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