Monday, 14 November 2016

Spin doctoring 101

There is a very clever thing that politicians, mostly on the right, but probably all across the political spectrum, do when trying to build support for an idea that would be very unpopular if presented in clear and honest terms. They spin it.

They take a concept like, say, keeping people they don't like because of their religion or skin colour or sexual orientation, out of the country. Now, most people in Canada would say, "That's terrible! That is racist/homophobic/xenophobic! That is not what we do in Canada! In fact, that is un-Canadian!"

"Un-Canadian" There it is. That's the hook. Based on some focus groups and watching social media, the spin doctors realize that Canadians are concerned about and actively dislike things they perceive as un-Canadian behaviour. Like racism. And hatred based on religion. And homophobia.

Alright then, they think. How do we frame what is a de facto filter to keep these people of colour, Muslims, and others we don't agree with out of the country in a way that sounds like we are actually supporting Canadian values and protecting the country from un-Canadian ideas?

To start with, let's talk about really abhorrent things that most people will agree are un-Canadian. Honour killings. Marrying 12 year old girls to old men. Female genital mutilation. Terrorism. Never mind that these things are already fully covered under our criminal code. Never mind that it is almost impossible to test people for their values. Never mind that if anyone is actually thinking, "Gee, I think I will move to Canada and do heinous deeds", they will probably lie about their values and intentions to get in. Never mind that the kind of in-depth interview process this screening would require would effectively shut off immigration because of the time and manpower it would take to conduct.

Because none of that is the point. The end-game here is to a) stir up hostility towards minorities (because the CPC is well aware that many of their base harbour deep suspicions about those who dress, look, speak, or worship differently from themselves), b) clog up the the immigration system to ensure that only those the CPC approves of can get in, and c) move public sentiment more in line with the alt-right nationalist view that Canada should be a white, Christian country.

And the strategy is brilliant. None of us want murderers, torturers, rapists, child abusers coming here to do their thing. Which makes this proposition so difficult to argue against. As a vague concept, screening immigrants for un-Canadian values seems like a good idea. But, what exactly, are un-Canadian values? Who gets to decide? Would prospective immigrants be asked if they are willing to convert to Christianity? If they accept creationism as a theory equal to or better than evolution? If they support pro-life and teaching abstinence in sex ed instead of teaching real biology? In short, will they be screened for "social conservative" values? Seems like a crackerjack way to increase the voter base.

Much talk has been given to "tolerance" and "diversity" being Canadian values that would be screened for. But, seriously, how tolerant and accepting of diversity is screening people to find out if they think just like you?

In practice, it is an unworkable plan. But that isn't the point. The point is to get Canadians dredging their deep subconscious for those racist, xenophobic, homophobic feelings and dragging them out. Putting them on display, much as the Trump campaign did in the US. Appeal to people's baser instincts under the guise of keeping us all safe. But, safe from what? If someone has a different complexion, believes in a different religion (or no religion), loves a different gender than the traditional, it does not mean they pose any threat to you. Tolerance, acceptance, and celebrating diversity are Canadian values. Screening for those who are different is not. Nor is stirring up latent fear, dividing people, plumbing for hatred.

We have to keep our eyes on the puck here and not be hornswoggled by clever spinning.

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