Dispatch from The Front Line: We regret to inform you that Ford and Kenney have murdered Santa
Too soon to sleep in America; COVID-19 is still A Thing; and a welcome to all our new readers.
Welcome, welcome. First we must welcome those new readers to The Line who were drawn in by columnist and co-founder Jen Gerson's recent picante column The Cancellations will Continue Until the Transphobia Improves. If you come seeking non-stop culture warriorism, however, you will be somewhat disappointed and so we hope you paid upfront.
As per our ongoing tradition, Friday nights (or Saturday nights) are when we blast our Dispatch from the Front Line, a summary of top items in Canadian politics and media bitch-n-snitches from The Line Editor. You'll note that we like puns. Otherwise, we try to feature fun and lively commentary from some of this country's most engaging writers. We hope you enjoy and choose to stay on The Line.
Those comforted by the relative certainty over the past week as future U.S. President Joe Biden took a commanding lead in the electoral college, brace yourself. We at The Line intend to provoke a chord of unease into your unwary souls.
It's been easy to mock the thin turnout of Proud Boys and Pepe worshippers to the pro-Trump march on Washington D.C. on Saturday. And, indeed, mock them we do.
But as the neo-fascists marching on the capital appear small, disorganized, and fringe, the continent of disaffected mainstream Republicans is not. Polling data is starting to emerge that suggests as many as 70 per cent of Republicans in the U.S. don't believe the election was free and fair. Anecdotes of voter fraud — almost all of which have been retracted or found bogus — are rife in Republican circles. And even senior officials are playing shy about acknowledging Biden's win; most notable among them, Donald Trump himself, who has thusfar declined to concede.
Meanwhile, Trump himself has removed senior defense officials in favour of loyalists — which is exactly the sort of move one would generally expect from a half-way competent strongman prior to true power-hungry thuggery.
Even if a military coup is not imminent, the selection of American voters who have lost faith in the legitimacy of the democratic process is deeply ominous. The Republicans who continue to humour this president’s temper at the risk of their own mechanism for gaining legitimate power do so at extraordinary peril. For conservatives who have not yet figured this out: Donald Trump is the monkey’s paw of presidents. You will get what you wish for, but the price of that wish is body and soul.
We at The Line admit that we were heartened to see images of people dancing in the streets as the ballots were counted and a Biden victory seemed imminent last week. Even the dancing from Trump supporters was heartening. Dancing is an act of catharsis, and after the final weeks of this election, and amid a shattering pandemic, perhaps it's the sort of thing we all needed.
But we are still somewhere between the launch of the rocket capsule and its landing. The second wave of COVID-19 intensifies. The economy will feel the virus' effects once again. January 20th — inauguration day — is the dark side of a lonely moon, still very far away. Don’t panic, but be wary.
While we’re on the topic of U.S. politics, your Line editors must confess to an embarrassing moment about a week ago. While fully engrossed in the U.S.-election-news vortex, a story about the COVID-19 pandemic came across our TV screens and we blinked hard and thought, "Oh, God, right. The pandemic!" This isn't a little joke we're telling. This literally happened: after days buried in county-level results from parts of Arizona most Arizonans have never heard of, we were jerked back into the grim reality of life during COVID.
It was a nice break, in a way, because the news is, sadly, grim. The virus remains completely uncontained across the U.S., of course, where new records for positive tests are set nearly every day and hospitals across the country are buckling under the strain. (And this is all before the expected travel and merrymaking for American Thanksgiving.) In Canada, outside of the far north and the Atlantic Bubble — you know, the places almost no one lives — the second wave is hitting with a vengeance, including in places the first wave largely spared.
There had been reasonable early hope, informed by Europe's initial experience during its own second wave, which began before Canada's, that the fall surge would be a "casedemic" — where improved testing produces more confirmed cases, but the younger age profile of the infected and successful efforts to protect vulnerable demographics meant no corresponding surge in serious illness or death. Those hopes have turned to ashes on our tongues — deaths are now swinging up, sharply, across western Europe, and Canadian hospital rates are also surging. The Europeans seem to be six to eight weeks ahead of us, meaning Christmas will likely be a much smaller, sadder affair than normal this year for millions of us — at best.
What can we say? This sucks, as Justin Trudeau recently (and aptly) noted. We had suspected that our relatively normal summers might have been more a respite than a pivot back to normalcy, but we did hope otherwise. Alas. The question is now what will be done about it. The current strategies haven't worked.
It's important to note that managing this phase of the pandemic is the responsibility of the provincial governments. The Line believes that the federal government botched much of its early response to the emergency, and suspects that it will one day pay a price for those failures and delays. But Ottawa is now, in the main, doing its part: the borders are closed (well, closed-ish), economic supports lined up (and how!) and PPE supplies vastly improved. Rapid testing capacity is being rolled out and vaccine orders placed, for when they become available. If Patty Hajdu could keep her frickin' mask on, we'd be tickity boo on the federal front.
It's the provinces that will have to make the tough calls now, and they'll be tough indeed. The Line suspects the various premiers are now starting to realize that some form of lockdown will be required again, as the second wave seems to be coming on stronger than the first. We hope that any such lockdowns are smarter and more targeted than before, and that keeping at least elementary schools open in some capacity is a top priority, alongside other essential services and societal functions — health care, security, critical infrastructure and supply chains, etc. The toll, on both young children and parents, particularly mothers, of widespread school closures is perhaps the only thing that worries us as much as failing hospitals.
