Politics in the Age of Bewilderment

The historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari says we’re living in the Age of Bewilderment, the old stories have collapsed and the new stories have not yet been written.

Ms Soapbox thinks some politicians are trying to bridge this gap by pretending it doesn’t exist.  They hope to turn this unsettling time into the Age of Nostalgia.  Unfortunately, nostalgia is not a satisfactory response to climate change, technological change or cultural change, in fact it is prone to nasty backlash when insecurity and a sense of alienation enflame xenophobia.

We recognize nostalgia politicians, people like Jason Kenney who want to restore the Alberta Advantage (whatever that means) by scrapping the carbon tax, propping up coal companies, and setting up war rooms to beat down oilsands critics with bellicose jargon.

More enlightened politicians, like Rachel Notley, meet uncertainty head on with bold new strategies that make life more stable for those they govern.

Notley kicked off her first term in office with a climate leadership plan intended to transition an economy dependent on fossil fuels to renewables while at the same time generating enough revenue to keep the ship afloat until we got there.

Unfortunately, the economy took a beating when oil prices plummeted and the Notley government reacted by becoming more strident in its support of the energy industry, almost to the exclusion of everything else.

It’s time to regroup.

Yes, the energy industry is important to Alberta, but the industry like everything else is in transition.  It will never roar back to its former glory.  Albertans know this and are in desperate need of politicians who are prepared to offer a bold, new vision for the future.

A friend once told me if we want Albertans to forgo their conservative ideology we must set out its flaws and then present a superior progressive vision to replace it.*

Notley’s NDP have done a good job of demonstrating the economic and social flaws in Kenney’s conservative ideology, however instead of merely rebutting Kenney’s narrative and becoming trapped in the language of the Age of Nostalgia, it’s time for the NDP to present a bold optimistic vision for Alberta.

This vision should be based on the progressive ideals that shook up the conservative halls of the Legislature in Notley’s first term.  It should include providing quality education throughout our lives (how else will the workforce retool to address shifting demands), improving access to quality healthcare, continuing to overhaul taxation (a serious look at a provincial sales tax would be a good start) and strengthening our efforts to mitigate climate change.

Such a vision would be well received by Albertans who recognize that it’s practical optimism not nostalgia that puts bread on the table.

The AOC factor

We’re just a few months away from the next provincial election.  Is it too late for Rachel Notley and the NDP (or any progressive party for that matter) to communicate a realistic and optimistic vision for the future?

No, not if our politicians take their cues from politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (or AOC as she’s known on social media).


AOC and The Breakfast Club

Ocasio-Cortez is a democratic socialist and the youngest woman to be elected to the US Congress.  She supports progressive policies like universal healthcare, free university tuition, job guarantees and gun control.  As part of her effort to mitigate climate change, Ocasio-Cortez is co-sponsoring a bill to introduce taxes of up to 70% on incomes of $10 million or more (the top .05% of the population) to fund the Green New Deal.

The Republicans are apoplectic.  Not only is it heresy to increase taxes on the super wealthy, but Ocasio-Cortez and some of her college friends were caught on tape doing a dance sequence from The Breakfast Club.  Oh, the shame of it all.

Here’s what’s so magnificent about all this:  (1)  Ocasio-Cortez’s tax proposal is bold and consistent with  her progressive beliefs, (2) it’s been endorsed by economists like Nobel prize winner Paul Krugman and (3) she responded to the GOP’s horror at her dance video with another clip of her dancing in the hall outside her congressional office.   Take that you dinosaurs.

A compelling new vision presented by smart articulate politicians could lead the NDP to victory this spring; in which case may I be the first to post a video of the Notley crew dancing in the corridors of power?

And if the dance analogy (take that you dinosaurs) doesn’t do it for you, remember what Wayne Gretzky said:  Skate to where the puck is going, not to where it has been.

*With thanks to DD

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28 Responses to Politics in the Age of Bewilderment

  1. Munroe Scott says:

    As usual, Susan, right on target. Keep it up.

