On May 18, 2018, MSNBC Commentator Ali Velshi was the featured speaker at the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies. The event was held at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, B.C. A video of the speech and the Q and A that followed was released on June 5. Both are worth a look. Total viewing time is 1 hour and 30 minutes.
Random observations follow:
Ali Velshi’s 40 minute speech was polished and delivered from a written script. It’s helpful to attend these events in person. It gives you a much better take on the speaker and the audience. Even more helpful to have a few weeks to reflect on the comments before viewing them online. In these days of 24 hour news cycles and short attention spans, reflection is a scarce luxury.
Canadian author Marshall McLuhan once described television as a “cool medium”. It’s obvious that Velshi, also a Canadian, has mastered the fine art of communication. Both on TV and in person. Velshi was cool, calm, collected and an effective salesman for his point of view. It also helped that his hosts—- and his audience—-were adulatory. No confrontational rhetoric from this crowd.
Velshi opened with a disclaimer, stating that he was not an expert on the Weaponization of Culture, but a student in a continuing study of the subject. And, to that extent, the audience were test subjects and part of an ongoing dialogue.
There were few challenges to Velshi’s point of view, which centered primarily around the presidency of Donald Trump. This was not unexpected in a forum that was attended by a preponderance of older, privileged, educated Canadian folks. People who were very much in line with the premise that the Trump presidency was, as advertised, a “political circus” and represented “the apparent unraveling south of the border”.
Velshi’s detailed account of the history of Germany from 1914-1933 was interesting, although he neglected to mention the First World War and the Great Depression in his timeline documenting Germany’s plunge into chaos. He made it clear in his remarks that he was not comparing the rise of Hitler to present day politics in the United States. Of course not. But let’s agree there was, to paraphrase McLuhan, a Meanness in Velshi’s Message.
Most of the audience would like, in some intellectual way, to justify their general distaste of All Things Trump without actually calling the President a Nazi. Check out the video for some helpful tutorials.
Although “civility” was supposed to be the rule of the evening, Velshi saw no problem with throwing out verbal bomblets like, “one tweet away from nuclear war” and generous use of the standard isms….nationalism, nativism, racism, etc. to characterize the worsening situation in the United States.
Communism, with it’s well documented historical consequences, was never mentioned. Maybe because there were more Communists in the audience than Republicans. If you are playing to a captive audience that is in full agreement with you, why upset anyone about their politics?
Side note: Earlier in the day, Velshi’s old employer, CNN, posted a graphic of President Trump’s head in the scope of a rifle. Bad optics and worse timing. Particularly given the Weaponization of Culture theme of Velshi’s current public speaking tour. Velshi worked for CNN for 12 years, hosting news programs that included, “Ali Velshi on Target”. Leaving CNN for the greener pastures of Al Jazerra America and later MSNBC was a good career move for this savvy business journalist.
The best part of the program was the unscripted Q and A from the audience. The first question was the best. It elicited the only “Boos” of the evening, which is a positive sign.
The question was delivered by an obviously well-read and articulate Canadian professional in response to Velshi’s comments on President Trump’s immigration policy. The questioner pointed out that a failed immigration policy could not be attributed to one President, naming Bill Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama. etc. as examples of having done little to improve immigration policy and enforcement. Velshi agreed that all these American politicians had failed, but that President Trump was the worst because of his “weaponization”.
The questioner then threw the trigger phrase “genital mutilation” into the exchange and added that he “hoped Trump would be re-elected”. This statement was roundly booed by the audience.
Lesson: If you want to really upset an audience of Canadians, use “Donald Trump” and “genital mutilation” in the same sentence. Notwithstanding, it was a good question and genital mutilation does come to mind when you consider the cultural mores of Muslim countries.
The remaining three questions were regrettably from seniors like myself that should know better.
The first was, “What do you think of Islam”? Apparently in Vancouver this is considered an edgy question. It isn’t. It is like asking a candidate for Whatcom County Council “Why do you want to be a County Council member”? The Islam question was a marshmallow toss that Velshi easily deflected into a self-aggrandizing talking point.
A much more pertinent question would have been, “Why do you support the construction of a mosque at Ground Zero in New York City”? Velshi does. His response would have been interesting.
Speaking of immigration policy and the “weaponization of culture”, Velshi’s take on the criminal activities of Pakistani grooming gangs in England would have been a fair question. As well as whether UKIP activist Tommy Robinson should have been jailed in London without due process for the crime of speaking out against this criminal behavior. Particularly since the perpetrators are overwhelmingly of Pakistani and Asian origin.
The next questioner charged President Trump with “weaponizing incivility” and that the President was responsible for the loss of dozens of lives earlier in the week in Palestinian border clashes with Israel. Following that dubious charge, she asked Velshi when Trump was going to be impeached for promoting his “addiction of incivility” Adding, “How do we stop him”?
Dealing with this ridiculous question could have been a teachable moment for Velshi. He could have pointed out that Bill Clinton would have likely been promptly removed from office during the Monicagate and Cigargate scandals if the United States had a parliamentary system like Canada. Fortunately, we do not. Instead, Velshi played it safe, suggesting that the best solution was at the ballot box. He also offered his opinion that Trump would not be impeached, qualifying it with, “based on what I know”.
The third and final jaw-dropper came from an old gent that proclaimed that U.S. politics had been “dumbed down” since Sarah Palin’s nomination for Vice President and that “I expect my leaders to be smarter than I am.” A short, truthful answer would have been, “Well Sir, I can assure you they are”.
But by this time Velshi was having too much fun basking in the adoration of the evening, so condescension won out over candor, as well as one of the few opportunities of the evening for some gentle humor. One is left to wonder what Velshi’s response would have been if the questioner had posed exactly the same question and inserted “Nancy Pelosi”. Or “Maxine Waters”. Both of whom are arguably much dumber than Sarah Palin.
Amazing that a decade after Governor Palin shared the Republican Presidential ticket with John McCain, Canadians still enjoy making fun of her in public. Sad that Velshi decided to go along with the gag. He had an opportunity to be gallant and he blew it.
If the real purpose of the Wall Institute Forum was to promote civility and constructive dialogue, that lofty concept went down in flames with the last three questioners. And Velshi did nothing to douse the fire.
The positive news is that there were three young men in the audience that asked clear and pertinent questions about culture, social media and Marxism.
It was good to witness the clear eyes of youth lighting up the room with informed and unpretentious questions. Islands of hope in a sea of senility.
Enjoy the video.