Blinded by the Brand

Why are people loyal to a brand that guarantees austerity today in return for the promise of prosperity tomorrow with no plan setting out how and when austerity will morph into prosperity and despite overwhelming evidence that similar promises failed to deliver prosperity in the past?

It’s a mystery, but part of the explanation has to be that people are blinded by the brand, especially if it sets up black hats and white hats and is easy to express in memes.

For example, if the UCP stands for righteous austerity, then the NDP must stand for frivolous spending.  If the UCP believes in trickle-down economics, then the NDP are rampant socialists.

There is nothing in between.

2000px-united_conservative_party_logo_28alberta29-svg

But here’s where loyalty to the brand becomes problematic.  People who say they support the UCP because they believe economic pain today will bring economic prosperity tomorrow fail to understand that the UCP brand is more than an economic ideology, it extends to a discriminatory position on social issues that is attractive to homophobes, Islamophobes, pro-lifers, alt-rightists and nutbars who will run roughshod over the rule of law and democratic norms if it’s necessary to implement their conservative agenda.

UCP supporters argue they can’t be tarred with the same brush as the UCP lunatic fringe, they insist they’re fiscally conservative and socially progressive.

This brings us to what Timothy Snyder describes in his book On Tyranny as the renunciation of the difference between what you want to hear and what actually is the case.

Snyder says the truth dies in four ways.  His analysis is set in the context of tyranny but in this post-Trump era it is equally applicable to the conservative movement as espoused by Jason Kenney.

Presenting lies as facts:  Jason Kenney has convinced many Albertans that Alberta is on the rocks and only he and the UCP can save it, however, Bloomberg reports Alberta led the country in 2017 with GDP growth at 4.9 percent.  GDP growth is expected to be 2.7 percent in 2018 and many economic indicators including exports, manufacturing, rig activity and wholesale trade have seen gains.  The labour market is improving, and corporate profits are expected to be higher in 2018.

Even Mr Kenney knows this to be true.  He didn’t describe Alberta as a sad sack province when he traveled to India on a bizarre little junket.   Instead he told government and industry representatives that Alberta was a low tax province with one of the best educated work forces, efficient power prices and lots of strategic advantages for investment.

Shamanistic incantation to make the fictional plausible:  If there’s one thing Kenney and the UCP are adamant about it’s that the NDP are a bunch of raving socialists.  The comment section of any article describing anything the NDP government does demonstrates this fiction has taken hold with UCP supporters who are convinced the socialists are using any means possible, including farm safety legislation and the curriculum re-write, to spread their socialist ideology to the unsuspecting masses.

If Mr Kenney and his supporters knew anything about political and economy theory or simply paid attention to the Notley government’s relationship with the business sector (particularly energy) they’d know this isn’t true.

Magical thinking to embrace contradiction:  Mr Kenney insists that cutting taxes and implementing austerity will not negatively impact public services.  He refers to the Klein era as the golden age of balanced budgets but never acknowledges the devastating impact Klein’s cuts had on education, healthcare and infrastructure.  Short-term and long-term beds were cut by 50%, nurses and teachers left the province in droves, and the infrastructure deficit is now over $16 billion.

No amount of magical thinking will reconcile a 10% flat tax with the expectation that public services will continue to be provided at today’s standards.

Misplaced faith:  Snyder says when a politician presents himself as the saviour of [insert favourite ideology here] evidence is irrelevant, his followers will support him based on faith.

UCP supporters believe Mr Kenney when he says he’s interested in economic issues, not social ones.  They believe Mr Kenney when he says the UCP rejects those who express hateful views of entire groups of people and that such people are not welcome to run for the party.  They have faith that Mr Kenney will not support policies that discriminate against certain Albertans, notwithstanding the regressive beliefs of the lunatic fringe who’ve found a home in the UCP.

And yet not a week goes by without the discovery of a UCP nominee whose social media pages are rife with Islamophobic, homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic content.  Some of these nominees are removed from the nomination process, others remain in the race.  Their supporters continue to spout the same discriminatory beliefs Mr Kenney says are abhorrent to him and the party.

UCP supporters who insist Mr Kenney will separate his fiscally conservative agenda from his socially regressive agenda* are kidding themselves.

In their desire to become wealthy at some undefined point in the future, they’ve renounced the difference between what they want to hear and what the UCP has been broadcasting in dog-whistles and overt appeals to those who want him to implement economic and social policies straight out of the 1950s.

They’ve allowed themselves to be blinded by the brand.

