The paradox of the United States is that, to an extent greater than in any other economically developed nation, it appears to contain more of the best and meritorious things in life and also more of the debased and deplorable things, existing alongside each other.
Any list of the world’s greatest universities is usually overloaded with American universities in the top ten. Whereas the level of American political education for the general population appears to be absolutely deplorable. How does one reconcile these apparently disparate facts?
This is by way of introducing some puzzling facts that have been drawn to my attention by the dissident American journalist and activist Chris Hedges, whose excellent weekly interview programme is on RT Television. Get that, it is on Russia Today, a station that is held up on an almost daily basis for ridicule and in fear by the atrophied minds in the mainstream information system, minds that pass for the commentariat in the United States. Hedges introduces every week a different person of high quality, of both intellect and morality, of both eloquence and persuasiveness, who has made his or her life by exposing and struggling against the prevailing mediocrity.
This week he had an interview with a man I had never heard of or who if I had heard of him before, I had forgotten all about. His name is Howie Hawkins, and he is one of those unfortunate people who have stood for President of the United States in the colours of the Green Party, Ralph Nader being another. Hawkins is still at it, as is Nader, still advocating for the policies of his party, whose highest vote in any presidential election has been 2.7 per cent of the votes cast.
Hedges presented to him only one criticism, that when they organized a presidential campaign, the Green Party usually gave the appearance of having arrived from the top down, from a following composed mostly of white, middle-class people, rather than having grown among the grassroots of ordinary people’s lives. He admitted it, said they had never yet mastered the art of supporting people in their immediate needs, thus earning their political support. He insisted, quite reasonably, that the job of just getting on the ballot was confronted by countess obstacles, intentionally put in place to prevent third parties from contending.
He says the Greens need 800,000 signatures, and $1.5 million dollars just to have some coordinators for the volunteers needed merely to get all those signatures. “Our first problem is just to get on the ballot.”
And then, when once on the ballot, they discover they need to have millions of dollars if they are to advertise what they stand for. It is not for nothing, he suggested, that mainstream parties are maintained by the untold wealth provided by corporations and individually wealthy entrepreneurs, who contribute in the expectation that the politician elected will do their bidding.
These, however, are not the facts that set me off on this. Rather, the facts that blew my mind were introduced by Hedges, who ran through a catalogue of serious political issues on which, according to polls, most Americans agree, but none of which issues is being addressed by either major party.
Here is his formidable list:
82 per cent believe there is too much money in politics;
69 per cent believe business has too much power;
78 per cent believe stronger enforcement is needed of laws regulating the financial industry;
82 per cent believe inequality in the U.S. is “big”;
59 per cent favour raising the minimum amount low-wage workers can make and still obtain a special income tax credit for low-wage people;
96 per cent believe money in politics is to blame for the dysfunction of the American system;
76 per cent believe the wealthy should pay higher taxes;
59 per cent agree with raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour;
61 per cent approve of labour unions;
60 per cent believe the federal government should be responsible to make sure all Americans have health care;
60 per cent believe in expanding Medicare to all;
59 per cent believe there should be free early-childhood education;
76 per cent are very concerned about climate disruption;
84 per cent are in favour of background checks for all gun owners;
58 per cent believe that abortions should be available in all or most cases.
This is a formidable list (Hedges says it is excerpted from an article by Peter Dreier in American Prospect in November 2017) of public attitudes and yet, as he adds, “none of these issues are being addressed.”
Hawkins adds: “And that’s the problem with American politics. Public preferences do not translate into policy, because the political system responds to the donors and not the voters and that’s why the Greens have to be still out there.”
If this isn’t a warning to Canadians --- for whom, Pierre Trudeau once told the Washington Press Club members, living next to the US is like sleeping next to an elephant. “No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt” --- then I don’t know what kind of warning they need. Canada’s political experience has been --- to quote philosopher George Grant, writing in the 1950s --- that its business class has always held itself ready to oppose any serious move to assert Canadian national objectives.
One might agree or disagree with that, in general terms, but in the context of North America, where the gnat has to co-exist with the elephant, it seems to me that to maintain any semblance of real independence, Canada has to be ready to assert its national objectives forcefully. Never more so than now, when the United States has fallen into the accidental black hole of Trump administration, and we find ourselves being subjected to tariffs on security grounds that have nothing to do with security, and that are not the actions of a friendly nation.
Under the first Trudeau Prime Minister efforts were made to divert some part of our trade from the United States to other partners (following, I might say, the wishes expressed by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker before the return of Liberal rule). I remember when I came to this country in the early 1950s, two things shocked me: one was the high level of Canadian economy controlled by Americans and their companies, and the second shocking thing was the equanimity of Canadians in face of this fact.
The Foreign Investment Review Agency (FIRA) was established by the Trudeau government in 1973 “to ensure that the foreign acquisition and establishment of businesses in Canada was beneficial to the country.” Under the new Agency, takeovers were to be assessed based on ”their contribution to job creation, Canadian participation in management, competition with existing industries, new technology, and compatibility with federal and provincial economic policies.” Two of the prime movers in this effort to get Canadian control over foreign investment were young economists Mel Watkins and the late James Laxer. But even in the New Democratic Party the proponents of the mild nationalism expressed by the Trudeau government was responded to with a heavy hand.The faction known to history as ”the Waffle group”, led by Laxer and Watkins, was expelled from the NDP by Ontario leader Stephen Lewis, and were never allowed back into the party. This is a mistake that socialists in the United Kingdom never made: when the Attlee government came to power in 1945, many of their most effective ministers -- Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan, Harold Wilson among them --- were radicals who had been expelled from the party, and allowed back in.
That timidity of the NDP is a measure of how close Canada always is of falling into the mauling grip of the American elephant. As soon as Conservative rule over Canada was re-established by Brian Mulroney in 1984, the tentative efforts at dispersal of Canada’s economy were promptly abandoned, and in 1988 an election was fought over the single question of free trade with the United States. End of national assertion for Canada.
We are now able to judge more coherently Justin Trudeau’s boast that “Canada is back” when he was elected Prime Minister.
So far, the statement appears to have had little, if any meaning.
Maybe he meant that Canada is on its back, begging to be tickled by the elephant.
Wel-l-l….wot the hell, wot the hell….