeat for these Republican sleazebags.   But in the face of these racist facts, most conservative voters just shrugged and voted Republican anyway.  

This amorality is not just limited to human rights issues.  

For most conservatives, it seems the short term profits of old-fashioned industries and a select rich few are way more important than the pending catastrophe of climate change.

Let me remind conservatives opposing any and all action to curb carbon emissions: you can't have an economy if you have no planet!

I can't for the life of me figure out how conservatives continue to refuse any action to effectively curb carbon emissions with the stakes so high.  It seems to go against what one might consider a fundamental conservative principle of preserving life.

For mindless ideologues like Doug Ford, this attitude is easy to understand.  Ford is an idiot.

But others like Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney, and Ted Cruz are clearly not idiots.  Yet a sleazy combination of amorality, conservative ideology, and electoral opportunism seems to be getting the better of them.

And the rest of us on this planet will suffer greatly.

Let's also face it - part of the reason these conservatives aren't doing anything on climate change is they know that the vast majority of people whose lives and neighbourhoods will first be destroyed by it are poor, vulnerable, non-white people living in low-lying regions.  As water levels rise and flood communities and destroy economies, it won't be the base of most western conservative communities that'll suffer at first.  They're safely nestled within the rural boonies of our countries.  For them, it's, "I'm alright, Jack, what's the wrong with you?"

Of course, not all conservatives are amoral or immoral hypocrites or idiots.   We do have some moderate, reasonable conservatives - like perhaps Toronto mayor John Tory and others - who don't tolerate bigotry, are as inclusive as they can be, and don't ignore facts.

Even former Reform Party leader Preston Manning, now freed from the bullshit of electoral politics, is coming down on the right side of history when it comes to climate change. 

Yet those kinds of conservative leaders seem to have been abandoned by the conservative base, who, as evidenced through their votes, much prefer these days rabid bigotry and simplistic messaging focused on short-term, selfish gain. 

Such conservatives, thankfully, in Canada are outnumbered by a progressive majority.  Only our First-Past-The-Post voting system, which can hand conservatives full majority power with only 30-40% of the vote, allows such conservative idiocy to still find power in our country.

But conservative power in America persists for now.  While progressive America seems to be the slight majority (made clear by the Democratic vote pluralities in every presidential election minus one since 1992), the right continues to steal elections.  The Child did it in 2016 thanks to the Electoral College, as did George W. Bush in 2000. 

But not for long, I hope (hence why Republicans continue to still fight against immigration.)  Demographics are changing there, as is voter turnout.  Soon Democrat support will be so high even exclusionary voting rules or the Electoral College won't be able to contain it.  Democrat victories this week are merely a prelude to future elections, I think. 

One very reasonable and moderate conservative Andrew Coyne seems to concur:  "As the exit polls show, (GOP voters are) overwhelmingly white, in a society in which whites are a steadily declining share of the population; rural, in a society that continues to urbanize; less educated, in a society that is growing more educated; religious, in a society that is rapidly secularizing.  And it leans heavily on the personality cult surrounding a man who is 72 years old." 

Change is slowly coming.  Bigotry cannot win forever as those who support it or tolerate it are already outnumbered.  We'll never change their minds but we can at least beat them at the polls.  We'll continue to suffer short-term setbacks, but the trend is clear and I remain cautiously optimistic. 

Thursday, November 1, 2018

What's scarier? A tiny of rump of ignored extremists, or an extremist majority government? Canada needs Proportional Representation!

Last week, I expressed alarm about the fact that 25,000 people voted for a known white nationalist in the Toronto mayoral election, representing 3.4% of the overall Toronto vote.

If a no-hope fringe candidate with a bit of money and media savvy could win that much support in Toronto, it was conceivable that similar percentages of voters in Canada could support white nationalist or other extremist parties in provincial or federal elections as well. 

Under our current First-Past-the-Post voting system, 3.4% wouldn't likely translate into any seats.  But under proportional representation (PR), they conceivably could.

Suddenly the idea of white supremacists gaining a foothold in Canadian legislatures became real to me and it scared me.

I've since recovered. Let me explain.

First, it's unlikely any proportional representation system we'd adopt in Canada would have a threshold as low as three per cent for representation.  Currently, British Columbia residents are voting on some PR proposals that would set 5.0% as that minimum threshold for seats. 

My post last week inspired a spirited debate with a progressive acquaintance who supports the Green Party who took issue with many of my points.  He reminded me that, while extremists have been able to gain footholds in some European parliaments from time to time, they have not been able to win much if any influence.  The bigger, mainstream parties have tended to shun the extremists.   It's likely our mainstream parties in Canada would do the same and instead form coalitions with more moderate parties.  The backlash against any mainstream party for jumping in bed with bigots would be too damaging to be worth it, as it is now.

One could easily expect that, even if extremists won a foothold with 5% of the vote in one election, they could easily slip below that threshold in subsequent elections.

Could such a tiny foothold one day grow much bigger as a result?  It's possible. But under PR, they'd only ever win the representation their votes deserve. 

But under First-Past-The-Post, the rise of an extremist party could be far more horrifying. 

Today, an extremist party could jump into the teens or even 20 percentage point range under First-Past-The-Post and win a lot of seats, particularly if it were mostly located in one region. 

Even more horrifying to conceive, if an extremist party got into the 30% vote range, they'd be capable of winning a majority government under First-Past-The-Post.  

I've found most First-Past-The-Post apologists to be fairly smug and arrogant about how stable things are under it.

We just saw a conservative party in Quebec, with an anti-immigrant agenda, win a big majority with only 37% of the vote, after all.  There, the Liberals, Parti Quebecois and Quebec Solidaire, all more friendly to immigrants, took a combined 58% support from Quebecers.   Yet that translated into only 40% of the seats. 

While I am disgusted by the idea of extremists winning toeholds in our legislatures under PR, I am more disgusted by the constant reality of parties with only minority support winning majority governments under First-Past-The-Post.

What's more scary?  Small parties winning rumps in the corner of our legislatures, exposing their members to scrutiny and possible scandal, all the while the mainstream parties shun them?  Or a far-right mainstream party, like the one headed today by Doug Ford, taking full control of our province now with only 40% of the vote?

Today, we have an idiot drunk on conservative ideology in charge of Ontario, claiming he's got a mandate to stop carbon taxes despite winning only 40% of the vote. 

Today, 54% of Ontarians say they're in favour of Justin Trudeau's carbon tax plan.  Yet, Dougie remains convinced he's got Ontario's support as he tries to undermine the best way to combat climate change and transform our economy for the modern era.

First-Past-The-Post distorts the wishes of all voters every time.

PR reflects those wishes, warts and all.

I'm prepared to live with the occasional wart as long as the giant mess that is First-Past-the-Post goes away.

If one party wins 40% of the vote, it should not win 60% of the seats.  It shouldn't win 55% of the seats.  It should win 40% of the seats.

Any system that would hand Donald Trump the presidency with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton is broken.   And First-Past-The-Post / Winner-Take-All frequently hands power to the vote loser. 

We are a democracy.   It's time our voting system actually reflect that.

As I mentioned, B.C. is holding its own mail-in referendum this month.   First-Past-The-Post is once again up against Proportional Representation. Voters are also being asked to select which PR system they'd like to move to should PR be supported by over 50%.

On that front, I hope that Dual Member Proportional wins.