*See Kyle Morrow’s well researched account of Mr Kenney’s 30-year fight against women’s reproductive rights   

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32 Responses to Blinded by the Brand

  1. ed henderson says:

    It is very easy to blame this political party for this bad problem over here and easy to credit that political party for that good thing over there and this is done by people who do not understand the fact that political parties and governments only have access to third or fourth rate people.
    If Alberta is doing well business wise, it is because our business sector in Alberta is smarter and have the very best first rate people working hard for their betterment.
    They are doing well despite the actions and interference of political parties, politicians and government employee’s.

    • jerrymacgp says:

      “ …political parties and governments only have access to third or fourth rate people.”? Why would you smear thousands of dedicated public servants, including the people that educate your children, care for you and your loved ones when they are sick or injured, answer the call when you dial 911, and so much more? Many people working for the public sector or for a political party could make far more working for the corporate sector, but choose to sacrifice for the greater good. Ad hominem attacks like yours contribute nothing of substance to the discussion and debase us all.

      For shame, Sir.

      • Blaine Holczer says:

        Thank you Jerry. I am a highly intellligent and well educated (including business) father of four including a child with special needs and have made my modest living in disability services for the last 20 years. Third or fourth rate Ed? Bite me!

      • DAMJ INC says:

        Thanks Jerry. I am an intelligent, well educated, lifelong Albertan and father of 4 including an autistic child who has made a modest living in Disability services for the past 20 years. Third or fourth rate Ed? Bite me!

      • Dwayne says:

        jerrymacgp : Well put. One of my older sisters and her husband had to go to Texas in the very early 1990s, for part of her nursing career, because of Ralph Klein’s sharp cuts to nurses and teachers in the very early 1990s. There are other relations of mine who are/were nurses and teachers. They do not have it very easy.

      • Ed, I have to agree with Jerry on this one. The public sector is full of intelligent, hard working people. I know many, including my husband who worked at the municipal government level for decades and my daughter who started her nursing career working for for the BC government. I’ve worked in the private sector all my life. I can tell you from first hand experience that the private sector has its share of slackers and idiots. The big difference is they’re usually better paid than their counterparts in the public sector.

  2. Wow. Just wow. Please – create a broader audience. Permission to copy and share, please?

  3. Dwayne says:

    Susan: I must thank you for another great and informative blog. Here are my thoughts on what you have brought up. Austerity simply does not work. Anyone who thinks that it does, is only fooling themselves. With austerity, it often leads to privatization of essential services. It also pushes costs of things like maintenance and repairing higher, and does not save any money. What is neglected, if it is done for so long, will eventually wind up in such a bad state, that it will cost a major amount of money to fix. We have seen this with Alberta’s infrastructure. It is not cheap to fix this, nor will it be able to happen very quickly. There can be other side effects to privatization, which is linked to austerity, and this also has a big cost. Things like identity theft schemes and shoddy driver education programs. We have seen this austerity and privatization begin with the Alberta PCs, starting in the early 1990s. We have also seen this in Ontario, with the Mike Harris government. Both had very poor results, and many people were harmed from these badly thought out policies. In Alberta’s case, this was clearly avoidable. What Peter Lougheed and his government have built up, the PC governments that followed, basically turned into tatters. They did bad things, such as getting poor oil royalty rates, diminishing Alberta’s Heritage Fund, and did the most costliest scandals repeatedly. They also deregulated essential services, like utilities, making the costs go up profoundly. The flat tax was thrust upon us, and we could have no say about it. That also lost Alberta a lot of money. The cuts had to come, due to the Alberta PCs fiscally reckless behaviour, that happened for so many years. There was also a complacent attitude from the other Alberta PC governments that oil booms were infinite. Peter Lougheed certainly knew from having first hand experience in that industry, that oil is not a stable commodity. He knew that saving money and planning for the future, by building things up, was the proper way to go. In Ontario, the austerity was also avoidable. Mike Harris was taking his cues from Ralph Klein. Also, the Fraser Institute clearly had a big influence on these governments. We saw this with things like the flat tax (for Alberta, which Jason Kenney wants to return to), dergulation and privatization of basic services, like utilities. Doug Ford is also trying to go down this same road, and it is clearly failing from the start. The Alberta PCs, when Ralph Klein was ruler, had a big problem with their beloved leader saying and doing stupid things on a regular basis. Things like getting drunk and throwing money at the homeless, berating a Liberal MLA, by accusing her of calling him a liar, among many other things, come to mind. This was getting to the point where Ralph’s own party considered him a liability, not an asset. There were even citizens who used to support him, but said he was going too far. He was thrust out of the PC party. The Wildrose were not better in that regard. What their own members have said, including candidates and MLAs, came back to bite them really hard. Racist comments were said, misogyny based jokes and other bad things. The Wildrose flopped from this, and that party disintegrated. The fragments of the Wildrose and the Alberta PCs merged. Sadly, the UCP are doing the same stupid things as the Alberta PCs did, and the Wildrose were doing. They also want to emulate the poor policies that the Alberta PCs were doing for a very long time. This is not good, and I hope Albertans will wake up. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.

