The election of Donald Trump as the next US President is said to be a backlash by Americans, many of whom live in the “flyover country” of the central states, against an elite that lives in the coastal states. This elite, who supported Hillary Clinton, supposedly sees Americans in flyover country as stupid and bigoted and doesn’t care about their problems. Voting for Trump was flyover country’s retaliation against the elite.
In Canada, political voices like Kellie Leitch and Ezra Levant have also portrayed themselves as striking back against an elite, often based in places like Toronto and Vancouver, that supposedly looks down on Canadians who live in other communities the same way the American elite does to flyover country.
On the other hand, progressive social movements such as Black Lives Matter and Idle No More also portray themselves as defending oppressed people, such as black, Indigenous, or transgendered people, against another elite. The elite they are protesting against is said to be patriarchal, racist, and only caring about profit.
Both the conservative and progressive movements portray themselves as standing up for ordinary and oppressed people against an elite that is determined to forcibly repress them. Depending on who you ask, this elite is either progressive and determined to impose social change on people who don’t want it, or conservative and determined to keep wealthy, often white, people in power and keep other groups oppressed.
How can the elite be all these things at once? How can it be racist and patriarchal one day, and determined to impose climate change policies and support for transgendered people the next?
One reason is likely because there is no single “elite” either in Canada or the US. Different people have different kinds of power, that they wield in different ways. That is why you can have progressive activists who can convince governments and parts of society to make social changes they want to see, while conservative activists also convince other governments and parts of society to make the changes they want to see as well.
One could argue that these kinds of divisions have always existed in Canada and the US. However, I can’t recall things being as polarized as they are now, with people on different sides of a debate not being other citizens you disagree with, but enemies who need to be crushed. People who disagree can be tarred as “elites” without having to respond to what they say.
The real danger here is that people forget that people in flyover country and Indigenous peoples might both have good points to make and that they deserve to be listened to. Have we even stopped to think about whether we could act on both the concerns of people who support Trump and Leitch and the people who support Idle No More or Black Lives Matter?
Red Green is a comic character, but he makes an important point when he says that “we’re all in this together.”
But will we act on that?
This article was originally published in the St. Albert Gazette on January 7, 2017 and is available online at http://www.stalbertgazette.com/article/There-is-no-single-elite-in-Canada-or-US-20170107.