Campaigns are inherently cynical. They trade on the worst of human instincts, the ones that tell you to be afraid or angry. At best, they trick you into thinking that real, measurable change can happen in four years. At worst, they can hold society back from any progress at all. We ran that risk this time with the possibility of re-electing a government so bigoted they promised to set up a literal hotline for “barbaric cultural practices.”
Just call it, “Help, My Neighbour Is Brown.” It’s okay. We all know.
The good news is the country didn’t fall for racist rhetoric. It wasn’t enough for the conservatives to stay in office merely by suggesting that the niqab was a threat to our existence. It’s just clothing and, thankfully, few of us were ignorant enough to listen.
But we shouldn’t have been surprised that they tried to use it.
It’s easy, then, to think that a Liberal majority government suggests a less cynical world. Our new prime minister is a self-professed feminist, LGBT supporter, pro-pot, and really fucking cute, like a sexy, tousled baby.
“Have faith in yourselves and in your country,” Trudeau said in his victory speech. “Know that we can make anything happen if we set our minds to it and work hard. I am not the one who made history tonight — you are.” Moi? Go on.
On paper, it’s a good scene and those are inspiring words—no wonder the rest of the world is talking about our new PM like he’s made of maple syrup and fresh snow.
But you should still be cynical.
On election night, I got a lot of flack for tweeting obnoxiously about Trudeau’s win, his drama teacher cadence, his low-key fuckability, his goofy earnestness. I literally could not help myself. It's like a sickness, I know.
People don’t like it when you tell them their optimism is overreaching,
and yet they’re ready to tell you when your cynicism is unearned. One
thing about Trudeau supporters versus Harper's: many Harper people are
older and are less present on Twitter. Trudeau’s are often white, male,
young and on the Internet — and ready to mansplain the shit out of the
electoral system to you, particularly when you did not request it.
People like to be optimistic. It's comforting, I think, to cling to the belief that things can get better. But purposeless optimism does more harm than good; it lets us get lazy and aspirational, praying for improvement rather than working towards it.
It's interesting, then, that so much of this optimism comes from parts of the population who have traditionally been the focus of so many North American elections past: straight, middle-class, white men.
For many of us, this is not an inspiring win. We didn’t vote for a Liberal majority or for Trudeau specifically because we really felt that he was talking to us. We voted for him and his candidates because they ignored us the least.
Candidates like to pretend they're here for the people, namely underrepresented people. But by and large, they're only here for those ignored classes when they need their votes. Candidates need the brown vote in Calgary's North-East, where there's a powerful block of South Asian immigrants. The Jewish and Chinese vote are sought after in parts of Ontario and Quebec becuase of how they've congregated. (How's this ad for cynical?) The Muslim vote only became important once the Conservatives demonized them for the way some of them dress; the CPC thought they could scare enough non-Muslims to vote. This time, it happened to swing the other way.
Certainly, Trudeau has promised plenty of positive representation for frequently ignored classes, from better gender balance in his cabinet to defending a mosque visit. His wife, too, is considered a big ally when it comes to gender and children's rights. This is a government that, so far, is saying all the right things. But these aren't extravagances—gender equality is literally the least you can do. Don't get comfortable with someone just because they say they'll try to do the most basic thing.
After the election, a British Columbia woman wrote a Facebook post about Trudeau's win, saying she voted for him, but really it was a vote "against the alternative."
This isn’t “Yes We Can,” but rather, “We Have To.”
We’re in the afterglow now, the warm part of an election where we act like the country, finally, will come together. Hey, maybe now our scientists won't be muzzled, our government will care about the environment, we'll stop dividing immigrants into camps of good versus not-good, and it'll be legal for my mom with rheumatoid arthritis to smoke a doob and get some respite that isn't regulated by a pharmaceutical company.
Trudeau’s speech was all about that glow, all squishy pablum and sanctimony. He is not an idiot, nor is he unaware of his best assets. If Harper’s intention was to make you afraid, Trudeau’s is to make you feel safe. You should trust neither.
The issue was never that he wasn’t ready, or that he was standing on his dad’s shoulders. The issue for me is that he might not do anything. Or that things will only improve for the same people things always improve for.
You’ve earned your cynicism if you’re a woman and have watched men in power try to trample on your rights, or if you’re aboriginal and you’ve been ignored for eons, or if you’re a Muslim woman whose existence suddenly became politicized. You've earned it if you're trans and have seen government after government barely acknowledge that your suicide rates are out of control.
You’ve earned it for decades through things that happened in this country long before you got here, to your ancestors, your community, your neighbours. You get to be cynical because elections are nothing if not cynical events. One day, the Liberals will likely fail you (they did before) and another party will rise to power. No party deserves your allegiance immediately after an election. They actually have to work for that.
This doesn't feel good to say, or hear, I know, because we like to look at elections like redos, like we can fix everything that was broken before. And this is particularly true of elections that end with massive overhauls: not only a majority but a new party and a loss so embarrassing that our outgoing prime minister is resigning as leader of his party, too.
But there is a difference between cynicism and being hopeful, and there’s plenty about this election to be hopeful about. There’s a record 10 indigenous MPs elected to the House. Eighty-eight women and a record of 19 Indian-Canadians were elected as well. Harper lost in a big way, perhaps indicative of the country’s refusal to make racism a valid political strategy. And perhaps most importantly, we have a prime minister who, at the very least, verbalizes positive change, from feminist policy, to better diversity, to greater compassion. The bar was set low, sure, but we can be hopeful that the new guy sets it much higher.
Don't look at this like a redo. No one deserves praise just for getting the job; they only deserve it once they do what they said they would. Remind yourself and your government that you won't tolerate inaction, ineptitude, bigotry, or, frankly, cynicism.
They don't get to be cynical. You do.