It's time for "Political Catchphrase Bingo"!

Ah, you who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (The Prophet Isaiah 5:20)

So the writ has dropped and the Canadian federal election is officially on. Are you ready to play Political Catchphrase Bingo? Let’s begin a list of problematic clichés we’ll need to be spotting during the campaign.

Middle Class  This term implies that there are only two classes in Canada, since almost no rich people in Canada, except for Conrad Black, want to admit that they’re rich. (Ask them and they’ll say they’re merely “comfortable” and “don’t own a plane.”)

It also implies that somehow the middle class deserves politicians’ attention more than do people in the other class, the poor. Perhaps that’s because middle-class life is so hard in Canada, compared with, say, previous generations or the rest of the planet. (Excuse me while I pause the Blu-Ray playing on my 60” middle-class TV with 7.1 surround sound that I got at Best Buy last month.)

Or perhaps that’s because poor Canadians are so abundantly provided for that they aren’t actually…poor. Yes. That’s why. So now politicians can focus on the wellspring of power, the majority of voters who see themselves as “middle class.”

Social Conservatives  These are the loathsome folk who vote Conservative, or maybe now PPC, in hopes of…well, of what? Of putting women back in the kitchen? Of requiring businesses to close on Sundays? Of making schoolchildren recite the Lord’s Prayer every morning?

There aren’t many of those folk in Canada. But “social conservatives” in fact is code language for “prolifers”—whom opponents try all they can to link to The Handmaid’s Tale. Prolifers, alas, are rather at sea just now, having discovered that Andrew Scheer is just the Catholic version of Stephen Harper: prolife enough to get nominated, but not prolife enough to actually legislate—or come within a kilometre of legislating—about abortion.

Community  Canada is a community of communities, so it’s sometimes said. But sometimes a putative community is nothing of the sort: not an actual society that links people of common identity and concern in a single conversation, structure, and agenda. Sometimes a “community” is just a faux-polite way of lumping all “those people” together—like someone who refers to “the Sikh community” or “the Jewish community” or “the Chinese community” but who isn’t herself actually Sikh, Jewish, or Chinese. (If she were, she’d have a clue about how diverse and even fractious those “communities” are.)

Or sometimes it’s used to project the illusion of solidarity, which means greater significance, which means greater power, as when activists purport to speak for “the LGBTQ+ community” (as if everyone across that extremely wide spectrum—the single letter “T” stands for many very different people—get together each week in their LGBTQ+ clubhouse to cheer on such activists).

There’s No Place in Canada for X  This is the language of intolerance—or, as we say when we want to show we’re both utterly convinced of the rightness of a matter and in dead earnest about its importance, zero tolerance. It is the language of moral absolutism, and one hopes that it will be employed in regard to matters on which there is all-but-complete moral consensus—as in cases of, say, child molestation, or arson, or treason.

Alas, “there’s no place in Canada for X” increasingly gets spouted as mere value-signaling to one’s base regarding one’s sincerity about a particular position (versus, one supposes, positions on which one is prepared to compromise). This draconian expression, fraught with totalitarian import, is cheapened to mean merely, “By golly, I really feel strongly about this.”

Yet politicians who can actually make laws forbidding X shouldn’t engage in such sloppy verbal overkill. Objecting to something is not ipso facto grounds for outlawing it.

Bullying  This common term now reminds me of the old attributional bias: “I’m big but he’s fat. I’m deliberate but he’s slow.” Our political enemies bully innocent victims, while we exercise strong moral leadership over the unrighteous. They must stop now, or we’ll stop them. (See “There’s no place in Canada for X.”)

Secular  What is etymologically supposed to mean merely “of this age, of this place and time,” has come to mean “detached from any particular religious connection,” as in secular university versus a Christian one. Fair enough.

But increasingly in Canada (see: the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario College of Physicians, the Government of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada) it means “completely evacuated of anything remotely religious that even slightly bothers the post-Christian white, middle-class, right-thinking majority…well, okay, we don’t mind the occasional decorative cross, like on a flag or something, but otherwise, nothing religious, and especially nothing Christian—because that’s so yesterday—or Islamic—because that’s so frightening.” (See: “There’s no place in Canada for X.”)

Values Voters  This phrase is often used to distinguish those alarming fanatics over yonder from us sensible, practical people over here. But the term is actually meaningless, since everyone is a values voter. What else would one vote for, besides what one values? Okay, then.

(Human) Right(s)  A solemn concept: what we owe each other, in the very nature of the case—such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of conscience…except when the interests of large corporations, professional elites, and governments find them inconvenient, in which case they might be briefly acknowledged (thanks a lot, the Law Society of Ontario, the Ontario College of Physicians, the Government of Quebec, the Supreme Court of Canada) and then set aside.

Alternatively: a human right is what I and our lobby group would like to have that we don’t currently have and can’t see any other way to have than by claiming it as a right and hoping those who have it will be guilted into sharing it.

 All Canadians  Stop right there. How could you possibly know that what follows in that sentence is believed, hoped for, or hated by all Canadians? And who are you “disappearing” as contemptibly unworthy of notice by such categorical language?

Well, fellow citizens, that’s a start on identifying the manipulative nonsense in the media storm we’re now in for. Let’s help each other stand on guard. Canada needs us to do so.

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John G. Stackhouse, Jr., PhD, serves as the Samuel J. Mikolaski Professor of Religious Studies at Crandall University in Moncton, New Brunswick. A graduate of Queen’s University, Wheaton Graduate School, and the University of Chicago, he was formerly Professor of Religion at the University of Manitoba and held the Sangwoo Youtong Chee Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College, Vancouver. He has given interviews to ABC, NBC, CBC, CTV, and Global TV as well as to CBC Radio from coast to coast. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Times Literary Supplement, The Globe and Mail, the National Post, The Atlantic, Time, and Maclean’s. Author of over 800 articles, book chapters, and reviews, his tenth book has been released this year: “Why You’re Here: Ethics for the Real World” (Oxford University Press).