We have more sympathy for the provincial premiers than many (our somewhat flippant headline above notwithstanding — look, it made you click, didn’t it?). It's probably true that too many waited too long before ultimately doing too little. But we do not share the apparently widespread belief that this was out of some heartless political ideology or simple buffoonery. The premiers know better than any that there is no free lunch in a pandemic, and even choices that will save lives will come at enormous costs to other lives — including literal deaths, from overdoses and mental-health crises brought on or amplified by the isolation and economic devastation of lockdowns.
The likes of François Legault, Doug Ford, Jason Kenney, Brian Pallister and John Horgan probably never thought they'd have to make choices that would condemn some of their citizens to die so that others might live. But here they are, and all of us along with them. The choice before them are awful. But the virus does not permit us the luxury of time or easy outs. Whatever these gentlemen are going to do, they're going to need to do it fast. Good luck to them, and us all.
As mentioned at the top, we’ve had strong growth this month. We are so, so grateful to all of you. It occurred to us that some of you relative newcomers might not have had the opportunity to read our mission statement — the first piece we ever published here. We encourage you to read it in full, but for those with busy lives, we reproduce this critical portion:
When we complain about "cancel culture" what we really should be discussing is not the righteous anger of the mob, but rather the failure of our institutions to resist unreasonable attacks. Schools, media and businesses have abandoned the moral authority to defend their values. They sacrifice their people to bolster their own reputations, and to conform to rapidly evolving ideological trends.
An institution that is more concerned with how it looks than what it believes will neither reform in any meaningful sense, nor find within itself the ballast to withstand the terrible onslaught of a trending hashtag. When our institutions capitulate, regardless of whether or not the critiques against them are fair or in good faith, that is not "cancel culture."
There is no single explanation as to how this happened. Our cultural institutions are not monoliths. Ideology plays a part. Sometimes leaders themselves have grown fearful of their staff, or afraid of the shame that accompanies an online storm.
Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of finances. Leadership may not matter if you exist one advertiser boycott or cancelled government grant from oblivion. No man is free who cannot pay his own way.
But in the end, it comes down to this: anyone who won’t distinguish between a well-founded critique, and the use of illiberal tactics to silence disagreement, can no longer be trusted to lead our institutions. And an institution, even a well-led one, that doesn’t have a financial future will be too busy managing its own decline to do the important work the public expects of it.
So we need new institutions. Smaller, less encumbered by legacy debts and broken business models, and nimble enough to be independent and viable through direct links to the audience. Through our links to you.
That’s why The Line exists. But we need you as much now as ever. We are growing. We are becoming stronger and more secure in our independence. But we aren’t there yet, and the pandemic is only accelerating the economic ruination of many of the cultural and societal institutions that have propped up liberal democracy, institutions, frankly, that we came to take for granted.
The Line intends to hold the centre so that the fringes on the left and right don’t destroy all we’ve built across the generations. We are not comfortable culture warriors; we honestly quite dislike some of what we have to do here. But we are doing it because we waited years for someone else to step up and do it — someone smarter, more secure, richer or braver — and no one did.
Please subscribe today. If you’re here, you know what we’re saying is true. We cannot survive without your support. Help us hold the line.
The Line welcomes rebuttals, and ran one from Léonid Sirota, in response to some recent commentary here about the growing power of big tech. “I agree that the behaviour of Facebook and especially Twitter has been thoroughly unpleasant of late,” he wrote. “And yet dismal advice is, in this case, the best advice. Hard as it is to accept, it still beats ‘do something’ and its inevitable consequences. And if you really are sure that you know just how much moderation on social media people really want, why not create your own platform? Facebook started in a dorm room. Go for it!”
Fraser Macdonald is worried that Canadians are taking their eyes off the ball and getting distracted by petty scandelettes de jour. “The average person,” argued Macdonald, “and even the average informed voter, is much more likely to be aware of the latest personal political slip-up than they are of the hard economic facts — like Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio. We began 2020 at 30.9 per cent (and trending downwards) and we now know that number will increase to at least 49.1 per cent (and trending upwards, quickly). But the public discourse is focused on the minutiae of personal politics. The media and political class are suffering from Shiny Object Syndrome at the worst possible time. We’re chasing the latest clickbait story when the big (debt) picture is unfolding right in front of us.”
Peter Menzies wrote on a similar theme, warning Canadians that while we were distracted by the shitshow to the south, the Liberals took a hatchet to the internet. “[There] has been a dearth of chatter about Guilbeault’s controversial plan to (my words, not his): restrict consumer choice, tax Netflix to finance certified Canadian content (Cancon) and bring to an end the greatest period of prosperity in the history of the Canadian film and television industry. Did I mention stifling innovation, increasing streaming subscription costs and scaring away investment? No? My bad. Those too.”
And The Line’s co-founder Jen Gerson described the efforts a gentleman we shall simply refer to, for all time, as Dr. Semen-Squirt to get her shitcanned from her various sources of freelance work. “If you want to go around getting a mouthy female journalist fired because she was mean to you on the Internet,” said Gerson, “then your words and actions are fair game for public scrutiny, my dudes. As a freelancer, I don’t have the luxury of a gentlemanly détente. The only way to neuter this form of attack is to expose it.”
And expose it she did.
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