  2. Douglas says:

    ” …Yes, the energy industry is important to Alberta, but the industry like everything else is in transition. It will never roar back to its former glory. Albertans know this and are in desperate need of politicians who are prepared to offer a bold, new vision for the future…”
    I agree with your second sentence but I profoundly felt it cringeworthy when the daily poster person for the oil rough/red necks, the “rancher” from west of Calgary, the carbon tax paying refusenik, who in an interview with CBC Edmonton, assertively declared she will opt out until the boom times of Alberta return to us, which will certainly reappear if we get that GD Trans Mountain pipeline magic bullet.
    I believe the refusenik, now a hobby farmer with 50 head, was a graduate school achiever and career participant from the oil and gas sector.

    • Thanks Douglas, you have to wonder what these people think Trudeau should do. Do they want him to rip up the Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763 and any treaties, agreements, legislation and court decisions passed since then that protect aboriginal land claims and the rights and freedoms that arise from such claims? What about the rights of non-aboriginal land owners, should they be steam rolled into allowing oil companies to put their facilities on private property? All of this “just make it happen” stuff sounds fine when it gets you what you want, but it sets a dangerous precedent for future governments which may decide what we really need now is a nuclear reactor in your back yard. Would these people be happy to allow the government to override their rights to make it happen?

  3. Dwayne says:

    Susan: Thanks for another great blog. Jason Kenney is full of contradictions. Jason Kenney was in the CPC when his fellow cabinet member, Jim Prentice, the Environment Minister, wanted to phase out coal fired power plants in Canada, by 2020. Jason Kenney agreed with Jim Prentice. Jason Kenney also said he supports the carbon tax. Jason Kenney also favoured the government purchasing the pipeline. By returning to the Alberta advantage, what Jason Kenney really means is returning to the flat tax failure and doing more sharp austerity that we saw under Ralph Klein. That is no advantage. The Alberta PCs were a big failure, since the Don Getty years and so scandal plagued, fiscally reckless and negligent. We are still paying for those major mistakes today. The UCP would return to that, and it is not a risk worth taking. I hope voters will wake up. Hope you have a Happy New Year.

    • Thanks Dwayne. While I knew that Kenney the federal cabinet minister supported the equalization formula, I didn’t know he also supported Prentice’s plan to phase out coal fired power plants and the carbon tax. That’s very interesting. It reminds me of Donald Trump’s approach to policy (although it may be more correct to call it a knee-jerk reaction to whatever is a hot mess at the moment). Both Trump and Kenney act as if they’re free to contradict themselves whenever it suits them because whatever they said yesterday doesn’t count. That’s not leadership.

  4. .. I referred a ways back – to ‘The Bewilderness’
    and the ‘Bewilderedness’ – Now these are two different arid envirwrongments where the likes of Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney or any smarmy faux ‘public servant’ goes for a GOP style ‘system update’ or dogma refresh. There are many ‘cum loud’ alumni.. Doctorates and diplomas are awarded easily, much like those of Trump University or schools of thoughtlessness run by Jerry Fallwell Inc. Even tickets to heaven are available.. at a slight cost.. But Wait ! There’s more ! Clap clap and the illuminated bible lights up .. and says ‘Friend, just send cash’ .. and your name will be etched upon the pipeline to Asia ..

  5. ronmac says:

    Maybe nostalgia isn’t such a bad thing. Like the 1950’s when times were simpler, kids were playing with hoola-hops, and the super-rich were getting taxed at 92%.

    You gotta hand it to AOC. A leaked video of her dancing goes viral on the net and a few days later the New York Post comes out with this headline: “Socialist upstart Ocasio-Cortez urges 70% tax on super-rich.” In one swirl she jump started a conversation on class and taxation.

    Some observers have pointed out her proposals are not that radical at all. Then U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was taxing the super-wealthy at 92% and it’s no coincidence the 1950’s were boom times.

    Looking for an optomistic vision for the future? A slogan? How about, “I like Ike.”

