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Kevin O'Leary -- The Canadian Donald Trump? Let's Take This Possibility Very Seriously.

December 06, 2016

In a recent visit to Canada, CNN commentator, Van Jones, remarked that there is a “wave of hate” rolling across western democracies and that we, in Canada, should not be so naïve as to think that we will be immune.  More precisely—and with some alarm—Jones hypothesized that a candidate like Donald Trump could succeed in Canada.

Jones’ hypothesis led me to think about Karl Popper, the great Austrian philosopher of science.  Popper was a fearless sort.  Legend has it that he was the only philosopher of the time who was not afraid of the formidable and fellow Austrian, Ludwig Wittgenstein. 

(Check out this movie on Wittgenstein—which shows his explosive nature.) 

My favourite part of this legend is the story of an encounter between them at Cambridge, after Popper had delivered a guest lecture.  Quiet throughout the talk and ensuing question session, Wittgenstein finally lost his cool, stood, walked over to a fire place in the corner of the lecture hall and began waving a poker in Popper’s face.  Wittgenstein demanded that Popper provide an example of a true philosophical statement.  Popper shouted: “Here's one: It is unethical to wave a poker in a visiting professor’s face!”

Great story—but is it true? 


In any case, Popper injected that fearlessness into his philosophy of science.  Popper stressed that scientists should be thought of as pioneers, as incredibly bold thinkers: shouting and declaring grand hypotheses about the world.  Moreover, scientists did not try to prove or defend their hypotheses, for defending and proving was for timid minds.  Instead, scientists endeavoured to falsify their hypotheses. 

The goal was to try and show that these grand declarations were in fact wrong.  It is only after many valiant attempts at falsification fail, that a scientist will say something like “the hypothesis has survived—so far, and it might fail tomorrow—but we can have some reasonable confidence in it for now.”  

Einstein spoke in a Popperian fashion after an experiment showed that light is bent by gravity, as Relativity Theory predicted.  When asked if he felt vindicated, Einstein responded, “a million experiments will not prove me right, but one could prove me wrong.”

Now, how can we test Jones’ hypothesis about the possible success of a “Canadian Trump”? 

Fortunately or unfortunately, we may very well be facing such a test.

Enter Kevin O’Leary—Canada’s wealthy businessman/celebrity and as outspoken as one can get.  

In fact, O’Leary has already been called “the poor man’s Donald Trump”.

O’Leary is considering a run at the leadership of the federal Conservative party.  In a recent interview, O’Leary was asked about a variety of issues and, as far as I am concerned, he presented a very close image to that of Donald Trump.  To be fair, I did not hear any dog-whistle politics of xenophobia, but that might be because my ears are failing in the upper registers.  Another listen, I hope, might enable me to pick up such things—if they were in fact there, or rule them out.  But at this moment I am not certain.

However, I am quite sure that O’Leary’s imago-Trumpei did contain the following “Trumpesque” rhetorical devices—among others. 

First, the “I am the only one who can fix X, Y and Z.”  Only O’Leary knows how to fix Canada’s problems.

Second, the “my lack of standard qualifications X, Y and Z is a strength.”  O’Leary’s lack of political experience is a good thing in that he has no baggage.  To be fair, Trump and O’Leary are just taking a page out of George Orwell’s famous 1984 play-book in that “ignorance is strength”.

Third, the “analogy between government and business”.  Politicians don’t run companies so they don’t know how to run a country.

Fourth, the “all our politicians are weak.”  O’Leary has repeatedly referred to Premier Notley as weak and ineffective.

Fifth, the “simplistic images approach to complex issues.”  When asked about how PM Trudeau will fare against President Trump, O’Leary simply said it will be “bambi meets Godzilla.”

Like Trump, O’Leary gets into Twitter battles, as evidenced by a number of his exchanges with Gerald Butts, the Principal Secretary to Prime Minister Trudeau. 

If this comparison is accurate--and O'Leary decides to run--then we will have a real test case for Jones’ hypothesis. The first test will then come quite soon, May 2017, when the Conservative Party chooses its next leader.  

If O'Leary were to win, then the true test would be but two years after that, in the federal election of 2019.

I sincerely hope that we all take Kevin O’Leary’s musings about running for the leadership extremely seriously and subject him to the utmost critical analysis and scrutiny.  He deserves such scrutiny.  

As in the case of Trump, there are plenty of people who question O’Leary’s business acumen

Remember, nobody took Trump seriously in the beginning.


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Justin Glyn SJ      December 06, 2016 at 11:07
An interesting post. While I agree with the assessment of Trump's style and the listed issues (although not being Canadian, can't really comment on O'Leary), I wonder whether his success does not speak equally to the issues with the present system. In short, the privatisation of assets, the expense of political campaigning, neoliberal economics and the waging of aggressive war in far flung corners of the globe already speaks to a system which is militarised, sees government as a business to be run for profit and outsourced to the highest bidder and has perilously little concern for individual rights. For all the talk of their being Western democracies, the Five Eyes countries have, as Edward Snowden revealed, run a surveillance network more pervasive than anything the Stasi operated in their heyday. Trump is certainly a populist but the register of Muslims is already there in the shape of immigration and no-fly lists. In some ways, all Trump and his political allies are doing is making explicit what has, up until now, merely been implicit. It is alarming, certainly, but any attempt to address modern forms of populism must begin by acknowledging the milieu which has given them birth.