, 10.15.2018 06:27 AM

Column: Stephen Harper thinks he can manage the likes of Donald Trump. He can’t.

Can Donald Trump be managed? Can so-called “populists” be persuaded to moderate their so-called populism?

Anyone who has paid the slightest attention to politics, in the past two years, knows the answer. The answer is no.

But the optimists – mainly traditional conservatives, like former Prime Minister Stephen Harper – stubbornly persist in a decidedly Pollyanna-ish outlook. Against all available evidence, they continue to believe that the derangement that is Trump-style populism can be wrestled to the ground.

Harper is a traditional conservative, standing on a shrinking patch of political real estate, and he’s responding to the crisis like traditional conservatives too often do: by suggesting that the likes of Trump can somehow be accommodated. But if the nasty, brutish and short-sighted Trump era has shown us anything, it has shown us how profoundly wrong that view is.

Uncharacteristically, the new Harper is a sunny, cheerful Harper, all pigtails and puppy dogs. In his new book, Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption, Harper acknowledges that Trump’s rise has been both “disruptive” and “dysfunctional.” But, bizarrely, Harper then goes on to call Trump’s dysfunctionality “benign and constructive,” which is nuttier than Trump is.

Here’s a snippet from Harper’s book that has been excerpted in the Globe and Mail:

“From Brexit to Donald Trump and the “populist” parties of Europe, [the populists’] success has hit establishment institutions with successive surprises that are provoking reactions leading from confusion to alarm and to outrage… If [traditional] policy does not seem to be working out for the public, in a democracy, you are supposed to fix the policy, not denounce the public.

But, if you listen to some leaders and much of the media, you would not know it. Their response is wrong, frustrating and dangerous. Wrong, because most of today’s political upheaval has readily identifiable causes. Frustrating, because it stands in the way of credible, pragmatic solutions that do exist. Dangerous, because the current populist upheaval is actually benign and constructive compared with what will follow if it is not addressed.”

Donald Trump is “benign and constructive?” Seriously? The only rational explanation, here, is that the straight-laced former Conservative Prime Minister indulged in the Liberal Party’s cannabis policy that he once denounced. Proffer policy, says Harper, and we will mollify and manage Trump’s lunatics legions.

That, to put it charitably, is highly naïve. You don’t offer sugar cubes to a rampaging bull, folks: you kill it.

Harper’s mistake, however, is not his alone.

The punditocracy and the commentariat made (and still make) the same critical error. They said Trump and Brexit couldn’t win, but they won. They said Trump and Brexit couldn’t do it, but they did it. Donald Trump – the bilious, buffoonish billionaire – is the President of the United States. It really happened, Mr. Harper. You’re not dreaming. And no amount of thoughtful “policy” will now offset that.

Donald Trump, having become famous on TV, knew one thing above all else: the political brain is all emotion. Logic and policy, if it plays any role at all in politics in this Century, play only a supporting one. Trump has therefore always known that if he talks like a regular guy, regular guys like will hear him, and they’ll support him, too.

Similarly, Trump and the Brexiteers know that most people – most normal people, anyway – pay little or no attention to politics. They’re Joe and Jane Frontporch, and they’re busy. They don’t have time for voluminous political party platforms, or sitting through political speeches, or reading campaign press releases. In the digital era, to wit, they’re overwhelmed by too much information, so they just tune it all out. That’s why the guy who attracts the most attention is Donald Trump (or those like him).

Guys (because they are mainly guys) like Trump and the Brexiteers are so outrageous, so brash, so loud, they break through the noise, and capture Joe and Jane’s attention, and dominate every media cycle. Harper’s book notwithstanding, that is why plain-talking Trump captured the White House, and why Hillary Clinton didn’t.

Here’s the reality: Donald Trump didn’t happen despite the traditions of the Republican Party – he happened because of the traditions of the Republican Party. Specifically, its recent traditions – and its willingness to hand over the keys to the car to the Tea Party types a decade or so ago, who promptly piloted the proverbial car into the proverbial ditch. The Harper, Romney and Bush types speak for the people who formerly ran their respective parties – while Trump speaks for the people who lack money and corner offices, but who presently run the show.

