On Monday, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked the Emergencies Act to quell protests by truck drivers in Ottawa.
From the beginning, I remained quietly fascinated by the whole spectacle. Quietly, because I found it difficult to know what I thought of them, fascinated because they are a window on the political transformations on both sides of the 49th parallel.
The protests began as a revolt against an ill-advised new vaccination mandate in January, forcing unvaccinated truckers to get vaccinated or self-isolate for two weeks every time they cross the US border. While I think everyone should get vaccinated, the rule made little sense in a country with 80% vaccination or for a profession that involves almost no human interaction. Truckers are not nurses or teachers. Loneliness comes with work. Moreover, Canadian truckers are already 90% vaccinated.
Of course, the passion of the protesters came from the frustration accumulated after two years of confinement and mandates. And, as often happens with mass protests, the claims have metastasized over time. Now they want Justin Trudeau’s government to dissolve and hold new elections. The demand is simply unattainable – protests have never been particularly popular in Canada. But illegally blocking streets and bridges as a kind of political extortion is indefensible — whether it’s Canadian truckers or Black Lives Matter protesters or any other group.
What really fascinates me are the reactions to the Canadian protests here in the United States. They highlight how the coalitions that make up left and right have changed profoundly, and how their attitudes and ideas are changing as a result.
If I were to describe these protests to a leftist 50 or 150 years ago, they would sound good. Proletarian workers are spontaneously using their class power to tighten the wheels of global capitalism in order to assert their grievances! It was once the stuff of heroic socialist agitation. The fact that the tow truck drivers refused to help lift the blockade would be seen as the very soul of working-class solidarity. Now, when GoFundMe announced it would cut donations to truckers, liberals either shrugged or clapped.
One explanation is that the pandemic has been subsumed into the pre-existing culture war fight. That’s why Trudeau, who is squarely on the Liberal side of this divide, has reflexively deployed every imaginable wide-awake charge against the largely peaceful strikers. By choosing a handful of ugly signs — and a Confederate flag — Trudeau tried to guilt the entire group by association as peddlers of not just racism and Nazism, but also “transphobia.” Rather than meeting the protesters, he chose contempt: “Hate can never be the answer,” he insisted.
This points to a larger explanation. The old prism of class has been supplanted by the prism of identity politics. While the Democratic Party is increasingly dominated by people with college degrees and college degrees, the white working-class core of the former FDR coalition has steadily migrated to the right (and there are early signs of a shift, too). a migration of the non-white working class). Leading Democrats speak the language of “intersectionality,” using terms like “Latinx” that leave many Latinos cold. Early in the pandemic, mass protests in violation of lockdowns were acceptable — even laudatory — when done in the name of racial justice. But the protests from truckers – or parents – who just want to get back to normal? They are ridiculed as anti-science or worse.
Meanwhile, conservatives, traditionally the champions of law and order, not to mention the free flow of commerce, have fallen in love with truckers and their disobedience. Anti-mandate absolutism is, once again, part of the story. But many right-wingers in the United States have also become convinced that the Republican Party must become a nationalist “workers’ party.” The condescending liberal elites, anti-democratic technocratic pundits, and woke globalists who run the Democratic Party have made the GOP the natural home for rigid workers, they argue. This stuff may be overdone, of course, but there’s also an underlying truth.
These national tectonic cultural shifts have turned protesters in Ottawa into something of a Rashomon or Spanish Civil War story – a foreign conflict that illuminates how culture war fighters view combat at home.
It’s a confusing transition, and neither side has quite figured out how to adapt to their new coalition imperatives, let alone enact public policies that match them. Perhaps to compensate for this fact, rhetoric has overtaken reality. Each side casually accuses the other of being an existential threat, pitting transphobic Nazis against totalitarians.
Neither side is right about the other, but both are unlikely to realize that anytime soon.
Jonah Goldberg’s column is syndicated by Tribune Content Agency.