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Who Ya Gonna Blame?

Follow politicians for a living for as many years as I have and you’ll realize that they’re all playing the same games, telling the same lies, manipulating the same polls, crying the same crocodile tears, all in an effort to fool us into thinking they’re in it for us, when too many of them are in it for themselves. No matter which party you love or loathe, they’re all guilty of playing politics with your money.
We are reactionary, emotional, instinctual animals operating under the false belief that because we walk upright and know how to work a remote control, it somehow elevates us to the height of wisdom and intellect. And yet, we all fall for basic marketing manipulations every day. It’s the reason we buy all of the food, clothing and trappings of modernity that we think will fulfill us. It’s all sales, and politicians are just elite-level salespeople.

They’re hedging their bets, shoveling promise after promise, just hoping that one of their pretend commitments resonates enough with you so that you will believe that they’ve got your best interests at heart.

Which brings me to social media.
You know it’s gotten pretty bad when the vitriol and rhetoric being passed around by regular folks online makes the politicians look like rank amateurs. The shit people say to each other on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and in the comments sections of news sites is the reason I killed all of my social media feeds some time ago.

The next time you’re tempted to go on a political rant, or engage in an online argument, consider the following points.

You’re never going to change somebody’s mind about anything by calling them stupid.

If everybody who talks a big game online actually went out and voted, the high turnout would be unprecedented.

The people we associate with on social media generally share our perspectives, so most of the time, you’re preaching to the choir. You’re not convincing anybody of anything except that you both share the same bias.

There are a lot of damaged people out there and some of them, for one reason or another, get pleasure from pissing off as many people as they can. They might not even disagree with your point of view, but they’ll happily fight with you in the CBC Comments Section, usually under a fake name.

On the other side of the previous point, just because somebody agrees with you online, doesn’t mean you’re right. Wisdom comes from realizing that you don’t know everything, and humbly admitting that you could be wrong, as we all are, a lot more often than we think.

Sharing news story after news story on social media, without thinking about where it came from, just means you’re working without getting paid, failing to ask if the story you’re sharing is even from a legitimate news source. You’re now a volunteer propaganda distributor and they’re making money off of you.

If the most interaction you have with somebody these days is online and you’re constantly complaining about politics and raging about it, it will change how somebody views you in real life. They aren’t separate things. Make no mistake, if somebody knows you in real life, they see through your online bullshit.

Ask yourself how likely it is that the person who is arguing against you will change their mind or position based on the fact that you make up cutesy names for politicians (Trudope, Trumpty-Dumpty, etc.) and insult their entire perspective. How likely would you be to change your position?

You have a limited amount of time on this planet. Arguing with strangers about politics is not the best way to spend it. If you were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, or a family member, or your best friend, would it really matter if a political candidate said something foolish? If this is your one shot at living a fulfilling life, finding meaning, making a difference, how well do those means serve these ends?

The politician or party you’re voting out this time because you hate him so much? That’s the politician or party who replaced the last guy you voted out because you hated him so much. If one was so much better than the other, we wouldn’t keep swapping them.

We compare our own best traits to the worst traits in others, convinced we’re better. We pretend to be virtuous and empathetic online, but race to beat somebody to a parking spot at the mall. We say things to people online that we would never say in real life to another’s face because then you would have to look them in the eye and see the damage you’ve done.

Most people end up voting against somebody they dislike, rather than for somebody they like, the lesser of evils. You leave the ballot box with a heavy sigh, thinking, “well, I did my duty,” but you don’t feel that good about it.

I’m not going to try to fan the flames of democracy here, inspire you to make a difference, or pile on the platitudes about people dying in other countries for the right to vote, or telling you that if you don’t vote, you can’t complain.

Lots of people don’t vote, and they still complain.

I still think it’s important to vote, what really amounts to the bare minimum of participation in the democratic process, but it gets harder and harder to see any benefit as the years go on. With a stage full of disingenuous bad actors, the whole thing feels rather futile, but then again, it always has.
What makes it harder, however, is the false outrage online, the manipulation of some facts, the complete fabrication of others, and how people treat each other, especially when this electoral exercise is in progress.

What’s worse is that people are sharing false information and fake news stories and they don’t even seem to care that they’re being duped, because the fantasy they share supports what they want to believe. But we’ll call out a politician for even the tiniest of lies or indiscretions.

Pot, meet kettle.

You are free to champion one candidate while reviling another. But it is important to understand that your preferences are not shared by everyone else. We all have a bias, we all have different life experience, and we all see the world through a different lens. A person who is trying to make a living in downtown Toronto has different challenges than a person trying to make a living in rural Saskatchewan.

But they probably still have a spouse, children, aging parents, failing health, car payments, a mortgage, a job they tolerate, debts they struggle to pay, and lives that didn’t turn out as well as they’d hoped, or were promised.

