In praise of Greta Thunberg and her narrative, to hell with Maxime Bernier

Bernier’s Twitter tirade fits a narrative archetype called “overcoming the monster” often used by populists like Donald Trump

Maxime Bernier is failing at the populist strategy that propelled Donald Trump to power in 2016, with the People’s Party of Canada polling in low single digits only six weeks from election day. Canadians are simply not buying his “overcoming the monster” narrative, as demonstrated by their response to Monday’s vicious Twitter attack on climate activist Greta Thunberg.

By design, populist politicians are fearmongers. For Trump, it was Mexican drug dealers and rapists. Bernier tried a similar strategy with “mass immigration” (320,000 people will immigrate to Canada in 2019, less than 1% of the population) and “climate alarmism” (a new Abacus Data poll, released Friday, shows Canadians agree there is a “climate crisis”), among others.

Since populists try to sell themselves as the father figure who will save the people from a dire threat, they use fear-based narratives as part of their political toolkit, says Dr. Clive Baldwin, the Canada Research chair in narrative studies at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, NB, adding that stories are a profound way of organizing and understanding our world that most often rely upon emotion and intuition rather than facts and arguments.

“Humans are meaning-making animals and creating narratives is a meaning-making activity,” he told Energi Media. “Who needs facts when you have a narrative?”

Consciously or not, Bernier uses a narrative archetype British journalist Christopher Booker called “overcoming the monster,” in which the hero must vanquish a great evil to save the world. Hollywood was built on this type of story – cue Captain America.

According to Booker, there are five stages in this story and Bernier is embroiled in number four, the “final ordeal,” when Herculean efforts must be made to rescue the victims, though not without a few close calls before the “miraculous escape,” which requires no explanation.

Thunberg is a handy “monster” for Bernier, whose tweetstorm was nasty even by his standards. He called the Swedish highschooler is mentally unstable, obsessive-compulsive, and accused of her of suffering from an eating disorder, depression, lethargy, and living in a constant state of fear. He ranted about “green leftists” and their “radical ideology” that would make Canadians poorer and upend their lives. 

All of which seems to stem from her speeches that contained lines like this: “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day and then I want you to act.”

And comments like these, made during remarks to the British House of Commons, as reported in The Guardian: “You lied to us. You gave us false hope. You told us that the future was something to look forward to.”

Alert readers will notice that Thunberg also uses fear to motivate her audiences, but her “overcoming the monster” narrative is about spurring nations to collective action to avoid a catastrophe, rousing her fellow humans to build a better future for today’s children – noble, selfless sentiments. She is plainspoken, remarkably composed for her age, and her words pluck at the heartstrings of even the most jaded politicians.

After her Commons address, Tory environment minister Michael Gove said Thunberg was like the “voice of my conscience” and acknowledged that his generation hasn’t “done nearly enough to address climate change and the broader environmental crisis that we helped to create.”

Many Canadians were outraged and many expressed their displeasure on social media. Pundits like Gary Mason of The Globe and Mail quickly called Bernier to account: “He is fighting for your attention ahead of the fall election and seems willing to do and say anything to get it – no matter how small and cruel he comes across or how withering the criticism his antics incite.”

Source: Abacus Data.

Bernier tweeted a half-hearted apology for calling Thunberg’s mild Autism a mental illness and claimed, “My goal was absolutely not to denigrate her or whoever deals with these conditions.”

No one buys that explanation, Mr. Bernier.

The Abacus poll, however, explains why Canadians are connecting with Thunberg’s message: recent extreme climate events like fires and floods have convinced them climate change is real and, indeed a crisis. Respondents to the online survey of 1,500 adults during late August suggest that three-quarters support action to combat climate change because of extreme events like melting polar ice in Greenland and forest fires in the Amazon.

“Canadians were already broadly convinced that storms, floods, worrying warming in the north, fatal heatwaves in Europe, and devastating fires in the Amazon are all part of a broad phenomenon that society should be doing more to arrest,” says Bruce Anderson, chairperson of Abacus. “There may be an active political debate about carbon pricing, but there is a sweeping consensus that climate action should be a priority, as signs of Earth’s duress dominate the news.”

Bernier and his Trump-style narrative about “climate alarmism” just isn’t gaining traction with Canadian voters, as his pathetic attempt to portray little Greta Thunberg as a “monster” demonstrates.

In fact, the real monster in this story is Bernier himself, who will hopefully be banished from the public square by voters on October 21.

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