Canadians Fall For Trump Trap

It doesn't help much to criticize Donald Trump. The best way to counteract him would be to ignore him, but he is frustratingly un-ignorable.

Trump, who blurs the line between reality TV and reality, will continue not to be ignored by media on both sides of the border at least until the Republican nomination convention in July and most likely until the presidential election in November. And if Jeb Bush was wrong when he told Trump, "You're not gonna be able to insult your way to the presidency," the orangish billionaire will be in our faces for much longer.

And let's be honest; many of us in this land of political sunshine look upon the American low pressure system now centred over Trump Towers with a mix of open horror and secret satisfaction. Self-satisfaction.

A part of our otherwise polite Canadian hearts loves to hate Donald Trump, the loud, self-obsessed and infuriatingly successful embodiment of much of what irks us about our big brother to the south. As Trump gives his supporters permission to express their darker sentiments, he lures us with the same opportunity.

While some Canadians support Trump, a larger number of us would either like to see him get miraculously uprooted by Republican contender John Kasich ("I will not take the low road to the highest office.") or trounced by Hillary Clinton ("When we hear [Trump] call for rounding up 12 million immigrants . . . that doesn't make him strong, it makes him wrong"). Or perhaps we would like to see Trump replace Kevin Spacey, I mean Barack Obama, in the White House and then watch Trump Nation fail. It would be good for the Canadian psyche. We could incredulously question why Americans fall for him.

But if we ask that question non-rhetorically and open-mindedly, as we should, we might find the answer disturbingly close to home.

Trump's game is polarization. He draws simplistic lines and lobs enmity over them. He and his supporters look down on his ever-expanding list of losers, weaklings and haters. We in turn look down on Trump and his people. We look with disdain upon their disdain. We insult their insulting ways. In so doing we do not counteract the Trump phenomenon, we play along.

Trump builds himself up by putting others down. His detractors tend to do the same.

I'm not saying that a slightly smug news item about prospective "Trump refugees" pining for Canada is as polarizing as a presidential candidate declaring that "a lot" of the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world are enemies of the U.S. I'm not equating the two. I am however saying that you can't fight polarization with polarization. You can't fight it at all. Blindly lobbing criticism back at him only increases the net amount of animosity.

Polarization in various forms corrodes our world. Tensions naturally exist between ethnic groups, nations, religions, "classes," and subsets of American Republicans. The temptation is to fuel the tensions rather than work through them. Many political figures seek to exploit fear of the other--whether Muslims or Trump supporters--to serve their ends. They harness people's varied resentments against a common scapegoat.

The only way to counter such polarization is to adopt an open posture toward those we would rather decry. To adapt a line Justin Trudeau used on election night in relation to Conservatives, Trump supporters are not our enemies, they're our neighbours.

To adapt a line from Stephen Harper on that same night, "the voters are never wrong." Though a collection of "x"s is an imperfect means of communication, there is something essential that voters express.

Trump supporters are frustrated with scripted, calculated, spirit-less politics. That's legitimate. Many value that Trump is not beholden to big donors. There is something legitimate in that. They feel left out, by the media and the "establishment." Undoubtedly there is something legitimate in that in many cases. They want to identify with something great, which is not all bad.

Perhaps it is these factors that make Trump legitimately un-ignorable. He is tapping something that deserves attention.

This is not to excuse the race-based animosity and dangerously simplistic narratives. But perhaps we do better to look past those expressions to the underlying sentiments than to simply slam them.

The reality is that we're all on this planet together. We can't vote off everyone we dislike. So let's hold off on the self-righteousness, take a deeper look and recognize that there is a wee bit of Trump in the darker corners of our otherwise polite Canadian hearts.

Will Braun lives in southern Manitoba, just north of North Dakota. This article first appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press.