Do you ever wonder how close the United States may be to abandoning democracy? Do you ever wonder what that might mean for Canada? Are you familiar with the word, "anschluss"?
Even The Economist recently rated the US as a "flawed democracy." That might have been overly generous. A paper released by Princeton in 2014 written by two professors, Gilens (Princeton) and Page (Northwestern), contrasted the voting record of Congress to the public will and reached the compelling conclusion that democracy had yielded to plutocracy in the American state. America's "bought and paid for" Congress had been "captured" by narrow, powerful interests and had ceased to serve the public interest. America was in the process of transforming into an oligarchy.
We watched as America's legislatures, state and federal, were captured. The telltale signs included the thwarting of campaign finance reform, the rise of a dominant corporate media cartel (think Sinclair Broadcasting) and the arrival of organizations such as ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, where captured legislators made pilgrimage to be given industry-drafted bills to take back and pass into law.
This sort of big money corruption is gangrenous and, true to form, it quickly spread to regulatory capture where representatives of regulated industries come to control the quasi-judicial boards that regulate those same industries. Trump's poster boy for this is EPA head, Scott Pruitt, who is out to dismantle most environmental regulations.
A lot of the corruption-fueled decline in American democracy predates Donald Trump but the Mango Mussolini has been a powerful catalyst who may propel the United States into a new level of authoritarianism, possibly extending into outright fascism.
When it comes to global leadership, Trump spurns America's traditional allies but has revealed a preternatural affinity for tyrants including some of the most murderous. Trump sees the retreat of liberal democracy through much of the world and will not come to its aid or defence.
Trump has little time for America's vaunted system of checks and balances. He does not recognize three co-equal branches of government. He regularly attacks law enforcement and the judiciary. He is intent on contaminating the US Supreme Court by transforming it into a partisan political agency. Neither Congress nor the American people seem to realize that a partisan political Supreme Court cannot uphold justice in the land. The Rule of Law becomes meaningless. Trump insists that the Department of Justice works for him, not the nation. When impartiality is extinguished what remains is one party rule and when that is coupled with an imperial presidency you have one-man rule.
As American public intellectual, Henry Giroux, recently wrote:
While the United States under Trump may not be an exact replica of Hitler’s Germany, the mobilizing ideas, policies, passions and ruthless social practices of fascism, wrapped in the flag and discourses of racial purity, ultra-nationalism and militarism, are at the center of power in the Trump administration.
When selected elements of history are suppressed and historical consciousness and memory no longer provide insights into the workings of repression, exploitation and resistance, people are easily trapped in forms of historical and social amnesia that limit their sense of perspective, their understanding of how power works and the ways in which the elements of fascism sustain themselves in different practices.Before America's Electoral College handed Trump the presidency, several scholars who listened to his campaign rhetoric observed that Trump's vision of reforming the United States government strayed well into the extra-constitutional. Trump would have to go rogue, unconstitutional. To do that he would need to subdue or disable both the judicial and legislative branches of government. He's done a good job with House leader, Paul Ryan, and Senate leader, Mitch McConnell. With two, possibly even three more, Supreme Court vacancies in the near future, he can probably capture the already compromised judiciary also. Then it's just a matter of a Reichstag Fire.
These are problems that the American people will have to address. Perhaps they're willing to accept a post-democratic authoritarian government, strong man rule. That's their call. Canadians, however, will be impacted by developments south of the 49th parallel perhaps more than ever in the history of our two nations.
We need to start considering how the decline of American democracy will alter the relationship between our nations; how it may impact us as individuals; whether we need to formulate some bottom line or red lines that will limit or regulate dealings between our countries. Are we at risk of succumbing to this American contagion? Should we be taking steps to rehabilitate and renew liberal democracy in Canada? Is democracy really all that secure in the True North or are we deluding ourselves? Can we afford this "open border" policy we once took such pride in? There are doubtless many issues we need to consider, questions we need to ask.
We're going to have to figure this out somehow. America is changing. It already has changed. It's not the beacon of democracy any more. To ignore that, to pretend that it's still Ozzie & Harriet and that the 2020 presidential elections will provide some magical reset button is delusional. Being next door neighbours leaves us uniquely exposed and vulnerable to this new America that seems intent on trying to forestall its decline by throwing out the rule books and exacting tribute from friend and adversary alike.
Churchill famously opined that America could always be counted on to do the right thing, after it had exhausted every other option. I wish that still held true. It doesn't. The right thing seems to have lost its currency in Washington.
This is as good a time as any to start talking among ourselves. We have a lot of catching up to do.