We are more alike than different.

This is why social media is so dangerous, because we gravitate toward those with like-minded opinions; we cluster with those people and then go looking for an enemy, which is the cluster of those other people whose opinions and ideals differ from our own. We insulate ourselves from diversity and extinguish our own empathy.

Then we grow to hate each other, a little more every day.

You can’t blame that on politicians.

© Patrick LaMontagne
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Politics, Rage and Social Media


When people find out that I’m an editorial cartoonist, I often hear that I must be having a lot of fun going after Trump, or Trudeau, or Harper, or whomever people love to hate at that given moment. I usually just agree with them and change the subject, because most of the time, I don’t want to talk about it.

It’s just part of my job. It’s not who I am.

A lot of editorial cartoonists I know are political junkies, they love this shit. The theatrics and maneuvering, the players and the games they play, following elections and campaigns…many of my colleagues and competitors get off on it.

I got into this profession from the other side of things. Almost twenty years ago, I just wanted to draw and colour all day and at the time, editorial cartooning was the opportunity that presented itself. Before that, I really didn’t care about politics at all.

As a consequence, I had to learn to follow politics and current events. I was young(ish), opinionated, thought I knew more than I did, so I attacked it with relish. I also had a chip on my shoulder about starting into it a lot later than my competitors and felt I had something to prove. This meant that my mouth/keyboard got me into trouble sometimes, but I learned quite some time ago that sharing my political opinions on forums, comment sections and social media are a waste of my life.

As I’ve gotten older, this job has taken quite a toll on my perspective. When you follow negative news all day, every day for decades, it does damage to one’s psyche. Constant bombardment of bleeding leads and the worst examples of human behaviour taking center stage on the news, are only eclipsed by the relatively recent fashion of everybody sharing and arguing their own point of view with extra vitriol and a side of rage. Finding the good in people is a daily struggle, but I’ve not yet given up. I am both a conflicted idealist and a reluctant misanthrope.

I often equate the online world of this profession to getting up each day, having a shower, getting dressed, then turning on my computer and wading into raw sewage.

Basically, if I got terminal cancer tomorrow, would having an online argument with a perfect stranger about Conservatives and Liberals really be a good use of the time I’ve got left? That question should be given just as much weight even without the terminal diagnosis. I don’t even argue politics on my own editorial cartoon Facebook page. I post the toon and move on to the next one.

When I see people arguing about how bad the Liberals are, I remember the Conservatives, who seemed really bad when they were in power, but not as bad as the Liberals in power before them or the Conservatives before them. You see, follow this stuff long enough and you see the same repeating patterns, regardless of the parties or individual players. Political spin has been around since the first caveman stood up, pointed a finger at the other guy for overcooking the mastodon, and promised the group that he could cook it better. All they had to do was give him the best cut of meat.

So while Donald Trump seems like the extreme example lately, I just see another politician, without the polish of a life in politics. It’s the same mindset; he’s just less practiced at hiding his motivations.

But it isn’t just the elected folks. The people who like to blame everything on the government and tell them to stay out of their lives are often the same people who blame the government for not doing enough when their lives don’t meet the sitcom ideal.

Fix my roads, but don’t make me wear a seat belt or tell me how much to drink before driving. Photo radar is a scam, but I’m not going to slow down. On a Facebook article about a family dying in a car crash due to distracted driving, be sure to click the sad face emoticon on your phone while you’re doing fifty in a school zone.

We expect the government to repair the economy, create more jobs and make sure we can retire early with more money than we currently earn, but don’t make us sacrifice the latest iPhone or SUV in order to pay off our increasing credit card debt. Don’t tell me to eat healthy and exercise, just make sure the health care doesn’t cost me anything, and there had better not be any waiting.

We’re a privileged populace who can’t even tolerate the inconvenience of voting, but we’ll bitch about it online for years afterward. If everybody who says they voted actually voted, we’d have more than a 90% turnout every time.

True story, at the last federal election advance polls here in Canmore, there was a long lineup moving slowly. Poor organization, unexpected volume, who knows the reason? Frustrating, yes, but definitely a first world problem. People fight wars for this privilege.

A man not far behind me in line, finally blurted out something along the lines of, “screw this, if you can’t get your shit together, you don’t get my vote,” and he stormed off, no doubt convinced he was right. I wonder if he had time to watch TV later or share a nasty political meme on Twitter.

We’re all so angry all the time, that we’re not realizing how little it makes sense or how much choice we actually have in the matter. And before I get feedback about the pot calling the kettle black, I hear you. I’ve been angry for a long time and it took a recent frightening personal crisis to realize it.

It’s exhausting. It’s ridiculous. Worst of all, the solution is obvious.

The next time you see something online that gets your blood boiling and presses all of your rage buttons, delay that share, comment or angry emoticon. Take a breath. Take another.