The progressive side of the continuum have always dismissed guys like Trump as red-necked, mouth-breathing knuckle-draggers. But now traditional conservatives like Stephen Harper are doing it, too.

That’s a big mistake that helps Trump, the Brexiteers and the conservative populists like them: it plays into their strategy, because it suggests the critics of Trump/Brexit/populism are snobby, latte-sipping elitists who profess kinship with ordinary folks – but who wouldn’t want to actually live next door to any ordinary folks.

Want to reassert control, traditional conservatives?

Destroy the populists. Wipe them out. A polite chit-chat, a la Stephen Harper, will only get you more of the very exile from which you are presently attempting to escape.


  1. whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

    I would argue that Harper is not saying Trump is “benign and constructive”. What he is saying is that the vast majority of the “deplorables” are NOT deplorable, and that they should be listened to, and their concerns addressed, OR they will be attracted to the populists of the extreme right or the extreme left or to the mainly crazy (i.e. Trump falls here).

    Globalists like you and Trudeau and Clinton think that the “deplorables” are deplorable. Globalists like Harper (and even Obama is slowly coming around to this camp) is that the concerns of the “deplorables” are legitimate and must be addressed.

    • The Doctor says:

      So those people on the Breitbart comments section who constantly insist that the Clintons are behind a pedophile sex ring . . . their concerns are legitimate and must be addressed?

      • Art says:

        Don’t hold your breath waiting for a reply from the wheat guy.

      • whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

        The vast majority of the 50 something percent that voted for Brexit and the high 40 something percent that voted for Trump aren’t Breitbart commenters.

        Harper isn’t saying anything much different than was J.D. Vance wrote in Hillbilly Elegy.

        Writing off half the population as “deplorable” and that their concerns don’t matter is exactly how one got Brexit and Trump, and all the populist parties in Europe slowly eating away their established parties.

        • Art says:

          It’s no where near half the population. More like about 30%, and a large part of that 30% bought into fake news and Russian bs. You guys need to get a clue.

        • Miles Lunn says:

          Brexit is much different than Trump. Sure it included a lot of racists, but whenever you have a two choice referendum people will vote for a variety of reasons. Many who voted leave simply felt they have surrendered too much sovereignty to the EU as the EU unlike most international organizations does take on many nation state like characteristics. Many older voters I talked to simply followed the classic Reagan line are you better off before or not. Those who were around in 1973 when UK joined often asked that question and those who said Yes generally voted to remain those who said No generally voted Leave. Some even wrongly assumed the remain side had it in the bag so voted leave just as a protest vote hoping if it was close enough it would scare the establishment to change things. Some who were angry at David Cameron and his government voted leave as a way to express this much the same way many who disliked Mulroney in 1992 voted No in the Charlottetown Accord just as a way to send a message to Mulroney.

          As for Trump, agree he is disgusting racists, but of the 46% who voted for him, its important to understand there are two components. There are the hardcore Trump supporters who are deplorables and the soft ones who simply felt he was the lesser of two evils or are upset at the something and the former need to be ignored latter should be listened to. 10% of the electorate voted for Obama in 2012, but Trump in 2016 so if they were willing to vote for a Black president are they racists? I would argue that group is most likely indifferent to racism, if they were racist they wouldn’t have voted for Obama, but if tolerant they wouldn’t have voted for Trump. Obviously not good, but those can be persuaded I believe.

        • The Doctor says:

          Two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a secret Muslim. You’re saying their concerns are legitimate and must be addressed?

      • Steve T says:

        Nice diversion. Of course, it’s only a tiny fraction of conservatives who peddle that garbage, but lovely of you to lump them all together. It’s sort of like saying some left-wingers support the nationalization of every private enterprise, so they all must be communists.

        FYI – it’s this sort of stereotyping that causes some folks to vote for radical morons like Trump. These were otherwise good people who were tired of having “racist”, “sexist”, “heartless”, etc.. screamed at them every time they didn’t toe the left-wing line.

