Braid: The ugly Nenshi-Parker dustup and the politics of personal insult

There was a day when attacking the person rather than the argument was frowned upon. Now, personal slurs are often the first and only point

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A battle of insults on social media shows how far we’ve descended into personal invective as a political weapon.

All too often the attacks are based on surface qualities — race, gender, sexuality, weight, age, attractiveness.

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There was a day when this ad hominum tactic — attacking the person rather than the argument — was frowned upon. A person who used it had already lost.

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Now, deeply personal slurs are often the first and only point.

This battle started with a brutal jab at Naheed Nenshi, the ex-Calgary mayor and possible NDP leadership candidate, by David Parker, nominal head of right-wing group Take Back Alberta.

Parker posted: “The fact that a man as grotesque as Nenshi ever won “sexiest man of the year” in Calgary (let alone four years in a row); tells you everything you need to know about the mainstream media in Calgary.”

The slam at media is daily boilerplate. But “grotesque?” That’s nasty. In the context of “sexy” it’s also weird, as Nenshi noted right away.

He posted: “I’m not sure how to respond. Thanks for your interest, I guess?

“Hope you find a sexier man to satisfy you? (Or just “you seem scared of something. I wonder what.”?)

Thus goaded, Parker came back with an even cruder insult wrapped in a threat, his frequent style.

“Run little bitch, let me show you what real politics is.”

To that slur, Nenshi replied: “He seems nice.”

This was not a contest of equals. For such a controversial figure, Parker has surprisingly few followers on X, formerly Twitter — only 6,300.

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Parker’s social reach could well be wider than his X base, though.

Many people see what he says but may not want to get involved by formally following him. This guy is rhetorical high explosive.

Nenshi, on the other hand, is a genuine social media powerhouse with 380,000 followers.

His skill and appeal helped him get elected for his first term in 2010. He used Twitter to answer people’s questions — a fresh tactic back then.

After the insults, Parker took plenty of heat from people who say he goes too far.

Jeromy Farkas, mayoral candidate in 2021 and longtime Nenshi opponent on council, posted: “Parker is so scared that he probably crosses the street any time he sees purple (Nenshi’s campaign colour).

“Why? Despite how much he whines and complains about it, he’ll always have to live with two simple facts: Nenshi couldn’t be bought and he couldn’t be beat.”

David Parker Take Back Alberta
David Parker, at the UCP annual general meeting in Calgary on Nov. 4, 2023. Jim Wells/Postmedia

Parker’s most disgusting attack was aimed at Sarah Hoffman, the former NDP deputy premier and current leadership candidate.

I’m not comfortable with quoting this post even as an example of hateful personal taunts. It’s just too offensive to repeat.

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But Parker followed his calumny with three laughing emojis and a photo of Hoffman.

She didn’t dignify that with a reply. X erupted with disapproval.

“Shaming anyone based upon looks is the weakest argument,” said one typical response.

“It displays cowardice and contempt for anyone more intelligent than you. When cowards feel threatened they lash out.”

Parker has urged his Take Back Alberta people to buy NDP memberships and vote in a leader of their choosing.

“Take Back Alberta will be travelling the province in the coming months encouraging people to buy memberships in the NDP and make their voices heard,” he wrote.

“When the NDP cancel their leadership race, we will know they no longer believe in democracy.”

The blowback against Parker is encouraging, but it’s sadly true that many people routinely post scurrilous and hurtful personal attacks every day.

Donald Trump spawned this ugliness with verbal and media assaults on political enemies, former friends, judges and many others. He has done this literally thousands of times during and after his presidency.

This poisonous language of the schoolyard bully hasn’t quite been normalized in Alberta. But we’re getting there.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald.

X: @DonBraid

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