Ask yourself if what you’re reading was designed to make you mad. Ask yourself who has what to gain by your getting angry at it. Was it written by a stranger? By a troll? By a paid lobbyist? By a person whose opinion you even value? Are you being manipulated to feel this way in order to serve somebody else’s agenda? Is this worth getting upset about? Will your engaging with this argument change anything in your life for the better or will it just make you stay angry for longer?

By sharing the instigating post, are you improving the world around you by inflicting the same rage on the people you actually do care about?

Sometimes anger is warranted, especially if it’s a cause or subject that affects you personally or genuinely has an impact on your life and your values. In those cases, your voice matters. One voice can change the world, for better or worse. But you will make your point better after thoughtful consideration, followed by a measured response. If it takes you a day or two to get your thoughts together, so be it. If it’s not worth that day or two, then it isn’t worth it at all.

Most importantly, people are going to disagree with you. Family, friends, colleagues, coworkers, and strangers, are as entitled to their opinions as you are to yours. When they disagree with respect, hear them out. You might learn something. Listening to another’s point of view has become a lost art.

If somebody resorts to insults, name-calling and childish behaviour, let it go. They’re not worth your time.

They’re not worth your life.

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Transition of Power



(Yesterday, one of my newspapers asked me to write a few lines to accompany the editorial cartoon video you see here, ‘Transition of Power.’ I sent them a short paragraph, but realized I had more to say on the matter.)

In the 1980s, my father was stationed in Lahr, West Germany with the Canadian Armed Forces. Growing up overseas was a privilege, but during the Cold War, there was no doubt as to why we were there. Our Canadian schools ensured we got the most out of our time in Europe. We were able to see a lot of it, were exposed to different cultures and we learned its history.

A school visit to Dachau concentration camp had a profound impact on me as did visits to other World War II sites. The history of that era is something I’ve read about a great deal in the more than three decades since.

Most recently, I’ve read the Third Reich trilogy by British historian Richard J. Evans, which details the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. It was a bit of a slog to get through it, but well worth the effort. While there are many differences between the world of the 1930s and today, the similarities to today’s climate in the U.S. can’t be ignored.

There is a well-known internet adage called Godwin’s Law. It states, “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Hitler approaches 1.”

It’s true. We tend to be cavalier with the assertion and most often, it’s unwarranted. The mere mention of Hitler in the same sentence as a current leader is looked upon with derision, along with accusations of lazy logic. Some might say that to compare the current U.S. President to the leader of the Third Reich is irresponsible and inappropriate, largely because it amounts to placing a living human being in the same company as a man who is considered to be the worst mass murderer the world has ever known.

So why is this different?

Today, we have the benefit of hindsight, to see what was allowed to happen in Europe of the late 30s and early 40s once the invasion of other countries began. While world politicians talked, worried about polls, votes and public perception, the ball continued to roll toward what we now know as the worst genocide in human history.

And by the time enough people noticed, it was too late.

We can pretend that what’s going in America is politics as usual, that things will settle down soon and he’ll mellow into the job, despite there being no sign of this happening. It has become cliché to say that we ignore our history at our own peril, and yet we continue to do so time and again.

Hitler surrounded himself with men who supported his views, some who entertained demons far worse than his own. These were men he tasked with carrying out his orders, but also whose appointment gave tacit approval to come up with orders of their own. And they did.

Goebbels, Bormann, Himmler, Eichmann, Mengele, and more. Without Hitler, these men might never have been put in positions that allowed them to achieve their full, horrific potential.

So it isn’t just one man being compared to another, it’s what that one man represents. It’s what he allows simply by his presence.

We forget that Hitler didn’t start by building concentration camps. He started by promising to build a better Germany for Germans, swore to return the Fatherland to its former greatness, and he pointed fingers at minorities and said they were to blame for all that was wrong in the world, then he compared them to vermin.

Yes, the blame rests largely on his shoulders. Hitler wrote the tune and he conducted the orchestra, but he wasn’t the one playing the instruments.

The score was performed by the German people of the time, a shame they later had to live with. Had they known what they were allowing in the 1930s when they failed to speak up, had they a glimpse into the future to see the legacy of their misplaced rage, would they have changed course?

We can never know. How could they possibly have imagined the nightmare to come?

But that is what it means to learn from history, to see the same patterns repeating and to make different choices. Unlike the German people, we know too well what is possible when bad men are given power.

If we allow men like Donald Trump and those he enables to flourish, to explore the full potential of the seemingly limitless power they are currently testing and exploiting, the shame will rest on all of our shoulders.

Will Donald Trump and his inner circle become as monstrous as Hitler and his followers?

I doubt it.

But how far down that road is far enough? A quarter of the way? Half the way?

What are we willing to give up in order to find out?