As the Americans approach the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election they begin their next round of intense self-examination. Political conversation is never far below the surface of any American and the occasion to inspire it is usually a welcome indulgence. While the remarkable rift between the left and the right (Democrat and Republican) is impossible to ignore, most Canadians I suspect would fail to identify with such cataclysmic disparity. Only in America is the scene so obviously black and white. It perhaps speaks to our Canadian sense of accommodation that we have at least a third political party (New Democrats) to balance the gap which might otherwise exist between the traditional front leaders (Liberals and Conservatives). In the American context the difference between the two Parties borders on dogmatic and is trumpeted to go to the very heart of the American psyche.
At least Canadians avoid the appearance of an entirely binary world, contributing to the most extreme characterizations. More to the point Canadians do not generally see our “homeland” as the next landing ground of foreign invaders. Granted the threat of such activity is not completely lacking in Canada but it hasn’t yet translated into overwhelming and numbing fear. Americans admittedly have the basis for such worry and it would be both arrogant and impertinent of us Canadians in the shadow of their protection to deny that entitlement and legitimacy. What disturbs me nonetheless is that galloping fear has the effect of drawing into its wake anxieties which are unrelated and phantasmagoric. It is human nature to recoil completely from a perceived threat but where the intellectual equivalent is to insulate oneself from any difference howsoever inoffensive the process can become unnecessarily delimiting.
The recent cry of the Republicans is to “Take back America!” as though the Democrats have contaminated the true values of America or diluted its fundamental precepts. Considering the well advertised inability of Congress to enact legislation without the Republican controlled Senate approval I fail to see how the reigning Democrats can be blamed for the putrefaction of the American ideology. Rather the dispute reduces to nothing more than a rhetorical argument between competing sides.
Nonetheless the fact remains that many Americans harbour the undeniable belief that their “way of life” is under threat. And I suppose it is. Whether however this is a bad thing or not is the matter for consideration. In my own lifetime I can recall a time when Spanish was not a language of choice on an airport notice board; when climate change was not an issue; when gay marriage would never have been an option; when a black man or a woman as president of the United States of America was inconceivable; when minimum wage was not part of a political platform. These evolutions of thought are in my opinion not a step backwards; indeed they rather improve my view of American society.
We Canadians are instinctively less astonished by these developments and in fact more often than not we are amazed at the resistance which they have encountered in American society. Why this is so I am not certain. I won’t for a minute pretend that we are more enlightened that our American neighbours (I also recall when the Rideau Club was closed to women and Jews). My barometer of human propriety continues to be one based upon want and danger and I can therefore only assume that Canadians are not currently threatened by similar proceedings. There might however be a case made against the American presumption which was epitomized for so many years in its “melting pot” mentality. This effectively watered down all differences in favour of the standard of American conduct at the risk of “not fitting in”. Even though all humans – whether American or Canadian – suffer from the fear of things new and different, we all mostly acknowledge that we have more in common than otherwise; and that the most modest acquaintance will reveal our underlying similarities. And I don’t think most of us see others as terrorists or radicals.
Meanwhile there are people who have a great deal riding on power and often that goal trumps the niceties and superficial compromises of human relations. There are people whose entire lives are committed to putting a favourable spin on something for their own purposes, not the greater achievement of society. There are likewise people who because of evident differences feel vulnerable to their roots. The protective spirit of anyone is not to be diminished in either its purpose or its intensity; but it means that surmounting those often instinctive reactions requires incredible sophistication.