March 6, 2019

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: The ‘Reasonable’ Far-Right Comes to Cornell?

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To the editor:

Time and time again, centrist media pundits have used their platforms to bemoan President Donald Trump’s crudity. They wax nostalgic about the good old days of “respectable Republicans,” harking back to a fictional recent past in which “honorable men” from both parties ruled the country. Such venerable men include the likes of war criminal former president George W. Bush, America’s Butcher of Baghdad. At least this good Christian man didn’t spew vulgarities and tweet-storms while authorizing massacres in the Middle East, right?

When the Cornell Republicans announced their intent to invite former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to campus, we can’t say that we were surprised. The student group’s membership largely embraces a white-collar, pro-business ethos a la Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), and seems to have very little interest in the alt-right iconoclasm that’s been embraced by large swathes of the millennial-right. Hell, the GOP’s Cornell arm in 2016-2017 was even chaired by a self-professed moderate who vocally backed Hillary Clinton’s failed presidential bid. Harper fits their old-guard conservative style to a T, a true fit for a Cornell Republicans event if there ever was one. But before we discuss the speaking event any further, let’s unpack his recent rebranding as a global mouthpiece of the “reasonable right.”

Let’s start with Harper’s fascist crackdown on organized labor in Canada. In 2007, he utilized back-to-work legislation to force 124,000 rail workers to end their strike — a flagrant violation of international labor law. Less than two years later, he gutted Canada’s Human Rights Commission by stripping public sector unions of the right to file pay equity complaints. He then forced 48,000 locked-out postal workers back to work, earning Canada the dishonor of International Labor Organization penalties. The list goes on, but the trend is clear: Harper used his political office as a platform to wage class warfare against the working class.

Beyond Turtle Island, Harper’s policies took on a truly butcherous face. He was the first foreign leader to meet with former Honduran President Porfirio Pepe Lobo, whose illegitimate administration cooperated with right-wing factions to crack-down on civil society, murder political activists and welcome Western imperial influence in a sovereign nation. Harper’s Middle East policies are virtually identical to those embraced by our very own war hawks at home, obstructing Canada from becoming a constructive check on an increasingly rogue Israeli state as it continues to reject international law and basic standards of human rights. Harper cemented his country’s status as a reliable right-wing ally of the US’s imperial designs, fostering an arrangement that even the ostensibly liberal Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has refused to challenge since assuming the role of PM in 2015.

Further, Harper has been no ally of his settler-colonial country’s many First Nations peoples. Initially campaigning on the promise of robust environmental protection, Canada’s 22nd prime minister showed his true colors once he assumed office. His resource extraction policies had a profoundly negative effect not only on First Nations peoples, but on the earth as a whole in regards to climate change. In 2007, Harper even shamelessly fought for the expansion of Canadian sovereignty over Arctic waters to ensure the protection of potential petroleum sources in the seabed. Further desecrating stolen land, his administration also saw to the rapid expansion of the Alberta Tar Sands. These massive oil fields produce the dirtiest oil on the planet, poisoning wildlife, desecrating the land and detrimentally affecting the health of the First Nations peoples who rely on the surrounding territories for survival. That’s to say nothing of Harper’s successful push to cut funding to the Native Women’s Association of Canada program in 2010. His reason? The organization was able to bring global attention to the 600 Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women cases — stabbing a dagger in Canada’s faux international image of progressivism and multiculturalism.

When asked about Canada’s MMIW ordeal, the fine prime minister was quoted in an interview saying: “It isn’t really high on our radar, to be honest.” If anything’s on Harper’s mind, it’s the maintenance of his white supremacist settler-colonial state. To those who attend his speaking event, don’t be fooled — as decorated and “respectable” as this gentlemanly statesman might be, no sugarcoated appeals to right-wing values or recycled faux-condemnations of populist right-wing incivility can conceal his unforgivable crimes.

When Cornell embraces Harper on stolen Cayuga homelands, broad swathes of students will once again be reminded that this university does in fact belong to them. An abhorrent architect of his Conservative Party’s vision for a hyper-capitalist state that tramples on the rights of the many so-called Canadians who don’t look like him — the Sikhs, the aboriginal peoples of Canada, the refugees, the Chinese immigrants, the East Indians.

So in conclusion, are we at all surprised that one of the furthest-right state leaders in the entire history of modern North America is rearing his head in the Finger Lakes region? Not in the slightest. Harper will leave our “City of Gorges” with a grotesquely large paycheck, all for a short speech that’s sure to be monotonous and ultimately meaningless. After all, isn’t that the precise function of Ivory Towers like ours? To enrich the already-rich and empower the already-powerful; to mold new generations of obedient capitalists; and to leave the rest of us behind to face unemployment, alienation, indebtedness and death. You see, Harper’s speech is just a sideshow, a distraction that’s simultaneously bizarre and cynical — one so powerful that it deludes young right-wingers into embracing the sinister, supremacist politics of a fashy former Canadian leader while wholly ignoring the life-or-death crises of climate change and water wars.

So whatever lies Harper comes armed to campus with, please don’t hesitate to interrogate his manufactured charismatic persona. Criticize him for “cashing out” in the form of lavishly paid speaking tours, challenge his shameless lies and remind him of the utter terror he’s inflicted on the northernmost parts of Turtle Island and far beyond.

Colin Benedict ’21, Student Assembly minority student liaison at-large

Adam Khatib ’20, president of the Islamic Alliance for Justice

Christopher Hanna ’19, People’s Organizing Collective (USAS Local 3) Organizer