    • You’re right Ronmac, we could learn some valuable lessons from past leaders, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal was exactly what the US needed to recover from the Great Depression and as you point out the improvement in the economy didn’t stop President Dwight Eisenhower from taxing the super-wealthy at 92%.
      I raised AOC in the Alberta context because I wanted Albertans to think about the whole idea of taxing the wealthy. It’s not sacrilegious, it makes good economic sense. And yet Albertans go berzerk at the mere mention of a tax hike. It’s time we grew up.

    • Thom Pardoe says:

      I don’t know that Eisenhower actually implemented those tax rates, rather than was in power at a time when those rates were in effect. Indeed, the US tax code had many, many more tax brackets from the time it was implemented as well, scaling up a percent with each increment in income. That progressive scaling was eliminated in the drive for simplicity.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Yes I would add
        ‘In the drive for simplicity … and make the rich SUPER rich’ 🙂
        Trump has not paid taxes since 1975 and proud of it
        Do not get mad I am just teasing
        🙂 🙂

  6. J.E. Molnar says:

    Really appreciate your refreshing and serious take on Alberta politics — well done!!

    If Albertans are waiting for new ideas and a new vision from the United Conservative Party don’t hold your breath. Jason Kenney has his transition team in place even before his party’s policies are publicly revealed and the UCP is even elected as a government. So far what we’ve gotten from the Duke of Demagoguery is:
    NO Shadow Budget!
    NO Platform document!
    NO Climate mitigation plan!
    NO Transparency (on dark money donor list)

    Sadly it appears Jason Kenney will employ Kim Campbell’s failed election strategy of 1993, “An election is no time to discuss serious issues” — and hope he can gaslight Albertans to a UCP victory.

    • J.E….”the Duke of Demagoguery”…you made me smile, but you are absolutely correct about the UCP making promises and failing to deliver.
      All of Kenney’s broken promises are important but the one that bothers me the most is Kenney’s refusal to release the names of ALL of the donors to his leadership campaign. He says some of his donors wish to remain anonymous. The question is why.
      Two reasons pop to mind.
      One, the donors didn’t want to appear disloyal to one of the other candidates–but given that his competition was Richard Starke, Stephen Khan, and Byron Nelson and none of them were heavy hitters in the PC world, this doesn’t make sense.
      Two, the donors wanted to avoid the perception that they were buying influence–but given that big name business people contribute to political campaigns all the time and Fred Mannix, Stanley Milner and Nancy Southern had no issue with being identified this doesn’t make sense either.
      This leads me to wonder whether the donors demanding anonymity were people Kenney thinks would alarm Albertans if their identity were known, people active in far right groups or fundamentalist religious groups, for example.
      All we know for sure is Kenney spent $1.46 million in the leadership race. This was 7 times more than his competitors and there are a lot of people out there like the guy in Brooks who said he’d sue Kenney if Kenney didn’t deliver on his promise to get rid of GSAs in schools. Oh and to make the issue of no transparency even more unsettling, I wanted to include a link to the article but the page has been taken down.

  7. Carlos Beca says:

    Susan I would call it the second Dark Ages. Jane Jacobs predicted it.
    Life goes in cycles and we have certainly entered the second Dark Ages at around the Time Margaret Thatcher took over in Britain and Ronald Reagan in the US.
    The first Dark Ages went from 500 to about 1500 AD in a time when education and technology were way slower. So I hope that now, if Putin or Trump do not blow the world up, it will be way shorter.
    Trump could even start a civil war because of the war temper tantrum.
    I think that Quantum Physics will be the precursor of a second Renaissance. Entanglement will be explained and we will start the development of teleportation and instant communication with the rest of the Universe.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      sorry I meant the ‘wall temper tantrum…’ not ‘war.

