Putting peo­ple over pol­i­tics

The Prince George Citizen - - Front Page - — Edi­tor-in-chief Neil God­bout

So many of the po­lit­i­cal pun­dits com­ment­ing on the re­sults of the U.S. midterm elec­tions Tues­day have been fo­cussing on the bit­ter di­vi­sions in the coun­try, to ex­plain how Democrats re­gained con­trol of the House but the Repub­li­cans, fu­elled by U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, so­lid­i­fied their con­trol of the Se­nate. The United States is hardly united any­more, that is true, but the name of the coun­try has al­ways been sadly ironic. The ten­sions be­tween ur­ban and ru­ral, the north and the south, the wealth and power cen­tres in New York and Wash­ing­ton clash­ing with the rest of the coun­try, have plagued Amer­ica for more than 200 years.

They are fa­mil­iar to Cana­di­ans, es­pe­cially the ur­ban and ru­ral di­vide, while our ge­o­graph­i­cal split is more east/west and it’s Toronto and Ottawa that drive us crazy (and provin­cially Vancouver and Vic­to­ria).

The dif­fer­ence, of course, is that, un­like our Amer­i­can cousins, we don’t have a civil war in our past.

The clos­est our anger with one an­other has come to mor­ph­ing into or­ga­nized armed con­flict was dur­ing the FLQ cri­sis in Que­bec in the 1970s.

Even that was a lit­tle more than a hand­ful of Que­be­cers so se­ri­ous (and crazy) about in­de­pen­dence for La Belle Prov­ince that they thought mur­der and ter­ror­ism were jus­ti­fied.

Amer­i­cans, how­ever, have al­ways been will­ing to pull up their guns and kill one an­other over ide­ol­ogy. Some feel that the cur­rent so­cial, cul­tural, racial and po­lit­i­cal ten­sions across the United States will inevitably de­scend past ran­dom vi­o­lence and into on­go­ing con­flict, per­haps an­other civil war and even states leav­ing the union.

While that’s not out of the realm of re­spon­si­bil­ity, a calmer anal­y­sis of what’s go­ing on in Amer­ica, es­pe­cially from the out­side look­ing in, shows how su­per­fi­cial the “di­vided coun­try” nar­ra­tive is.

Tues­day’s elec­tion re­sults show a huge swath of Amer­i­cans out­right ig­nore party pol­i­tics. Even those who iden­tify as Democrats and Repub­li­cans seem to go into vot­ing sta­tions as in­de­pen­dents, eas­ily mov­ing back and forth be­tween the two par­ties.

That led to a real mixed bag of re­sults, as re­vealed by David Beard of the Poyn­ter In­sti­tute.

Some Repub­li­cans who pro­fessed un­con­di­tional loy­alty to Trump got the boot from vot­ers, even in tra­di­tion­ally Repub­li­can ar­eas like Kansas, while oth­ers won elec­tion over in­cum­bent Democrats, like in North Dakota and Mis­souri. Some Repub­li­cans, such as the gover­nors of Mary­land and Mas­sachusetts, clearly dis­tanced them­selves from Trump and won re-elec­tion.

In Iowa, a 29-year-old Demo­crat was elected over a Repub­li­can in­cum­bent be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for ethics vi­o­la­tions. In other states, Repub­li­cans charged with crimes rang­ing from em­bez­zle­ment to in­sider trad­ing were still elected.

Else­where, Colorado elected the first openly gay gover­nor in Amer­i­can his­tory.

Na­tive Amer­i­can women will be in Congress for the first time and three of them were elected Tues­day – one from Kansas and two from New Mex­ico. The new Congress will also have the first two Mus­lim women ever, rep­re­sent­ing dis­tricts in Min­nesota and Michi­gan.

Still in Michi­gan, vot­ers there ap­proved that state be­com­ing the 10th in the union to le­gal­ize mar­i­juana.

Over in Florida, where Repub­li­cans look to have won ra­zor-thin vic­to­ries for gover­nor and the Se­nate, vot­ers si­mul­ta­ne­ously en­dorsed an ini­tia­tive that will let as many as 1.4 mil­lion peo­ple take part in fu­ture elec­tions but who were pre­vi­ously not al­lowed to cast a bal­lot be­cause they had spent time in jail.

When the po­lit­i­cal mag­ni­fy­ing glass is put away and Tues­day’s elec­tion re­sults are looked at through a sim­pler lens of good cam­paigns and ap­peal­ing can­di­dates, the United States looks less di­vided, filled with a ma­jor­ity of cit­i­zens who vote by per­son­al­ity, like­abil­ity and prac­ti­cal­ity, rather than hard-and-fast ide­ol­ogy.

Mil­lions of Amer­i­cans who voted twice for Barack Obama for pres­i­dent voted for Trump in 2016 and con­tinue to sup­port him.

De­spite Trump’s nu­mer­ous flaws, they were (and still are) drawn to his brash­ness, his charisma and his con­fi­dence. That makes per­fect sense to the many Cana­di­ans who voted Con­ser­va­tive in sup­port of Stephen Harper but flipped to cast a bal­lot for Justin Trudeau’s Lib­er­als three years ago.

On both sides of the bor­der, this mas­sive bloc of vot­ers don’t fit into eas­ily de­fined cat­e­gories for pun­dits and poll­sters. They pay scant at­ten­tion to pol­i­tics out­side of elec­tion pe­ri­ods, they hang up on any­one ask­ing them to take part in an opin­ion sur­vey, they vote by how they feel about the can­di­dates with lit­tle or no mind to their plat­form, mean­ing they also vote against can­di­dates as much or more as they vote in sup­port of a par­tic­u­lar can­di­date, and they have no loy­alty what­so­ever to any party or politi­cian.

While the po­lit­i­cally en­gaged end­lessly ar­gue for and against Trump, for and against Trudeau, for and against ev­ery­thing from free trade agree­ments and im­mi­gra­tion to trans­gen­der rights and mil­i­tary spend­ing, the quiet ma­jor­ity are too busy (some would say too lazy) work­ing, rais­ing fam­i­lies, pay­ing bills and hang­ing out with fam­ily and friends to care about the po­lit­i­cal scene.

So per­haps the di­vi­sions in the United States, in Canada and in B.C. are less about pol­i­tics or ge­og­ra­phy or iden­tity or wealth and more about the peo­ple who re­ally care and the ones that don’t care nearly as much.

Both groups get to vote and both do so but their thought process head­ing into the bal­lot box is com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

So maybe those mixed re­sults aren’t so bad after all.

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