        But by all means, keep up the stereotyping and generalization. I’m sure it will work out differently next time.

        • The Doctor says:

          Steve T: 46% of Trump supporters believe in Pizzagate. That is not a “tiny fraction”. You are in denial:


          For Crissakes, there are QAnon posters and T-shirts in prominent display at Trump rallies. How come those people aren’t being shouted down as the kooks that they are by other Trump supporters? You know why? Because they fit right in.

        • Miles Lunn says:

          Exactly. Insulting every Trump supporter may feel morally satisfying but doesn’t help if he keeps on winning. As mentioned above, I think one needs to realize the spectrum is a continuum and when you have only two parties like in the US its often more about who you hate less so you don’t exactly get a great picture of where the public fully stands as I don’t think you can simply divide Americans into Republicans and Democrats you get great variations.

          In the case of Brexit, I actually think Trump comparison is silly, I think a more apt one is the 1995 Quebec referendum with Brexiters being comparable to sovereigntists and remain being similar to federalists. And you had many on the left support Quebec sovereignty just as many on the left voted for Brexit. Much of the industrial North which is a Labour stronghold and went mostly Labour a year later voted heavily for Brexit. Of Labour constituencies, over 60% of them the Leave side won while of Conservatives ones it was 75/25 split. So I think bad comparison, take someone like Dennis Skinner who was a Labour MP that voted leave and he is about as far as you can get from Trump. Sure Nigel Farage and his UKIP is very Trump like but that is only a portion of the Brexiters and also UKIP even in its best election only got 13%. Even Boris Johnson is probably more akin to Rob Ford than Trump buffoonish but on issues like immigration he is quite different than Trump as he favours amnesty for illegal immigrants who have been there for so long and supports maintaining current immigration levels just no more free movement from the EU, but does not support reducing non-EU immigration. By contrast Trump would never support those.

          I will probably do a blog on this later, but I think the real problem today is the most extreme types are the nosiest and many on the left wrongly assume all right wingers are hood wearing, neo-Nazis, Gun totting, women hating, rednecks, while many on the right wrongly assume all on the left are Chavez, Castro loving commies who want to confiscate all private property and send all right wingers to gulags. Off course the reality is very few are either of those.

          I actually think the left’s condescending attitude towards those who don’t think like them is a big reason for the rise of the populist right. It’s basically a way of flipping the bird to the left. If the left were more respectful in their discourse, you would still have conservatives, but more your traditional moderate and less attracted to the populist right. In fact in Europe, far right parties tend to outperform polls when there is no chance of them coming in first (see Norway and Germany last year) while underperform when polls show them competitive (see Sweden, France, Netherlands, and Austria where the far right in each case severely underperformed pre-election polls). That says to me a lot are probably protest votes angry at the elites and this is more a way of sending a message to them, but once it sinks in those people might actually win they back off. I almost wonder if the media didn’t play up the idea Trump had no chance of winning if Clinton might have won then as I suspect some Trump voters just assumed Clinton was going to win, so did it as a way to send a message and if they actually realized he had a strong chance they might have like in Europe had second thoughts.

          • The Doctor says:

            I see. So it’s the left’s fault that so many right-wing people are racist and believe in whackjob conspiracy theories etc.

          • Miles Lunn says:

            The Doctor – No its not, but insulting anyone who is slightly right of centre is a lot different than insulting hardcore Nazis and I feel a lot on the left just label anyone on the right as evil and I am not surprised there has been a backlash. Otherwise focus on getting the best results not what feels best at first.

      • Fred from BC says:

        Those people are a very tiny fraction of the group he is talking about, and you know it.

        • The Doctor says:

          Two-thirds of Trump supporters believe that Obama is a secret Muslim. On what planet is two-thirds a “tiny fraction “?

          • Fred from BC says:

            On what planet do two-thirds of Trump supporters actually believe that? Oh, let me guess: CNN and the New York Times commissioned an ‘impartial’ poll, right?

