PHOTOS: “Make America Hate Again.” (Jake May, Below: U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump and Canadian politicians Kellie Leitch and Jason Kenney. They’re not the only ones, unfortunately.

Can anyone in Alberta’s mainstream media seriously claim to have been surprised by the vile stream of threats, abuse and harassment unleashed on a Mount Royal University student when they torqued a non-story about her supposed “political correctness” into an international sensation?

I mean, seriously, a couple of university students disagreeing emotionally and at times rudely about politics is hardly worthy of mention in a student newspaper, let alone worldwide news coverage by grownups! Never mind that Zoe Slusar was making a fair point when she argued another student wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat on a Calgary university campus did, in fact, send a threatening message.

But right-wing media in North America just love to accuse people who challenge their divisive orthodoxy of being “politically correct,” as if opposing racism and standing up for inclusiveness in society were unreasonable things for a citizen to do.

It can be argued the media’s whole political correctness thing is itself a kind of bullying, intended to make politically engaged citizens think twice about daring to express their disgust at the dog-whistle messaging used by the likes of Canadian conservatives Kellie Leitch and Jason Kenney, plus, of course, U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Regardless, anyone at the Calgary Sun surprised by the viciousness with which North American rightists respond to anything they don’t like, particularly when the target of their anger is a woman, hasn’t been paying any attention to their own Alberta beat!

No one who has been paying attention to Alberta politics since the NDP came to power should be surprised by any of this. Ugly threats on social media are standard operating procedure for the far-out fringe of Alberta’s right.

No, it’s fair to say that the Sun – which appears to have fired the opening salvos in the war against Ms. Slusar’s right to free speech – knew perfectly well what it was doing when it began to egg on the loony right with its mantra of “political correctness.” It’s said here they wrote the stories the way they did because they just couldn’t resist the temptation to wrong-foot anyone with a legitimate criticism of a right-wing politician or position.

Given that this was a total non-story anyway, about the best that can be said of this effort to foment outrage is that it was highly irresponsible.

In the event, Ms. Slusar and her loved ones have received more than 200 ugly and threatening messages in the short time since reprints of the Sun’s stories began appearing prominently in other like-minded publications like the National Post. Some of these late-night phone calls and social media messages have called for her to be murdered, others suggest she take her own life, still others urge degrading violence upon her.

So if Ms. Slusar said she found the implications of someone wearing that particular hat on the Calgary university’s campus threatening, subsequent events confirm her fears were completely justified.

If she imagined she would get any support from the university administration, however, she was bound to be disappointed. Notwithstanding the risible claims of the right, delay and cowardice are the normal response of most university administrations in the face of right-wing hysteria, and MRU’s administrators have performed to expectations.

When threats don’t work, the right moves on to whining about how they’re the victims of political correctness. We have now reached that stage in this story.

The next step in the right’s predictable repertoire is to complain they’re being “persecuted.” (Memo to Rev. Brian Coldwell and his religious-school supporters: Being fed to lions, crucified or sold into slavery for your religious beliefs is persecution. Being politely told you should take measures to stop anti-gay bullying in your private schools is not.)

And the Sun – which at least nominally covers Alberta politics – didn’t understand all this? Oh, give us a break!

So let’s talk about the message on that hat.

Why was the hat offensive? That’s pretty easy – it is fair to say Mr. Trump is running an overtly racist campaign, even if he has finally conceded that President Barack Obama was, in fact, born in the U.S.A.

The slogan on the hat – “Make America Great Again” – is a kind of sly racism, for the simple reason that the United States of America has never really not been great, arguably since the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and certainly since the end of the Civil War in 1865. Since 1945, as we all understand, the United States has enjoyed a kind of greatness unparalleled in human history, exceeding that of Rome or the British Empire, culturally, militarily and financially.

So if Mr. Trump is not talking about that kind of greatness, what kind of greatness is he talking about? Everyone on both sides of this debate understands that too – it’s about returning to the day when white males were the unquestioned masters of that country and the world, and no one else was allowed into the clubhouse.

So was a dumb-ass hat on an undergraduate’s head threatening? Who knows or cares what the kid wearing it had in his heart? The threatening nature of such gestures, intended or not, is obvious. The proof is in what’s happened to Ms. Slusar and her family in the past few days. The bigger message, though, is “if you think that was bad, just wait till our guy’s in charge…”  We saw this very phenomenon during the Brexit campaign in Britain.

So, what if some kid had worn a black ball cap with a swastika on it? Or a KKK hood? Would those gestures be considered legitimately offensive, or would the Sun jump to the wearers’ defence as well? Would the Sun in those circumstances also scream political correctness, and try to set up critics for a campaign of harassment?

