Sans Noblesse Oblige (aka Snob): Trying to Understand What Went Wrong
When I began to write this piece, I was sitting on a forty-eight foot sailing boat in the Bay of Quinte on vacation drinking rosé wine — I was living the life. This vacation is roughly halfway through and so far I had learnt several new things, particularly about sailing.
I had also learnt the origins of the word ‘snob’ — sans noblesse oblige. This definition has stuck with me, and as I sipped on my rosé, admired the gorgeous beauty of this country, and typed on my MacBook, I began to wonder where it all went wrong.
I grew up in a middle class family in a well-off neighbourhood. Both my parents have university degrees as do the parents of my childhood friends. I was pushed by my parents academically from a young age to succeed, and by and large, with some stumbles along the way, I have succeeded academically.
My education was not merely the formal pedagogy of publicly funded Catholic French immersion education; it also consisted of civic and international education taught by my parents. My parents have taught me to be a good citizen, to volunteer, to give back to my community, and to spot wrongs and try and correct them.
They also have immersed me in Regina’s multicultural community so that from a young age, I was engaging with people different from myself. My domestic and academic educations converged to form me into a liberal internationalist who cannot understand why people like Trump, Marine LePen, Doug Ford, Geert Wilders, and others like them are succeeding.
To be fair, this is not a great image that I am painting of myself. It lives up to that word that is often thrown at people who live lavish lifestyles: snob. There is a reason for my description above, one which I will develop below. Please bear with me.
My Jesuit education tells me to use Ignatian presupposition. So, this is my attempt at seeing if I can use my liberal arts education to understand why people have turned away from internationalism, globalisation, and openness.
What are the major issues driving people toward Trump, Marine LePen, Doug Ford, Geert Wilders, and that style of populist (far-)right politics? From what I can see, it is fear. It is the fear that things are moving too quickly. The people feel that maybe we are letting in too many new people to our country that do not look like you and me and are changing our country from its Judaeo-Christian heritage.
They are afraid of losing the political power they are accustomed to having and exploiting. It may not be that people are racist or xenophobic, but they are losing their way of life which scares them.
I listened to The Ezra Klein Show the other week. Mr Klein interviewed David French who argued that the whole issue is white identity politics, a fight between Whites. That the rise of Trump et al is a fight between different groups of Whites who lead very different lives: those who work in factories and have traditional blue collar jobs, and those who live liberal elite lives where they are jetting or sailing off on vacation — those whom many view to be snobs.
What went wrong is that the liberal élites of our societies, or simply those who are in the upper middle class, flaunted their lavish lifestyles and their growing richness or comfortableness when many in our societies feel that they are struggling to have their voices heard or make ends meet.
And as these élites continue to brag, such as I did at the beginning of this article, about the posh trips they are taking and of their pedigree, it distances them further and further from the average Joe. We see this all the time: the Conservatives tried to paint themselves as the party of Main Street and the Liberals as the party of Bay Street.
To certain extents this is true, but both parties have deep ties to both Main and Bay Streets. In this flaunting of lifestyles and growing riches, liberal élites became complacent and lazy.
These people, and to some extent I do belong to this group, especially under the Obama administration, felt that they had secured their grip on power and that in face of such an outrageous candidate as Donald Trump that Secretary Clinton was the easy choice and would win. Being lazy and having a sense of entitlement was just what (far-)right populists need to win elections.
So, now, in an attempt to redeem myself from the introduction, let me provide some solutions to the problem to hopefully avoid another Trump.
If the progressive left, or the liberals of our society become complacent and entitled to power, then we will lose. They must take a page out of the conservative playbook and constantly without end be out there convincing people that a globalised world is better for them, that immigration is the best thing for the country, and that just because the country’s demographics are changing on religious and ethnic lines does not mean that one’s voice counts any less.
As soon as one has a citizenship in the country, that person’s voice is as equal as everyone else’s.
The solution to combatting anything in politics is hard work. If you want to achieve something, you have to work for it. You have to devote yourself to that cause because you do not know if the other people on your side are as committed as you are. Nothing in politics can be taken for granted.
Elections that seemed sure to lead to majorities, landslide majorities, or simple victory for one party or candidate have turned out to produce the opposite or no one gaining control, just take the New Brunswick provincial election for example. You have to work hard and be steadfast if you want to succeed and change the country for the better.