          • The Doctor says:

            Like a true Trump supporter, every poll you don’t like is fake.

      • Pedant says:

        It’s not like you to raise such strawmen, Doc.

        No, pizzagate nuts can safely be dismissed and ignored, but maybe the concerns of the working class having their wages suppressed and house prices inflated due to massive immigration (highest in the Western world) and TFWs might just be legitimate and worth listening to?

        • pierre lawayne says:

          I’m just going to enjoy the exquisite sound of sealed indictments being opened in the morning after Nov 6th.

  2. Robert White says:

    Harper’s notions of contemporary politics lacks insight into history whereby ‘strong man’ leadership is the forerunner to societal violence and wholesale upheaval on a global level. Mussolini foreshadowed Hitler’s rise to power as both fomented social strife to exact compliance with their collectivist agendas at a cost to society and the world.

    Harper seeks opportunity with the strong man ‘leadership’ by placating & mollycoddling the child in the White House with a pacifier of agreement in terms of what he is doing.
    Bottom line is that anyone that would support The Duck is out-to-lunch intellectually.

    Harper has been out-to-lunch since 08, and by the looks of his latest screed on contemporary politics he is still out-to-lunch but on the lecture circuit for narcissistic pursuit much like Kanye West is when he gets called to The White House by Uncle Tom Trump for a photo-op African American prop session.

    Populism is Fascism by another name.

    Harper supports Fascism and he supported the George W. Bush Torture Regime too.

    Harper will never change.


  3. The Doctor says:

    Trump has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Anyone who really knows how personality disorders work knows that you can’t “manage” these sorts of people.

    • Fred from BC says:

      The very idea that any Canadian Prime Minister could somehow “manage” a US President is both laughable and naive, sorry.

      (but if you’re going to try, try the sugar cubes…because you certainly have nothing to “kill him” with, do you?)

    • Miles Lunn says:

      You cannot manage Trump agreed, but insulting anyone who votes for him feels good momentarily, but doesn’t when people like him keep winning. I think a big reason for the rise of the populist right is the left too often lumps all conservatives with the most extreme elements and constant belittling and insulting anyone on the right has pushed many of those on the moderate right further to the right. The hardcore Trump supporters you cannot win over, but the soft ones you can and engaging them will in the long-run deliver desirable results, insulting them just helps harden them into stronger Trump supporters so may feel good emotionally for a short while, but won’t long term work out well.

      • Fred from BC says:

        My thoughts as well, Miles.

        The big question is, can the left put aside their childish obsession with insulting and smearing Donald Trump and everyone who even dares suggest (gasp!) that he might not actually be the AntiChrist after all? Can they act like adults long enough to take a long, hard look at the facts and act accordingly to defeat him? Because he *can* be beaten, for sure…just not the way they keep trying to do it.

        I’ve said this several times already, but here it is again: if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that many of the people who claim to despise Donald Trump and everything he stands for are in fact working diligently to win him a second term. 🙁

        • The Doctor says:

          Yes. It’s all the fault of lefties and liberals that Trump is a thing. If they were just more polite and accepting, Trump and his supporters would be way nicer, way less racist and wouldn’t believe in any kooky conspiracy theories.

  4. Jack says:

    Stephen Harper is full of shit on so many levels, its astonishing that he’s managed to remain this out-of-touch and arrogant almost three years out of office.

    I now remember exactly why I couldn’t stand this guy towards the end of his time in office.

    He is the human embodiment of the WSJ; a conservative who has perched himself high upon a pedestal of faux intellectualism and self-righteous prognostications in order to normalize the abnormal.

    His comment about “benign and constructive” is exactly the kind of reductionist attitude traditional Republicans/conservatives have towards the quantifiably erosive culture Trump has rode-on into power. Its also revealing the degree of comfort Harper and his peers have exhibited towards the nexus of nationalism and exclusionary-conservatism that Brexit/Trump have produced.

    Stephen Harper is an endless source of wisdom now that he’s not in power, and his new book is nothing but a signal to the readers who will soak up his commentary: I am still your saviour.

