It might be going a tad too far to say overstatement is killing us democratically.
Hyperbole, thy name in politics has been true since the world’s second-oldest profession followed the world’s oldest profession into existence. Donald Trump is hardly the first to have gained high office through gifted manipulation of the fibber’s foghorn.
Yet in small ways and large, we seem to have entered an era when things that could simply be said must be shrieked, and when ideas deserving of robust debate must be inflated beyond recognition to immutable ideological dictate. Social media is the obvious scapegoat for our leather-lunged mouth breathing, but my sense something more than just the medium is turning the volume of virtually every message up to 11.
Think, for example, of the painfully silly kerfuffle over Conservative MP Michael Cooper’s treatment of a witness at a recent Commons committee hearing studying online hatred. Cooper took umbrage at the president of the Alberta Muslim Public Affairs Council, Faisal Khan Suri, linkage of last winter’s mosque murders in Christchurch New Zealand to, inter alia, “conservative” belief.
It was a point for fair objection and even correction. The connection to conservatism was, to put a smiley face on it, sloppy thinking sandbagged by lazy articulation. Cooper, alas, went over the top with an embarrassing barracking of the witness that culminated in him insisting that a Canadian citizen testifying on invitation from a Parliamentary committee should be “ashamed” of his words.
Ashamed? Really? Not: “Sir, I believe your great enthusiasm before us has led you into error.” Not: “My good chap, might I recommend Russell Kirk’s fine old book The Conservative Mind From Burke to Eliot to better acquaint you with the meaning of conservatism?” Or: “Mr. Chairman, does the committee have a dictionary to refresh the witness’ memory on the definition of this ordinary word?” No. None of the above. Ashamed! Really?
The saga gets more shambolical. Despite being disciplined by Conservative leader Andrew Scheer for his unparliamentary effrontery, Cooper has become the mascot for all that ails Canadian Tories. Maclean’s magazine cited him as evidence of the party’s “bankruptcy,” a word that seems to have been used only because the ancient Calvinist concept of “total depravity” was too long for a headline. So: one act of malfeasant hooting is amplified by media caterwauling into distortion beyond measure of the bare fact that Michael Cooper is but a 35-year-old excitable boy in his first term as an MP from small-town Alberta. The party of Macdonald, Diefenbaker, Mulroney and Harper is hardly his to redefine.