Sad to say, I don’t know the answer to those questions. But it’s worth asking, are those universally recognized racist symbols really all that different from Mr. Trump’s 21st Century ugliness just because one comes from the 19th Century and other from the 20th?

Mr. Trump, of course, has thankfully not yet had a chance to put his promises into action. But history teaches us to beware politicians who promise great outrages. Sometimes they deliver.

So, was Ms. Slusar right to speak up and challenge the hat wearer? You bet she was!

All decent people have a responsibility to challenge hateful speech and actions – which can be a pretty uncomfortable experience.

Does the kid in the hat have the right to wear it anyway? Well, yes, he does. That’s the thing about recognizing free expression as a fundamental right – it’s there to protect offensive speech, not just speech with which everyone agrees. Virtually everyone the Sun disparages for their alleged “political correctness” gets that.

But in a “marketplace of ideas,” we can’t marginalize offensive speech without criticizing it. So recognizing this fundamental right sure as hell doesn’t mean – as mainstream media’s professional political correctness scolds clearly want us to believe – that we’re obligated to keep our lips zipped when we hear hateful, threatening or abusive speech. And it doesn’t mean that people courageous enough to speak up are “ultra-sensitive” or “politically correct.”

Isn’t it curious how right-wing “free-speech advocates” instinctively use all the legal and political weapons available to them, from their exclusive media franchise to the law of defamation, to suppress legitimate democratic criticism when it comes their way?

Thankfully, it’s not working. And it will never work, no matter how much Postmedia’s political columnists whine about it. So hats off, as it were, to Zoe Slusar, for having the courage to speak up.

And shame on the Alberta media, especially the Sun editions of Postmedia’s deplorable Alberta Frankenpaper, for lacking the energy or inclination to write about real news, and for their complicit role encouraging the attacks that Ms. Slusar and her family will have to endure for a while yet.

If it’s any comfort to them, the media will move on eventually. After all, it’s almost time for the same crowd to start screeching about the imaginary War on Christmas. Oh! Wait! It’s already happening!

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  1. David- you’ve expressed in this piece some inchoate ideas I had on this topic, and some I hadn’t thought of, in a way I haven’t been able to express even to myself, never mind to the wider public. Thanks very much for this column.

  2. I am old enough to remember the Bush/Cheney years.

    If anybody then had worn a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat they would have been torn a new one by the conservative media for even suggesting that at any time since 1776 America had been anything less than GREAT on its way to its divine destiny.

  3. Take a deep breath David. Wipe the spittle from your chin. Remain calm …. it’s just a hat!
    The brouhaha is just a small part of the annual “words are frightful; knowledge hurts” blow-up that seem to be happening more and more regularly on campuses across North America. It has nothing real to connect it to actual events in the real world.
    It’s just more of our infantilized and coddled off-spring trying to make their way in the world. They have convinced themselves that “micro-aggressions” are threats and that they deserve to be fore-warned of any words, actions, visuals, odours, allusions, metaphors, intimations, or suggestions that might “trigger” a perceived physic wound.
    And guess what? As you and others have pointed out in numerous pieces, these centres of higher-learning have become infested with administrators who could give two farts for education as long as the enrollment cash comes rolling in. So the customer is king! Customer or consumer, not student, not learner, not citizen.
    Meanwhile, back in reality we have elections to consider, sitting parliaments to watch over, sometimes corrupt, sometimes ignorant and incompetent, always harried politicians to lobby and jobs to go too, kids to feed, lawns to cut. Slogans, hats, signs don’t amount to much. Hateful bigots spewing a “vile stream of threats, abuse and harassment” come from all across the political spectrum. It’s more of a sign of ignorance, lack of education and disability to think than political affiliation. And it’s criminal.
    But I get your point; after more than 30 years of right-wing lunacy under Klien et al the slow-witted mouth-breathers in Alberta are pretty much all lined up on the right. However it is a fallacy to conclude that just because what the right wing nut-jobs are saying is wrong, saying the opposite or saying nothing at all, is right.
    In this world where banks steal your money, where corporations will give you a job to destroy your community, where the police shoot first and ask questions later, where your elected representative acts first in their own interest, where tomorrow your new neighbour might be unable to speak your language, unable to understand your culture, perhaps even unable to peacefully coexist with you, where your next drink of water or breathe of air might be poisonous; in this world we all need to be communication experts, not deaf and dumb.

    1. Dear Political Ranger.

      We do not refer to the deaf as being dumb anymore. It is quite offensive to those in the deaf and hard of hearing community. There is nothing dumb about deaf people. Smarten up!

  4. Wasn’t the ” Make America Great Again ” slogan referring to rebuilding industry in America’s rust belt cities such as Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland and Cincinnati? And yes, the hat is a political advertisement for the Trump campaign.