  5. Miles Lunn says:

    I think the real reason no one will destroy the Trump like politicians is they know it would split the party and ensure Liberals in Canada, Democrats in US, and Labour Party in UK win due to vote splitting and their hatred of the left blinds them to the dangers of the populist right. It may cost them an election or two, but once they rid the poison of the Trump like people, the party will be much more appealing to many who are open to conservative ideas but aren’t voting conservative. Otherwise for Conservative parties it is short term pain for long term gain. Unfortunately too many politicians from all parties only think about the next election, not the next few.

    If the Conservatives brandish Trump like types, may cost them 2019 and perhaps 2023, but could allow them to be the natural governing party winning once again in urban areas and Atlantic Canada. For Republicans states like California, Illinois, and Connecticut could be competitive again like they once were, not GOP wastelands like they are now. And for Conservatives in the UK, they could start winning the majority of seats in London again, not just those on the periphery and the few wealthy enclaves near the financial district. They could also become competitive again amongst millennials, instead of relying heavily on seniors like they do now.

    That being said having a straight talker who is moderate might help, a good example I can think of is your old boss Jean Chretien who connected much better with Jane and Joe frontporch than many progressives today and did so without bringing in extreme ideas. Ralph Klein would be an example of this for traditional conservatives, while for NDP you have to go back aways, but Jack Layton sort of fit this mold and certainly a lot of earlier NDP leaders did.

  6. Michael B says:

    Stephen Harper couldn’t manage Mike Duffy.

  7. Pedro says:

    To carry on the “deplorable” angle, our current Canadian political leadership has been “handling” Trump the last two years by essentially, in different words, calling HIM deplorable. Has gotten us this far. I s’pose no one reading Kinsella can fathom that ANY other approach will work. I can imagine there are a few (very few in Canada) who might be willing to try.

    • Ronald O'Dowd says:


      We haven’t been watching the same television: the grand plan was to get Trump to make nice with Canada by our co-option of Jared and Ivanka. We were supposed to kill the heart of the beast with kindness and big smiles.

      In the end, we got USMCA for our trouble while Trump gets the last word on Trudeau ‘s fondest economic wish – – an eventual bilateral with China. Kiss that one off now.

    • Robert White says:

      Aside from punching him in the face & hoofing him in the shins I can’t think of anything else that might work?

      We could arrest him for inciting hatred against women & minorities and then leave him in the Don Jail to rot on appeals??

      I still think punching him in the face would be better than ignoring him out of contempt but that’s just me.


  8. Peter says:

    Destroy the populists. Wipe them out..

    And this would be done how exactly? What should the game plan be for people with money and corner offices to take charge again?

  9. Pedant says:

    Illiberal progressives have run roughshod over the body politic and Trump is their creation. Harper realizes this. But those like him are partly to blame, for he did little in office to weaken the entrenched taxpayer-funded privileges of progressives. He didn’t reduce immigration (he should’ve slashed it during the GFC). He didn’t defund the CBC. He didn’t abolish the legalized discrimination known as employment equity. He didn’t tackle university obstruction of conservatives’ right to free speech. He didn’t tell the wealthy Quebec dairy farmers to take a hike. He DID make some minor attempts to reign in the exploding public service – now all reversed with Trudeau in charge. Taxpayers funding $90K salaries for secretaries is worth it if it means a few more Liberal voters, see.

    Populism will not be destroyed unless democracy itself is destroyed.

  10. Gord Tulk says:

    At the core of this rise in centre-right, FORTHRIGHT ‘they fight’ politics is the desire of a large majority of citizens to see the administrative state cut back.

    I think PMSH misses that or at least mislabels it.

    The hysteria on the left is due to the fact that democracy and free choice will not deliver on their goal of commanding all citizens on what they can say or do.

    And that hysteria is going to devastate them at the polls.

  11. Marxism, communism, fascism and populism are but the first bus stops on the way to the inevitable — totalitarianism.

    Dictators in office is always the end result.

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