Several accounts of the Canadian trucker convoy make the point that it’s about much more than vaccine mandates. Bill Maher’s recent guest Vivek Ramaswamy described it as an uprising “against the biggest threat to democracy, the rise of the managerial class.” Rupa Subramanya, a resident of Ottawa, interviewed 100 protesters, and her reporting challenges corporate media narratives that the movement is steeped in white nativism. In her article, she speaks to truckers of different racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds whose common grievance is that they’re being told how to live and how to act by a comfortable upper class who’s been able to ride out the pandemic from home, working cushy white collar jobs on their laptops.
This isn’t to deny a certain strain of racism runs through the convoy. On their podcast, Unredacted, Glenn Greenwald and co-host Q. Anthony discussed the protests in detail. Anthony, a Canadian resident, confirmed that while not dominant among the protesters, white supremacist attitudes were prevalent enough to be considered when assessing the overall virtue of the struggle; in other words, it’s more than just a ‘few bad apples’ kind of a thing.
Even setting aside these concerns, it’s difficult to fully endorse a movement whose core demand is nothing more than “freedom,” which in this case simply means a return to a pre-covid status quo in which this same managerial class had the deck already stacked in its favor. This is more a populist revolt in spirit than in practice, as its ultimate goal poses little to no threat to the upper crust it’s rebelling against. This explains its popularity in conservative media like Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.
The trucker convoy is also a case study in the mass marketability of right wing populism. Whereas left wing populism fuses class-based ire and rage with a vision and hope for a better world, right wing populism requires no such latter ingredient. It’s all anger, with no imagination for a healthier society achievable through political transformation. This makes right wing populism a much cheaper and easier sell than its left wing counterpart, which largely explains why Trumpism took the country by storm and won the presidency, and the Bernie Sanders campaign couldn’t make it past the primaries.
Of course, the other reason for Trump’s success and Sanders’ failure is the party element itself, which is why despite not being able to give the trucker convoy a full endorsement, it would be foolish of the Left to dismiss it altogether. The kind of populist class-based resentment fueling the trucker convoy is a crucial element for any true Left movement, and it’s sorely lacking in all of the institutions with which the Left is currently aligned: namely, the Democratic Party, the media, and academia.
Think of these three institutions as a sort of “Axis of Evil” whose disdain for working people becomes more apparent with each passing day. The working class will never trust any political project that’s invested in, attached to, or associated with any of these three centers of power. The American Left is joined at the hip with each of them, and will therefore, in its current form, never spark the kind working class uprising it dreams about.
The trucker convoy might be a populist rebellion more reactionary than progressive, but it nonetheless has something in it that the Left needs, which is the primal rage of an underclass ready to fight back against their oppressors. This is something that cannot and will not ever be cultivated within the Democratic Party, which has increasingly become a party of upper class professionals, the liberal media, which ignores class-based narratives altogether, and academia, whose operating principle is that the path to a dignified life can and must run through them - an attitude which conveys naked contempt for “uneducated” working class people.
Because, once again, the Left is perceived to be inseparable from these three institutions, it will never win credibility among working people. This is another way of saying that progressives, Leftists, even socialists, are almost certainly not going to get the kind of revolution they want. The world isn’t a social media feed where everyone gets to curate their own ecosystem, deciding who to friend, who to follow, who to block, and who to mute. Reality, like the working class itself, is messy, icky, and dare I say, even a bit “problematic.”
The Left at this point has no choice but to engage with this mixed bag called the real world. Of course, actual right wing extremist bigots cannot and must not be a part of any coalition of positive ambitions, and I’m in no way suggesting that they be welcomed into the tent. Rather, the Left must venture into movements like the trucker convoy, weed out those undesirables, and engage with the majority who aren’t bigots and nativists. Only through this process can we introduce to them hope, vision, and imagination, the three main components which separate Left from Right populism. And yes, we have to go to them. We lost home-field advantage in 2016, when Trump’s brand of right wing populism triumphed, and Bernie’s was drowned in the bathtub by the Democratic establishment and their media goons (there’s those Axis of Evil powers again). Right of center circles are now home to this kind of populist class-based rage. We can only reclaim it for our side through engagement.
We discussed the trucker convoy in our most recent podcast. Click the player below to hear our full conversation, and subscribe to our podcast on any major podcast player.
Photo: Maksim Sokolov (CC 4.0)