      • Carlos, what an intriguing comment 🙂 Things feel so wonky now that maybe what we need is exactly that–teleportation and instant communication with the rest of the Universe. If nothing else, it would remind us to be humble.
        Your comment about Trump starting a civil war is prescient. I read an article about America’s failed war on terrorism. The author said the US had never fought invaders on its own soil (apparently Pearl Harbor didn’t count because it was too remote for most Americans and WW2 was fought “over there”). The author said 9/11 was the first time the US felt threatened at home. A government’s first job is to protect its citizens. If it can’t do that it loses credibility. Since terrorism is fought behind the scenes it’s tough for the government to be seen to be doing something, that’s why it went overboard with inflammatory rhetoric, ridiculous levels of airport security, and all the orange and red alerts.
        So back to Trump. Trump has painted himself into a corner. He characterized Mexicans as rapists, drug dealers and terrorists coming to the US to harm Americans, he said he’d protect Americans by building a wall to stop the flow and now he can’t get the money to built the wall. His credibility as President is on the line and he’ll stop at nothing to save himself. A very dangerous situation.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        Susan I loved your sentence ‘If nothing else, it would remind us to be humble’
        To me that is the number one problem in the world and particularly in the West where the culture of celebrity and extreme competition is close to its zenith.
        We could gain a lot from a bit different approach to life.
        I thought the Neanderthals had vanished thousands of years ago but somehow one survived in the US. The concept that a wall somehow is going to stop drug trafficking in the US is an extraordinary accomplishment on his part. God where is Einstein when we need him – remember the quote ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expect different results’

  8. Political Ranger says:

    Well, that’s a relief!
    I don’t know what you were up to over the Christmas season Ms. Soapbox but I’m sure glad you were … and btw, keep at it!
    Your defensive, reflexive and anachronous comments over the last few months, while always thoughtful and eloquent and of course, rightfully yours to make, were worrying to any progressive concerned about a future in this province. There is no doubt that a successful life in a future Alberta for all but the most wealthy will not resemble life in the Klien era. Petroleum will be in severe decline, wildcatting will join the realm of cowboying, planning processes will become essential as will regulations and enforcement. Recognizing such is a pre-requisite to providing for opportunities for just such a successful life.
    Nostalgia and weak thinking, whether about land use practices or governments, is for-sure not going to provide solutions to today’s problems. AOC might not have the answers either; but we damn well sure have to be thinking along those lines.
    Failure is just too dire to accept.

    • Thanks Political Ranger, it must be something in the eggnog!
      In all seriousness, the sheer volume of stuff coming at us (me) has been overwhelming…this fuzzies the mind and the spirit.
      I agree that we need to be thinking ahead to the future, what I’m trying to get a handle on is how do we get there given the level of resistance we’re facing. But there may be hope, someone told me today that his Kenney-supporting friend says he’s worried about what Kenney will do to our healthcare system. He’s worried not because he has health problems but because his wife works in healthcare and he doesn’t want her to lose her job. They say all politics is personal. Maybe we should start there.

  9. I appreciate this post so much – thank you!

  10. Carlos Beca says:

    I do not know Yuval Noah Harari but Jared Diamond explains quite well in his book ‘Guns Germs and Steel’ why some cultures dominate others and how they disappear despite their previous amazing success – examples like Babylon, Roman..etc.

    His most interesting suggestions of why vigorous cultures fall in disarray and sometimes collapse is that is not caused by external forces but by their own internal rot, and if not corrected before it falls into amnesia due to lack of transfer from generation to generation, then it could develop into a major shock. I believe this is happening in many places especially in the US where slowly since Richard Nixon’s corrupted ways, the rot has been growing and spreading and become accepted to the point where now facts no longer matter. If this situation is not corrected within the period when people still remember a more ethical time then another substandard state is born.
    Of course we are not immune to it at all. Personally think that we, along with most of western world are in the same rotting process due to our lack of democratic values and neglect towards more ethical and moral behaviour. It is easier to be greedy and have a ‘WHO CARES’ and ‘THANK GOD IS FRIDAY’ attitude then work within good ethical and moral limits that by the way were established 2000 years ago and we claim to abide by and respect. I do not remember my Mom and Dad use any of this type of attitude and they have passed that to us kids. We choose whatever we think is appropriate to us but in general, we are not making the right decisions. Society follows the examples of their governments and it is obvious we are in a clear decline – this is why I strongly believe politicians are an important part of the problem because they are the promoters and the examples are horrendous to say the least.