    And isn’t it true that Trump corporations employ many races and a smarties box of skin colors? Even from his reality TV show, he looked at job performance and outcomes as his measuring stick. Not race.

    1. That may well be, but it is a logical fallacy to think that a man who employs many races cannot still be racist. That’s because racial tolerance is not just about being good to individuals, it is about how your actions affect specific groups of people in general. Having Obama as president, for example, doesn’t mean the U.S. stopped being racist in its actions and policies.

      1. Canadian board rooms and CEOS are about 95% white. I suppose by the counter arguments presented here that they are racists.

        As well ,isn’t it true that racism exists in African American communities in US cities towards Koreans who have taken over corner stores, liquor stores, dry cleaning, hair dressers and manicure shops within these communities? Have any posters as I have wondered around in African American neighborhoods in the US.

          1. To make a comment personal, by using “you” , is a logic error. I could be black or white or of Hispanic heritage, or metis. So that makes you ….what?

  5. David

    Donald Trump is a first class fool who espouse bigotry and regularly lies to anyone who will listen. As a consequence, he will deservedly lose against one of the most unliked and distrusted presidential candidates of all time. Democracy at work in a free and open society.

    Just so its clear, Ms. Slusar threatened to report the wearer to the administration and gloated that he would receive sanctions if he didn’t remove his hat. After someone removed the hat from the wearers head, she wanted it to be given to her so it could presumably be destroyed. Please explain to me how this is not attempted censorship at it most base?

    It was an infantile exchange that was probably not news worthy, especially since administration let it be what it was, two holier-than-thou university students making a mountain out of a molehill. But your usual unconditional support and tenuous justification of her actions is one sided as per. Ms Slusar had every right to challenge his beliefs as seemingly espoused by he hat he was wearing. She did not have the right to threaten him if he did not comply.

  6. re: ‘it’s about returning to the day when white males were the unquestioned masters of that country and the world, and no one else was allowed into the clubhouse.’

    Lots of research and writing supports Climenhaga on this.


    This writer in Counterpunch is an expert on racism and white supremacist history.

    excerpt: Trump represents a frightening trend of convenient racism rooted in a belief that America was great before ethnic and racial minorities, women, and sexual minorities wanted equal rights. (What Trump calls “political correctness.”)

    excerpt: ‘It’s not just anger over jobs and immigration. White voters hope Trump will restore the racial hierarchy upended by Barack Obama.’

  7. This episode highlight that both the far right and far left have a hand in suppressing free speech. The only difference is just that while the former is the tyranny of the majority, the latter is the tyranny of the minority. While I don’t endorse threats against Ms. Slusar, I don’t disagree with her requesting another person to not display a message she disagrees with, as well as her supporters forcibly removing that person’s displayed message. Disagree all you want, but you can’t censor someone just because you find it offensive.

    My problem with the left/progressives (especially the extremists) in issues like that are the following:

    One, they’re the ones who constantly invokes Voltaire’s belief of “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”, but not ideas they disagree with.

    Two, the left started as a movement to fight for an equal voice against the establishment. Once they’ve become a part of the establishment, they do things just as bad as the people they previously fought against.

  8. Re Trump and making America Great again for Whites…

    see Clay Shirky’s twitter stream here:

    Here’s the first of about 20 or so:

    Clay Shirky ‏@cshirky Jul 22

    I want to say something to my liberal white friends: Trump talked a lot of shit last night, but not one word of “I am your voice!” was a lie
    567 retweets 892 likes
    Clay Shirky ‏@cshirky Jul 22

    Trump IS the voice of angry whites. He wasn’t on stage because he has unusual views. He was on stage because he has the usual ones, loudly.
    928 retweets 1,151 likes
    Clay Shirky ‏@cshirky Jul 22

    He is the voice of whites who want their neighbors deported if they speak Spanish. He is the voice of whites terrorized by seeing a hijab.
    516 retweets 640 likes
    Clay Shirky ‏@cshirky Jul 22

    He is the voice of people who think legal & cultural privileges for white conservative Protestants are God’s plan, not a bias to be overcome
    463 retweets 667 likes
    Clay Shirky ‏@cshirky Jul 22

    He is the voice of people who hear ‘hard-working’ as a synonym for ‘white.’ He is the voice of people who think black lives matter less.
    544 retweets 721 likes
    Clay Shirky ‏@cshirky Jul 22

    He speaks for millions.

  9. One thing that is ignored in this whole hat brouhaha is why a student at a Canadian university was supporting a candidate in a race he probably was not entitled to participate in. There is a lot of that going around these days in Canada; we talk about supporting Clinton or Trump as if we really mattered. As a dual citizen, who is actually eligible to vote in the U.S.election (but refuse to, due to my Canadian pride), I say we should waste as little time and effort on this three-ring circus as possible. There is a refugee crisis of historic proportions that deserves more of our attention than this sad situation.