    • Thanks for your fulsome comment Dwayne. You’re not alone in saying that austerity doesn’t work, at least not for most people. In his book “Can Democracy Survive Global Capitalism?” Robert Kuttner says, yes, economics and tax laws are complicated but at a primal, intuitive level, “ordinary people eventually notice when someone gets a sweet-heart deal and it isn’t them”. Over time Albertans lost the ability to recognize a sweet-heart deal even when it smacked them in the face. A good example is the royalty debate…we couldn’t increase royalties when times were bad because this would kill the golden goose, and we couldn’t increase royalties when times were good because this would decrease corporate profits, bottom line: we couldn’t increase royalties at all. If that isn’t a sweet-heart deal I don’t know what is.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Yes I agree – this is the deal of a lifetime and after 43 years of this disgrace, the NDP comes in and does the same – wonderful we are done because as soon as Jason Kenney comes in it will get worse because they have to sweeten the deal of course after these horrible 4 years of socialism and so goes the cycle of deception.
        Alberta will be in history as the miracle that never happened and we will be known as the idiots that gave away 1 trillion dollars – maybe then Alberta will wake up to clean up the tailing ponds 🙂

      • Carlos, the ordinary (uninformed) man in the street will gripe about the damage the NDP have done to Alberta, but based on my conversations with executives in the energy sector, the guys in the know are okay with what Notley has accomplished and are skeptical that Kenney could do any better. They’re tired of Kenney’s over-the-top rhetoric and think Notley is smarter and more trustworthy. Unfortunately the ordinary (uninformed) man in the street believes the drivel Kenney is peddling re: the energy sector and Alberta getting shafted and are convinced a Kenney government will make them rich. They’re idiots who’ll turn a blind eye to the damage the UCP will do to healthcare, education, and infrastructure, likely because they think they’ll be rich enough to pay for private healthcare and education. They’re going to get a rude awakening when they have a stroke at 2 a.m. and there aren’t enough doctors in ER or technicians running the MRI machine to save them.

      • Dwayne says:

        Susan: You are very welcome. Peter Lougheed did not back down. He said that Alberta’s oil belongs to Albertans, not the oil companies. He refused to let them take advantage of Alberta.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan I have no doubts about what you are saying but the reality of our political system is not the real perception. It is all about deception and it is getting worse with the non-person president of the United States who is legalizing lies, bullying, lack of character and everything else bad on the dictionary. The man is a disgusting human being but it is not the first time in American political history and not the last. He very likely will get a second term to solidify one more higher level of corruption in the already awfully manipulated system.
        During the war in Vietnam, despite all the was wrong with it Nixon, who had ran on a ‘stop the war’ platform got elected to a second term with 64% support. This type of Hitler style politics continues unabated despite all that has happened in the world as a consequence.
        And it has the support of the majority of the American people because in the end the majority support bully type politics to show the world they are the are the Great Nation that can do whatever they want. The fall will indeed be catastrophic.

  4. Concerned Lifesmith says:

    I believe Ashleigh Brilliant succinctly described this “blind following” phenomena when he said: :I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t already believed it.” The best way to fix the ills of the world is to 1) fix actual stupidity and 2) to expose and embarrass “willful ignorance” (those who consciously choose to be ignorant even when faced with overwhelming facts)

    • Concerned Lifesmith, that is an excellent quote. I especially like your second suggestion which is to expose and embarrass wilful ignorance and I’d extend it to exposing and embarrassing wilful racism, homophobia, mysogeny, etc. That is the point I was trying to make in this post. Anyone who justifies supporting the UCP on the basis of its economic policies (such as they are) had better explain how they can support a party that is home to racists, homophobes, mysogenists, Islamophobes, etc. because you really can’t separate economic issues from social issues, they’re two sides of the same coin.

  5. Katie Pearlman says:

    This is a real problem indicative of the attacks on democratic principles around the world. Unfortunately we who read this great blog already are aware and are working against this trend.

    • Thank you Katie. I’m beginning to think we have to develop snappy responses to those who are prepared to sell out everything we hold dear in return for the promise of a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It won’t be easy, but Concerned Lifesmith’s suggestion is a good start.