  11. jerrymacgp says:

    One of the most unfortunate aspects of this whole discussion is its domination by absolutists—on both sides. On one side, climate change is a global crisis, and only the most drastic action can save us. On the other side, climate change is a non-issue, maybe even a hoax, and we don’t need to do anything about it—or, maybe it is an issue, but we are an insignificant factor in the global picture and so we don’t need to do our fair share because the world’s biggest economies aren’t.

    My professional Nursing practice is in the field of chronic disease management, working for AHS. We learned long time ago that when you want a client to engage in health behaviour change as part of a management strategy for diabetes, or cardiovascular disease, or obesity, or whatever, the scolding, dictatorial, paternalistic approach does absolutely no good, and is in fact detrimental to the therapeutic client-provider relationship that is so crucial in these conditions. Wagging your finger and telling someone they need to quit smoking, lose weight, get more exercise, eat more veggies, take all these pills, and whatnot, just tunes them out and gets us nowhere.

    It’s the same in a democracy. Try telling voters something they don’t want to hear, and they’ll vote you out & elect someone whose message is friendlier. That’s what’s happening with hard-core environmental absolutists, who want all oil & gas production stopped or at least drastically curtailed. The “leave it in the ground” rhetoric might play in some places, but it sure doesn’t play here.

    There are hundreds of thousands of ordinary Alberta families—not executive suite big shots, but ordinary moms & dads—whose families’ economic security depend either directly or indirectly on the oilpatch. It’s not just the oil & gas workers themselves, in places like Drayton Valley and Lloydminster, Red Deer and Leduc, High Level, Rainbow Lake, Peace River and Grande Prairie, and, yes Fort McMurray and Calgary. It’s also the folks that sell them their houses& cars, couches & fridges, groceries & clothes & school supplies. It’s the teachers that teach their kids, the nurses who take care of their loved ones, and the dentists that look after their teeth. The “leave it in the ground” crowd would throw all of those people under the bus.

    On the denialist side, things are no better. Climate change is a global problem, which requires global solutions. Albertans & Canadians are citizens of the world, and as a G-7 country, ours is one of the world’s richest. If we do not step up and do our share, how can we expect developing countries to do theirs? We’re less than a year from the next Federal election, and just a couple or three months from a Provincial one, and still there is thundering silence from the Conservative parties on how they would address climate change. The only thing we do know, is that they would abolish the approach advocated by virtually every economist that has spoken out on the issue, and that is a market incentive to drive behaviour change towards energy conservation. I guess the anti-Big Government, deregulate-everything libertarian wing of the Conservative parties are going to push for expensive, heavy-handed regulatory mechanisms to reduce GHG emissions … ? Cognitive dissonance, anyone?

    So, where is the mushy middle? Where are the moderates? Where is the effort to seek common ground? I’m afraid it’s gone. All that’s left, is anger.

    • Carlos Beca says:

      Jerrymacgp I do not disagree with your view but I think it is incomplete. The moderates to me are the ones who have created the radical attitudes. They have been totally ineffective on resolving real crucial issues. Most democratic countries in the world are moderates and look where we are today. Their corruption and ineffectiveness brought about what you call the absolutists.
      I remind you that it was the moderates who allowed Hitler to invade Austria and Poland because they did not believe in the reality behind him.
      The present environmental situation was not created by absolutists. The issue created the radical positions you are talking about.
      Who created the issues we have with our indigenous peoples?

      What you call absolutists are actually the ones who have been bringing the issues to the surface to be dealt with.
      So your view that the lack of moderates is the problem is not the real picture, in my opinion.
      The real issue is lack of integrity, ethics and morals on all sides.

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