As gripping as American politics have been for the past four years, I’m hoping that with the second impeachment and Mitch McConnell’s castigation we’ve seen the last of Trump. The picture of a nation constantly at loggerheads is exhausting. I’m not saying American politics differs wildly from that of any other country, but the visceral nature of Trump has made it singularly depressing. Assessing the job of politicians from afar – that is, as a “member of the public” – is like the regard of another man’s pain; namely, innately prejudiced and uninformed. But the analysis does admit of some constancy.

Not being a particularly political animal myself, my personal acquaintance with politicians has been infrequent. I have met a former Prime Minister and a leading member of his cabinet.  It was especially memorable because the Prime Minister was notably more genuine than the cabinet minister. I have also been on the campaign team of a former President of a provincial party, an experience which exemplified the ineffable gusto that surrounds the political ambition. I have attended a political rally at the Royal York Hotel and rubbed shoulders with numerous politicians and their acolytes. I have met local candidates. I have been surreptitiously courted by two federal members of Parliament who were former colleagues. I have known Senators and members of the Privy Council. I have dabbled ever so briefly in municipal politics. That constitutes the sum of my knowledge of the process of sausage making.

In defending their work, members of Congress love to repeat a quotation attributed to Otto von Bismarck: “If you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.” In other words, the legislative process, though messy and sometimes unappetizing, can produce healthy, wholesome results.

In both Canada and the United States of America there are predominantly two political choices.  Each is aligned with either “conservative” or “liberal” though the difference is frequently less than identifiable in Canada where such polarized subjects as abortion on demand and gun ownership are less controversial.

American politics currently appears to be gravitating to more extreme poles. The touted agenda of Republicans is not static and has changed remarkably since the party was founded in 1854 and Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president.

The 21st-century Republican Party ideology is American conservatism, which incorporates both economic policies and social values. The GOP supports lower taxes, free market capitalism, restrictions on immigration, increased military spending, gun rights, restrictions on abortion, deregulation, and restrictions on labor unions. The party’s 21st-century base of support includes people living in rural areas, men, the Silent Generation, and white evangelical Christians.

It is now undeniable that a large portion of both the overall American public and the members of the Republican party are throw-backs to a former era of white supremacy (or at the very least an establishment wing) and Wild West credentials which include the “American Dream” (laissez-faire capitalism), radical Christian religiosity, class warfare, higher private spending not taxes and deregulation.

“This Is a White Man’s Government,” cartoon by Thomas Nast, 1868.

As in the Great Depression of 1929 (when there were severe consequences for the Republicans because of their unwillingness to combat the effects of the depression through direct government intervention in the economy), Americans are now confronting a new reality which is an emerging “brown” demographic and a further immigration influx from disadvantaged people seeking to escape poverty, religious persecution and genocide. Sound familiar to the Irish-Catholic immigration between 1820 – 1860?

Ireland’s 1845 Potato Blight is often credited with launching the second wave of Irish immigration to America. The fungus which decimated potato crops created a devastating famine. Starvation plagued Ireland and within five years, a million Irish were dead while half a million had arrived in America to start a new life. Living conditions in many parts of Ireland were very difficult long before the Potato Blight of 1845, however, and a large number of Irish left their homeland as early as the 1820s.

While Republicans seldom align themselves with what Hilary Clinton called the “deplorables” there is a common attribution of the “white trash” narrative to Republican supporters, people who are gun-toting, Confederate flag bearing, unemployed and uneducated. While it is perfectly understandable that people suffering deprivation are anxious and frightened, it is generally viewed by more forward-thinking politicians (such as characterize the Democrats) that there is more to be gained by commonality than difference and isolation.  The problem however seems to be that the divergence represents a source of election for the competing candidates; and therefore the disparity is perpetuated even to the point as with Trump that he categorically lied to his supporters and the nation about the legitimacy of the entire democratic process. This naturally did little to enhance politicians, especially the GOP which is now trying to distance itself from Trump’s mendacity and baseless political bloodletting.

In both Canada and the United States of America there is a constitutional division between the federal and provincial (state) governments which is frequently extended to distinguish municipal authority wherein lies the more digestible features of politics. The effect is that federal politics regularly evaporates into the atmosphere. In Canada the division of power is labelled under the so-called POGG clause (Peace Order and Good Government), the theory being that the supremacy of the federal government is determined by what is characterized as necessary for the universal and uniform advantage of the country.  Though the POGG clause has been applied to such mundane discussions as the legitimacy of oleo margarine, it more often covers recognizably paramount subjects as criminal law and divorce.  On the other hand health insurance is a provincial mandate, as is education, both highly important to the public.  By extension, the critical involvement of the federal government is perhaps less meaningful to the general populace though such matters as the McKenzie Valley Pipeline (natural resources) can be extremely significant to gas and oil extractors and their related financiers.

It is unquestionably part of the public’s coarse preoccupation with politics to unearth the daily accounts of scandal and misstep among its political representatives. The hierarchy of such scratchy bent is the libidinous exposure of “members opposite”, as Hansard so regularly identifies those on the other side of the aisle. Saturday Night Live and Jimmy Kimmel have for example discovered no end of fodder in Rudy Giuliani’s suggested encounter with a working girl in his hotel room. Significantly Giuliani has suffered the same precipitous disassociation as many other Trump disciples including Vice-president Mike Pence whose overall popularity was already at a low end for being a pusillanimous bigot.

Yet it is all a reminder that if you think you can do better, then go ahead and try. Certainly there are advantages to popularity and swimming among the fishes but likewise there is a price to be paid whether grey hair or imprisonment. What is equally certain is that the popular recollection will be short-lived; and it may or may not be favourable. As much as the political neophyte may advance the hope and promise of fidelity, it is calculable that he or she will have to endure the indignity of utility to competing interests, some perhaps with the added complication of flattery and bribe. When once one has been penetrated frequently enough by these tangible violations it is difficult to succumb to the higher plane.

The best mask for a treacherous heart is an honest face!”

Blackbeard the Pirate

Post Scriptum

Email from His Honour MT, February 18, 2021:

Yes. Loved the last composite picture. Otto von Bismarck forever. The bright and shiny end of republicans (I refuse to capitalize the word) may be found in the innocence, faith and traditional wisdom which one may find in any rural Country and Western FM station but at the other extreme of republicanism is QAnon. Rush Limbaugh has gone to meet his maker. I wonder how that’s working out? Better to just turn up the music about tractors, young love, Tequila and family values. Shared values do not really extend much beyond the universal acceptance of denim blue jeans throughout our continent. Oh yes – and everybody loves babies. Except Trump. I was so annoyed by the picture of his holding up a Bible. Extended as far from his heart as he could contrive, as if it were a fouled diaper. Let’s all hear a lot less about that improbably orange fascist. Bless you for your thoughts on this.