    1. Yes! Completely agree! I see people of both stripes caught up in this. My line of thinking is why not get caught up in Bolivian politics? Or Germany’s mid-term elections? Neither side realizes that they’re just watching another infotainment event.

      1. I was more into the Hong Kong Legislative Council election that took place on 4 Sep. Not the least of which was because I’m an eligible voter. Political issues over there is more life-and-death. Canadian and American elections are simply debates over shades of grey.

  10. Look, Trump is a fascist, bigoted a$$h0le, and it’s astounding that someone like that is a major party nominee for the US presidency. But if some moron wants to wear a ball cap or T-shirt supporting him, why should we care? The only harm I see, is that it exposes the wearer as the moron he or she is.

    That said, the vitriolic attack on the woman who called him out is just as unconscionable as a state actor (which is what a Canadian university or college is) potentially forcing the individual to remove the clothing with the message in question. Freedom of speech is about opinion, no matter how unpopular or uninformed, not about threats of violence.

    1. Totally agree on the first point. It reminded me of a Fraser Institute student seminar I attended years ago, in which a civil liberty lawyer argued why hate speech should be free speech. You stated his first reason: free speech enables you to determine who you shouldn’t befriend.

    2. I think the reaction had more to do with what happened after she “called him out” than simply disagreeing with him. She cheered when her friend came up and took the hat off the guy’s head. Of course, the author of this article fails to mention that part because it would completely dismantle their narrative as well as their supposed support of “free speech” while irresponsibly tossing around words like “racist” in an attempt to delegitimize and shut down any opposition to their politics. Oh well.

  11. re: Skittles and making America great… Trump Jr. doubling down on white supremacy memes:

    excerpt from link: ‘… I would just like to see a separate white nation. If you take a bag of Skittles, there’s different colors in that bag. you can mix the colors and it still tastes okay. But if you separate the colors and then taste the individual flavors, it’s even better.

    That’s from a recently-aired episode of CNN’s United Shades of America, but as many folks have pointed out, the Skittles metaphor has long, deep roots with white supremacists.

  12. “I have the right to free speech!” but that guy should take off his hat because I don’t agree with it, and it offends me. Anyone else see the double standard? Cry me a river.

  13. Raj Patel on what would happen under Trump’s white supremacy.

    excerpt: And he will engage in a kind of cultural politics that will be filled with white supremacy, in a particularly bilious way. It’s going to be a very unpleasant place to live as a person of colour. In a sense, of course, all Trump has done is give voice to the kind of white supremacy on which the nation was founded.

  14. What a load of crap this article is.

    You little special snowflake social justice warriors just won’t ever get it. *You* don’t decide where and when free speech applies and where you can create your beloved “safe space” echo chambers free of all ideas contrary to your own.

    Despite her threats and claims to have “already talked to the Dean about this” mrs Slusar got shut down by university administration and after having her lies exposed for the world to see went crying like a little baby about “the injustice of it all”

    Boo-hoo. The threats and harassment were taken to far but maybe she’ll now think twice before trying to lie, threaten and intimidate someone into capitulating to her world view in a space she has no right to try and own.

  15. I found about this article yesterday in a conversation with a guy who stated that there were as many stories like as there of Trump supporters engaging in abusive behaviour. I seriously doubt that, and if there were, the likes of Ezra, Bill O’Reilly and Fox News would be reporting 24/7. The kind of behaviour that an awful lot of Trump supporters have engaged is pretty bad. Take the example of the Trump supporter who was banned for life from Delta Airlines because he was abusive toward some Muslim passengers. It takes a lot to get that ban, and the fact it was done is telling. There are plenty of other cases like if you search the Internet. I did contact Delta to congratulate them and it will make me feel more comfortable knowing that they are a company that won’t tolerate that kind of abusive behaviour. I think everyone who feels outraged about it should do likewise.

  16. I just reviewed most of the video and it appears that while there was a heated conversation, that there didn’t appear to any abuse here as compared to the incidents I documented in my previous piece as it relates to Trump supporters. In addition the Trump supporter who was banned from the airline, there is an incident in a Michael’s store in Chicago where a Trump supporter harassed an African-American employee for not having a big enough plastic bag for her, and there is the Trump Supporter in Miami who harassed an African-American employee at a local Starbuck’s because he took too long bring up his coffee. Actually Slate has documented many of the incidents as well as Buzzfeed. There is also the latest incident that Dave wrote about recently as it pertained to Chris Alexander’s appearance at an Pro-Pipeline speech in front of the Legislature. I think in everyone of these incidents, there does need to be a push back against this kind of behaviour.

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