U.S. pol­i­tics have been dumbed down, but we have plenty of con­cerns here too

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT -

ARE WE GET­TING DUMBER? More specif­i­cally, are Amer­i­cans get­ting dumber, with Cana­di­ans fol­low­ing in their wake?

Look­ing at the po­lit­i­cal scene, we’d be forced to say ‘yes.’ And we’ve been do­ing noth­ing if not tak­ing in the po­lit­i­cal the­atre south of the border.

There’s noth­ing like watch­ing Amer­i­can pol­i­tics for sheer en­ter­tain­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, it’s more amuse­ment than it is the thought­ful po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy of Ben­jamin Franklin and Thomas Jef­fer­son. Yet like the ac­ci­dent on the side of the high­way, we can’t help but gawk.

That’s been true for years, but the train-wreck ap­proach to pol­i­tics has cer­tainly blos­somed un­der Don­ald Trump, as ev­ery new day sup­plies an­other mis­step, mis­un­der­stand­ing or mis­cue. If lives didn’t hang in the bal­ance – lit­er­ally, given the bomb­ings in Syria and Afghanistan and pos­tur­ing over North Korea, de­spite Trump’s pledge to stay out of the fray – it would be some form of sur­real hu­mour.

As Cana­di­ans, we have the lux­ury of watch­ing at a dis­tance. While the elec­tion and con­stant blun­der­ing of Don­ald Trump will have lit­tle di­rect im­pact on us, our boat will be rocked too, as we sail the same wa­ters.

Amer­i­cans are an­gry. So are we, though not to the same ex­tent. And our out­lets for anger are fewer and much less shrill. What’s play­ing out next door could be a ver­sion of our fu­ture. Go be­yond the “en­ter­tain­ment” value of the likes of Rush Lim­baugh, Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and we see just what pol­i­tics has be­come in the U.S., and what it’s threat­en­ing to be­come here. Dumb. Par­ti­san. Bereft of poli­cies. And the op­po­site of an en­gaged cit­i­zenry, de­spite the pop­ulist trap­pings.

But our well­be­ing is so con­nected to the health of the U.S. econ­omy, it’s hard not to watch with trep­i­da­tion the in­creas­ingly dys­func­tional po­lit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion there.

Long cor­rupted by cor­po­rate in­ter­ests, the con­vo­luted sys­tem of gov­er­nance has proven com­pletely in­ca­pable of do­ing what’s right for av­er­age Amer­i­cans, opt­ing in­stead to prop up the dis­cred­ited fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try, trickle-down-eco­nomic the­ory and mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex.

Yes, Amer­i­cans are an­gry. And scared. They have ev­ery right to be, given the state of their econ­omy. But the anger is di­rected at the wrong tar­gets. Sup­port­ers of Trump and the off­shoots of the Tea Party move­ment who voted for fringe can­di­dates do so in di­rect op­po­si­tion to their own best in­ter­ests. There’s the ob­vi­ous stuff – the so-called grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions cre­ated and funded by the bil­lion­aire Koch fam­ily, which has been work­ing for decades to un­der­mine the pub­lic good for its own ben­e­fit. Then there’s the un­der­ly­ing is­sue of cor­po­ratism and con­sumerism-trumps-cit­i­zen­ship, far more dif­fi­cult to get on the agenda, let alone re­solve.

The prob­lems in the U.S., and to a lesser ex­tent in Canada, are com­plex. Par­ti­san snip­ing and slo­ga­neer­ing won’t help. Ap­par­ently, that’s the best we can do. That’s way we have pun­dits yelling on TV. Er­satz politi­cians us­ing homey plat­i­tudes. And is­sues re­duced to the low­est com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor.

The crazy-mak­ing rhetoric was in full stride lead­ing up to last Novem­ber’s elec­tion. It hasn’t sub­sided much since then, such is the po­lar­iza­tion in the cir­cus tent that is U.S. pol­i­tics.

Even be­fore Trump seized the lead­er­ship, the Repub­li­cans pro­vide lit­tle in the way of cred­i­bil­ity, es­pe­cially on the eco­nomic front – the Tea Party con­tin­gent con­tin­ues the fan­ta­sy­land cre­ated by Ron­ald Rea­gan and em­braced ever since. The Democrats of­fer a smidge more san­ity – it would have been more than a smidge if Bernie San­ders hadn’t been un­der­mined – but both par­ties have long been bought by a hand­ful of oli­garchs and cor­po­rate in­ter­ests.

It’s this very cor­po­ratism that has eroded the mid­dle class, sub­verted democ­racy, fos­tered in­equal­ity, stolen bil­lions of dol­lars and led to an un­pro­duc­tive econ­omy where money and power is in­creas­ingly held by a small mi­nor­ity. Yet Amer­i­cans cling to the idea that there are choices. And, worse yet, that their choices matter.

It’s the kind of rea­son­ing that has Amer­i­cans be­liev­ing Repub­li­cans are all about smaller gov­ern­ment and fis­cal re­spon­si­bil­ity or that Democrats make poli­cies for the pub­lic good, when just the op­po­site is true. Sub­sti­tute Cana­di­ans and Con­ser­va­tives/Lib­er­als here and you can see we’re in the same boat, al­beit with­out some of the worst fun­da­men­tal­ist dogma com­ing out of the States.

If vot­ers are so po­lar­ized that they can’t see the ob­vi­ous – they’ve truly drunk deeply of the KoolAid – then Amer­i­cans can never have a ra­tio­nal de­bate about how to move for­ward.

Of course, that as­sumes real change is ac­tu­ally a pos­si­bil­ity. Keep­ing the pub­lic oc­cu­pied with mind­less par­ti­san­ship, petty bick­er­ing and, above all, pop-cul­ture dis­trac­tions works out just fine for those who are happy with the sta­tus quo: the real power elites who have no in­ter­est in chang­ing a good thing.

Pow­er­ful cor­po­rate in­ter­ests spend mil­lions to in­flu­ence pub­lic pol­icy, from fight­ing pub­lic health care to quash­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal con­trols. Their ef­forts pay off. Need proof? Look no fur­ther than the com­pletely dys­func­tional sys­tem in the U.S.

Thanks to decades of con­certed ef­fort, many peo­ple have bought into a set of di­min­ished ex­pec­ta­tions about the role of gov­ern­ment and, more trou­blingly, the pos­si­bil­i­ties of shap­ing a bet­ter so­ci­ety. We’ve had democ­racy re­duced to the oc­ca­sional trip to the polls. We’ve seen gov­ern­ment re­duced to man­age­rial func­tions, where de­bate is con­strained to a few well­worn top­ics. We’ve seen the econ­omy re­duced to fis­cal pol­icy – dereg­u­la­tion’s the or­der of the day as the fi­nan­cial ser­vices in­dus­try sets the agenda. We’ve seen cit­i­zen­ship dumbed down to pas­sive ob­ser­va­tion, at best.

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