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Stop Treating Political Parties Like Sports Teams

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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau waves during a campaign rally in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Oct. 17, 2015 ahead of that year's federal election. (Photo: REUTERS/Chris Wattie)

"There are no facts, only interpretations." -Friedrich Nietzsche

Take it from me, a guy who is loathed by both ends of the political spectrum: it isn't easy being a non-partisan these days.

I've always tended to put most of my energy criticizing whoever is in power. Conservative or Liberal, right winger or left winger -- all of them were and are fair game for the pen, or laptop, as it were. When Obama took office I remember telling my friends that while the election in 2008 was historic, I wasn't about to give my good senses to a man tasked with becoming the world's progressive Superman. As the years ticked away, I felt horribly vindicated with every drone strike, every inexplicably strengthened alliance, every statistic denoting the gap between the rich and poor.

And it isn't because I'm smart or an expert on everything political. It's because I know one rule that one should never break when covering politics: never become a fan of an ideology or a human being, and always imagine the person in power is your enemy, no matter who they are or what they claim to represent.

Politics is the art of managing hypocrisy. We excuse the leaders we like for doing the same things we excoriate other leaders for doing. Sometimes this hypocrisy is so blatant, so pronounced, that it surprises me to know that most of us never see it.

In Canada, Justin Trudeau, after a movie-like victory over Stephen Harper's Conservatives, has shielded himself from criticism from many of his loyalists, even as he makes decisions that are facsimiles of his predecessor.

stephen harper supporter signs
Stephen Harper speaks during a campaign rally in London, Ont., Oct. 13, 2015, ahead of that year's federal election. (Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch)

When Harper fought in court against pension-seeking veterans he was persona non grata among sensible Liberals. When Trudeau continued the exact same fight, against those exact same veterans, those same Liberals began to trip over themselves concocting excuses for the young leader.

The game seems to be protect your own, politics be damned. There is a growing list of issues where Trudeau and Harper are in sync, and the vast majority of Trudeau supporters remain steadfastly behind their leader, leaving their principles adrift on social media or at their local coffee shop.

South of the border, now that Obama is about to wrap up his second term, we are seeing more of the same. Donald Trump -- a man who most of the nation sees as a monster, a blowhard, and a wannabe fascist -- has managed to take a decade of Republican demagoguery and convert it into a candidacy with an actual shot at the White House.

Republicans have been especially adept at creating villains out of their ideological opposites. Just hearing the word "liberal" can throw some conservatives into a tizzy hot mess, the branding of the word all but decided long ago. And before progressives get on their high horse, they are known to post articles claiming there is science proving that conservatives are just not as intelligent as their left-wing cousins. No really, it's scientific, don't you know.

We don't have to live like this; caught up in our own side's rhetoric, our own personal doublespeak.

And before you accuse me of shilling for American progressives, Hillary Clinton is another easy example of hypocrisy, especially given her foreign policy leanings and Wall Street connections. But the election has created a force field around her, making any criticism of her received like it's an endorsement for Trump.

It's a frustrating game being played, and it doesn't have an end in sight. It's a cycle that feeds each side through hate and a sense of superiority, and it is probably responsible for a society stagnating in its own slung mud.

Imagine the progress we could have made in North America if we learned to not cheer on political parties as if they were football or hockey teams. Imagine how much we could accomplish if we called out those who wear our ideological colours for engaging in the same boorishness we seem to loathe when others are the offenders. Imagine if we were loyal to issues instead of the men and women who betray their own principles.

A Facebook friend asked me the following question the other day: "Do you ever get tired of people hating you on the Internet?" I could have been all offended, but it was a legit question, given my tendency to criticize all sides. "No. It's how I know I am being honest about stuff," I replied.

trump supporter signs
Supporters hold up signs during a campaign rally with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump Oct. 30, 2016. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

That isn't braggadocio. Honesty should be automatic. When Harper had emission targets that barely made a dent in fighting climate change, I was dismayed. I thought he was putting corporate interests ahead of the good of the planet. When Trudeau was in opposition, he felt like I did and said so during Question Period. Trudeau is now in power, and instead of cutting emissions to respectable levels, he is following in Harper's footsteps.

And once again, his loyal supporters are impotent. Why? Because the person who made the decision is the leader they like. The issue itself matters naught. I can't live that way, no matter how many enemies I make.

But we don't have to live like this; caught up in our own side's rhetoric, our own personal doublespeak. It may seem like a fruitless endeavor, a hopelessness compounded by our fear of the other side, but if we can discover a way of shedding our reflexive nature that sees us brand each other as enemies instead of contributors to complex problems, perhaps the prospect of a brighter future within a more robust society isn't Utopian at all.

Until that happens, I have no choice but to remain a man whom the Internet hates, and in its current form, that's more than fine by me.

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