Friday November 28, 2014

The Theatre of Unreason

Comment and Commentary from a Prairie Perspective

Most Canadians are not political scientists. They would rather watch televised sports events than try to follow the tortured reasoning on display among the contenders for the Republican presidential nomination in the United States of America. In whatever way the debate’s speeches begin, they always end with a period of frantic flag-waving. This is the unrecognized flaw in the American self-image. Jehovah made the children of Israel His/Her Chosen People. He/She never added a codicil which made the United States of America next in line for divine favour. The sojourn of the USA at the pinnacle of world power did not come about by a holy dispensation or by the inherent moral superiority of its inhabitants. It started with an accident of history.

When the portion of North America now called the United States of America broke free of British domination it stood on the threshold of taking control of a tremendously rich storehouse of natural resources. At the same time, thousands of land-hungry Europeans, still hampered by the aftermath of religious wars and the residual inequities of the feudal system, sailed to the new country to seek their fortunes. They created a new society marked by hybrid vigour.

The original habitants of the country, inferior in numbers and technology, were pushed aside. They received in return for all of their ancestral lands, a small portion of them back again, and also European diseases and Christianity. For the aboriginal people this was a bad bargain, but the newcomers prospered by using – or plundering – the vast resources of an almost empty land.

The pattern of settlement in Canada was similar but, because the climate was colder and immigration policies were designed for a colony rather than a sovereign nation, the process was slower and more decorous. One good thing which the British bequeathed to the country of Canada is the parliamentary system of government, which is more responsible and responsive than the congressional system of the United States. In Canada, the leader of the federal party with the most seats in parliament is also the leader of parliament and of the government. The legislative and executive branches are combined. Change can come quickly if the opposition members in parliament can bring down the government in a vote of confidence. At present the prime minister of Canada has the power to appoint judges to the supreme court and new members to the Senate, which unlike its counterpart in the United States, is an inferior body.

South of the border, the legislative, executive and judicial branches of the federal government are theoretically equal and an elected Senate shares legislative power with an elected House of Representatives. Unlike in Canada, where third and even fourth party candidates for parliament are the rule, there are really only two parties in the American system – Democrats and Republicans. More often than not, the different branches of government are controlled by different political parties. Terms of office are fixed. Change can only be made through fixed elections or impeachments. The congressional system is one of the most cumbersome forms of government ever devised.

In addition, a two-party structure is unable to express a diversity of political beliefs.. The United States is the only Western democracy which relies so heavily on two holy writings – its constitution and the New Testament. In a political free for all, neither are infallible.

There were eight entrants in the Republican presidential tournament. Two were Roman Catholics and two were Mormons. All found it necessary to appeal to the Christian right, to insist that they were, or from here on would be, pure enough to gain immediate entrance to heaven. Now there are five. Mitt Romney, the Mormon front-runner, is tagged as the moderate in the race, Senator Rick Santorum as the strongest social conservative, witty Newt Gingrich as the man with two much baggage, Ron Paul as the libertarian and Governor Rick Perry as the low-brow at the party. Whatever their qualities, not one of these men can express all of the divergent views which are found in the Republican Party.

These political hopefuls are performing in the “theatre of unreason.” They see more taxation and regulation of the “robber barons as an assault on personal freedom. At the same time, they advocate legal restrictions on abortions and same sex unions as a necessary defence of “family values.” Nobody is saying, as Canada’s Trudeau did, that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.

One of the most surprising events in the Republican debate is to hear Governor Perry of Texas refer to Mitt Romney as a “vulture capitalist.” This is a term favoured by Greg Palast, a hard hitting investigation journalist whose work is published in the United Kingdom because he is considered to be a pariah in government and corporate circles in the United States.

Canadians now have a federal administration which is wooing the occupants of the American mad-house. The last time that was done, the result was NAFTA, a treaty which, among other things, gave up exclusive control of our oil reserves and gave American corporations the power to sue Canadian governments at all levels for banning the use of American products which authorities, on both sides of the border, knew to be toxic. Canadians will be poorly served if Ottawa does no protect us from creeping Americanization.

It would be a be blessing to the United States and Canada alike if the lexicon of political rhetoric were changed to make it plain that the adjectives powerful, great and best are not automatically interchangeable.



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