Well e-x-c-u-s-e me!

I think anyone knows that Donald Trump threatens the sustainability of the Republican Party – quaintly called the “Good Old Party”.

Legend has it that after leveling Carthage in the Third Punic War, Roman army generals ordered that the city’s fields be sown with salt so that they’d lie fallow for years, Roman generals not being particularly well known for their benevolence in victory.

Many Republicans think Donald Trump’s nomination is doing roughly the same thing to their party: destroying any chance for growth it once had and leaving the GOP to wither and die on Trump vineyard vines. Clare Malone

“We have before us the task of trying to create a society of lifelong learners because people’s jobs are going to expire every three years forevermore at a pace that’s going to continue to accelerate. And so what’s the Republican’s Party solution to that? What’s the Democratic Party’s solution to that?” Sasse said. “The Democrats have a really crappy product — they’re trying to sell more central planning and more monopolistic rule of experts in the age of Uber — and Republicans, no one knows what we stand for.” Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska

At the risk of appearing to trivialize the rampant alteration in the GOP, we Canadians have seen the political landscape change many times in the past 100 years: the Conservative Party of Canada (until 1942), the Progressive Conservatives (under John Diefenbaker 1957 – 1963), the merger in 2003 of the Canadian Alliance (former Reform Party under Preston Manning) and the Progressive Conservatives to form the Conservative Party of Canada (under Stephen Harper 2004 – 2015).

Interestingly the Tories, positioned on the right of the Canadian political spectrum, represent the metaphor of fractious evolution currently rocking the GOP; and the Liberals (the “Grits”), like the Democrats, maintain their reputation for inclusiveness and social reform.

The (Liberal) party has dominated federal politics for much of Canada’s history, holding power for almost 69 years in the 20th century—more than any other party in a developed country—and as a result, it is sometimes referred to as Canada’s “natural governing party”. The Liberals’ signature policies and legislative decisions include universal health care, the Canada Pension Plan, Canada Student Loans, peacekeeping, multilateralism, official bilingualism, official multiculturalism, patriating the Canadian constitution and the entrenchment of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the Clarity Act, restoring balanced budgets in the 1990s, and making same-sex marriage legal nationwide.

It is no accident that conservatism has been a hotbed for revolt. Conservatives  – whether the GOP or the Tories – tend to be characterized by nostalgia.  Mr. Trump’s banner “Make America Great Again” is but a favourable spin on that backward-looking aspiration.  As laughable as Mr. Trump’s proposals are for building a wall, banning Muslims and evicting millions of illegal aliens, he has nonetheless fomented considerable self-examination.  Mr. Trump’s so-called “politically incorrect” statements have highlighted his campaign (and some would say have been the engine of its success).  Initially his off-colour comments were thought destructive; but when he won the Republican nomination, people took notice. Mr. Trump’s latest – and some would say most egregious – gaff is the disclosure of a 2005 recording in which he speaks of women as though he were in a men’s locker room (his own words). Not surprisingly there have been the usual (and I would suggest mandatory) knee-jerk reactions from hardcore Republicans; but there has also been a flood of support for Mr. Trump even from the unlikely female supporters. And of course the media pretends to live in a world where lewd language is unimaginable (though Mr. Trump has pointed out that if one were to record back-room politics generally the conversation wouldn’t be any different).

As a result of this on-going controversy I have been forced to examine my own thoughts on political correctness and to recall the nature of the comments which regularly swirled about male-dominated venues which, because I am an old lawyer with “traditional” alliances and experiences who attended a boys boarding school, easily includes the Barristers lounge at the court house, cronies at Osgoode Hall, locker rooms, Masonic Lodge fraternities and most Boards of Directors on which I ever served. Having said that, it is certainly not my immediate recollection that the narrative in those environments regularly descended into lascivious bravado.  In fact what stands out more about such salacious behaviour is that it was confined to situations which frankly I can recall with stunning accuracy because of their infrequency.  And seldom do I recollect that their occurrence was confined to those venues I mentioned; instead the instances of swaggering were usually private conferences (where seemingly the possibility of broadcast was less and the persuasiveness was considered greater).  Additionally what makes my memory so clear is that in every instance the machismo was so obvious as to amount to a deceit, mere bluster. Very often I was left wondering what inadequacy the braggadocio was meant to disguise.

While this analysis may erode both the intent and substance of the boasting, the more important question is whether it even matters. If I were to dismiss the value of what anyone says who ever said something stupid, I might narrow the field rather quickly.  I can’t pretend to have intimate knowledge about what women say about men when they are alone but based upon the jokes which regularly circulate about how men (especially husbands) are dopes and women are not, I suspect it is fathomable that women say some damaging things about men. This naturally raises the question about who if anyone is perfect; and it also raises the question about the value of maintaining socially acceptable behaviour. It is not unimaginable that adopting a deafness to certain exclamations is at times advisable.  All this gets mixed up with the rough and tumble of everyday living.  No one suggests we should be impenetrable but at least robust.

A deeper enquiry is whether those who avoid the trap of being caught on tape are really any better.  My own mother has with the effect of time been known to lapse into the vernacular; and because of the confined orbit of her life she has proven herself less than animated by minorities or modern liberality. Surely we can canvass a collection of attributes by which to assess a candidate other than what is obviously prompted by boldness, dementia or limited horizons. I am not saying we should abandon the hope of finding a saint among our mix but neither am I saying we’re electing a Sunday school teacher. Forgive me for saying so but honestly I find evangelists intolerable, not because I object to their message but rather their presumption.  It is arguable there is room for “manners maketh the man” but that adage is itself elitist, spot-lighting the domination of others for intolerable behaviour.  It threatens to be the pretence of propriety. Even if one is a purist about public conduct the concern remains how far removed any of us is from such baseness. It does not alarm me that Mr. Trump’s followers are quick to dismiss his verbal indiscretions in favour of support for his political agenda. The voters are making a tactical decision to ignore the seamy side of life in preference for Mr. Trump’s promises.  It is the same reasoning which curiously drives minorities and marginal social groups to get behind him; they are rising above his frailty in favour of his humanity and the off-chance he’ll do the right thing for a change.

In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act. George Orwell (1903 – 1950)