  6. Great post, but my favourite lines are in the first paragraph ” ….people are blinded by the brand, especially if it sets up black hats and white hats and is easy to express in memes.” Unfortunately, it seems memes are very successful in leading people astray…not many have the time and/or inclination to really investigate and politicians rely on this…thanks for this.

    • Thanks Carol. When I was thinking about this post and voters’ willingness to accept austerity today in return for the promise of prosperity tomorrow, I was reminded of the marshmallow experiment where researchers told kids they could have one marshmallow right away or two marshmallows if they waited 10 minutes. The big difference between the kids in the marshmallow experiment and UCP supporters is the kids knew the marshmallows were real because they could see them, the UCP supporters believe prosperity tomorrow is real because a politician tells them so. If Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher couldn’t deliver on the austerity today/prosperity tomorrow promise, there’s no way Kenney’s going to do it.

  7. Sam Gunsch says:

    On a related topic, here’s a USA discussion that reminds me of the rhetorical patterns of AB’s UCP leaders and most of AB’s MSM RW columnists. Not saying they’ve gone full Trump but they’re sure sliding in his direction.

    EXCERPT: ‘”Well,” replied Trump, “it’s a terrible statement unless he gets away with it.” With that extraordinary declaration, Trump showed himself to be an attentive student of disinformation and its operative principle: Reality is what you can get away with.

    Trump’s command of the basic concept of disinformation offers some insight into how he approaches the truth as president.’
    https://nationalaffairs.com/publications/detail/the-constitution-of-knowledge

    • Sam Gunsch says:

      OTOH, while UCP hasn’t gone full Trump, here’s a Kenney tweet from today claiming the carbon tax increases home heating costs by ‘110%’… That does reach the level of a Trumpian-exaggeration.

      • Sam Gunsch says:

        Kenney’s Trumpian-exaggeration in his tweet today:

        Jason Kenney
        ‏Verified account @jkenney
        38m38 minutes ago

        The NDP, which increased pump prices with its carbon tax – and promises to hike them even further – now pretends to be concerned about the price of gasoline? Can’t make this up! And as winter approaches, current carbon tax on home heating is approx. 110%.’

      • Sam: It’s mind boggling that Kenney continues to claim the impact of the carbon tax on home heating is approx 110%. Trevor Tombe and other economists have refuted this allegation time and time again, and he’s still making it. Unbelievable.

    • Sam thanks for that link. It was mind-blowing if for no other reason than the fact that it may have recorded the only time Trump said something that was actually true.
      The author says the impact of weaponized trolling will be diminished because the “constitution of knowledge” includes institutions which have processes to ensure facts are accurately presented and the public is sufficiently educated to recognize a lie when it sees one. What the author didn’t explain (or maybe I missed it) was how these institutions which work slowly are able to defuse the daily onslaught of misinformation (as outlined in the article Carol provided) that keeps the public in a constant state of outrage and confusion.

  8. Good piece amiga; gracias. My reading of this cultural zeitgeist has to do with seeing time and again a pattern of self-fulfilling prophecies – indeed; tell the people – rarely tuned in to the policies or politics of the day – that the government is at fault for everything, repeat it for so long, eventually they will buy into it, blindly. In 2019 I shall keep looking for leaders who bring sharp facts and conviviality together, appealing us to think about something other than narrow self-interests – leaders that appeal to the best in us, to focus on the greater good. In that light, I am convinced Premier Rachel Notley is exactly the leadership we need now and in the years to come. – LCA

    • Leo, that is a very astute observation. A friend told me about having dinner with Rachel Notley and some friends after Melissa’s Road Race in Banff. The restaurant patrons went wild when they spotted her, applauding and chanting her name. Contrast that to the story told by another friend who was in a restaurant when Jason Kenney came in and sat down. My friend said Kenney wouldn’t make eye contact and radiated “leave me alone” vibes. Needless to say, the restaurant patrons did NOT go nuts when they saw him. My friend summed up the difference. Rachel is authentic and a natural born leader, Jason is not.

  9. Judy J. Johnson says:

    Thank you, Susan, for another thoughtful, well-researched article that includes a link to Morrow’s chronicle of Kenney’s 30-year fight against women’s rights to abortion (now posted to my Facebook with the encouragement for open-minded women and men to use all social media opportunities to spread the information far and wide.

  10. Kelly D says:

    The last independent to get elected in Alberta was Ray Speaker in 1982. People vote for the party, not the local candidate. Therefore, an effective representative follows party line when in office without regard for their individual opinions.

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