Donald Trump is a little far outside the jurisdiction of this Guelph-centric column, but I’m going to borrow the U.S. President’s slip of the thumbs to coin a new political phrase.
“Despite the negative press covfefe,” Trump wrote on Twitter late the other night. He was trying to say “coverage” of course, but let us (re)define “covfefe” to mean, “a quality of a politico to overcome the negative.” And there’s a whole lot of negative.
I say “politico” versus a “politician” because one need not be a politician to be political. And let’s be candid, our modern political culture has trained us to think that to call one’s self a “politician” is a bad thing. “I’m not a politician,” you hear a lot of people running for office say, which is weird because there are a lot of professional people you don’t like seeing executing their duties. “Sure, I just gave you a ticket for speeding, but don’t call me a traffic cop,” said no one ever.
I thought I would go to the Merriam-Webster dictionary to make a point that the actual textbook definition of “politician” does not insinuate a negative, but while the dictionary points out that a politician is “a person experienced in the art or science of government; especially : one actively engaged in conducting the business of a government,” it also says a politician is “a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons.”
Honestly, how bad do things have to get before the dictionary starts taking shots at an entire profession?
“What I see is a real disconnect between a growing professional political class and what people are really living,” NDP leadership candidate Charlie Angus told me a few months ago when he was in town. I asked him about the thinking of politicians that say they’re not politicians. “I think that there’s a tendency to try and dumb down politics and that Canadians aren’t smart enough to deal with complicated issues, or in an attempt to hoodwink them to spin a certain angle.”
Hey, not to be cynical but political scandal is as old as politics. Just six years after Canada became a country, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald had to resign because of the “Pacific Scandal” where Macdonald and 149 other Conservative MPs were accused of accepting bribes to influence their vote in awarding a contract for the national railway. Our first PM had to resign in disgrace! He made a comeback in 1878, but Confederation has able to stand for 150 years in spite of politicians behaving badly from the very beginning.
Why? Because the majority of politicians aren’t bad. You’re less likely to hear about a politician if they’re doing their jobs, answering constituents concerns, working on legislation, holding town halls, or reading policy binders. In other words, doing all the nerdy hard work stuff that politics is really about.
That brings us back to “cavfefe.” If you have cavfefe then you are able to view politics as an opportunity to help people, and take a chance to change your community for the better. And it has nothing to do with political stripes, whether you’re red, blue, orange, green, or fuchsia, most politicians enter the field with the same point of view: I have ideas to achieve certain goals, and if I don’t, then I will consult people till I find the answer.
In so much as there’s a reason to be cynical about the lack of covfefe in the politicians we have, I have been inspired lately by the politicians of the future. They have covfefe and it is a wonder to behold because grown-up, experienced adults have trouble saying out loud that they think they’ve got the right stuff to get political, let alone actually put their name forward for public scrutiny.
For instance, I draw your attention to Adrian Marcolini, a 19-year-old who starts his first semester studying Management Economics and Finance at the University of Guelph this fall, but he’s hoping to get a full-time job as Guelph’s MPP in a potential Patrick Brown government. Go to Marconi’s nomination webpage, and in big bold letters are the words “Restoring hope for young people.”
Looking over the website you see discussion of climate change, democratic reform, education and jobs for the 21st century, but no ad hominem attacks, or saucy memes that compare the Liberal government of Kathleen Wynne to the Legion of Doom (or worse). How much that might change in a full-blown provincial race, I don’t know, but for now, you can’t help but admire Marcolini for taking on two enormous monsters at once this September: Ontario politics and university.
Locally, some are looking further afield to next fall’s municipal election. I follow a young person on Twitter named Eli Riddler who’s looking at running in Ward 4 in 2018. Riddler has already laid out a number of goals including better transit, more accessible elections, and better accountability for council, including live-streaming meetings on YouTube.
Now some of what Riddler has proposed is a tad ambitious, including the idea of bringing the CBC to Guelph, which is easier said than done, but you’ll notice if you click on Riddler’s #GuelphIdea hashtag on Twitter that he has yet to mention anything about taxes or spending. Some may think that an oversight, but I prefer to think it an acknowledgement that we all agree that no one should pay more than their fair share in taxes, and that government should spend our tax money wisely.
And then there’s Holly Reid. Unlike all the kids I knew doing co-op in high school, Reid didn’t want to work somewhere cool, she wanted to job shadow a city councillor to learn the ins and outs of city governance. And she can’t even drive yet!
Being mentored by Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt, Reid was interested in an issue that affects her own school, College Heights. If you recognize the name, then chances are it probably didn’t conjure a positive impression, which is exactly what Reid hopes to change with a rebranding. There are a lot of great things happening at College Heights, a lot of students eager to leave their mark, and make a contribution to the city, and Reid wants to help make that the story.
So the young people are all too eager to get involved it seems, which belies the opinion that anyone under 35 sticks their nose up at the concept of being political or politically active. Perhaps the fault isn’t their’s, but ours. It’s our fault for reducing politics to a game of winners and losers, a spectacle of who’s sniping at who with the better quip, or the right amount of shade or side-eye in the council chamber.
Perhaps politics should be as good as the kids, it seems that they’re the ones with real covfefe.