Are there lessons for Canada in America’s deplorable election?

November 5, 2016

By Daphne Bramham, Vancouver Sun |

The American presidential election has laid bare deep divisions, anger and a sinkhole of mistrust. It’s revealed every blemish, wart, wrinkle and weakness.

Slowly and painfully, it’s unveiled a democratic society at war with itself, divided between those longing for a simpler, whiter past and those willing to acknowledge (if not entirely embrace) a diverse citizenry in a world fraught with complexity and nuance.

This extraordinary contest between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump has sent journalists scrambling to dictionaries and history books to try to describe and contextualize what is happening. The usual sports metaphors have been tossed aside, replaced with words like nativism and fascism.

The veneer of journalistic objectivity has been tossed aside. There is no way to “balance” Trump’s racism, misogyny, his cruel statements about the disabled, the grieving parents of a decorated soldier and members of his own party or his incitement to followers to riot and jail his rival.

The race has provided a glimpse of dystopia in a country where guns and private militias are constitutionally protected. Trump’s unwillingness to commit to accepting the outcome of Tuesday’s vote coupled with the interference of the FBI’s director in the final days has led more than a few people to believe that the system is “rigged.”

It’s riveting spectacle, which as a Canadian cartoonist brilliantly depicted, is a race between farce and tragedy.

It’s tempting to be smug, especially with the imprimatur of The Economist which last week described Canada as “uniquely fortunate” and providing “lessons for other Western nations.”

(It also described Canada as “irredeemably dull by reputation.” I’ll take that any day over the fear and loathing on the American campaign trail.)

Yet, as different as we may be, seeds of America’s discontent exist here despite last year’s election of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals that bucked fearful, insular, anti-immigrant, anti-intellectual waves sweeping both Europe and the United States.

But peer a little deeper into our body politic. Canada may not be immune to an autocrat like Trump or from citizens willing to torch democracy.

Inequality has been rising along with homelessness and child poverty. Our heavily resource-dependent economy is stagnant because of the downturn in world prices coupled with growing opposition to more development.

Many of those once high-paid workers for the oil and gas patches are unable to find work and some are now lined up at food banks.

Like the Americans, we’ve largely assimilated the belief that smaller government is better government, accepted the redefinition of citizen as taxpayer and come to disdain tax increases. Governments have whittled away at social services, attacked unions and torn up collective agreements.

The justice system has been politicized.

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