Having just returned from a five-week trip in the United States of America, I have made some observations of our southern neighbour that I think are worth noting.
I came of political maturity during the administration of George W. Bush and, despite countless warnings to the contrary, I still held out hope that a democratic regime in Washington would reverse much of what happened from 2000 to 2008. So far this hasn’t happened and, worse, it doesn’t appear that it will happen.
The American people do not have the government they deserve. There are two forces that have shaped their current government. The first is that Americans have carried to the present the revolutionary fear of too much government (while a Canadian parliamentarian’s bullshit starts at policy objectives, a congressman is already neck deep explaining why his position exists in the first place).
The second force is the bang-for-buck invested in the president or a senator. Since the end of the Second World War, these have been the most powerful decision makers in the world, so providing a little campaign money can go a long way to securing global markets and controlling domestic interests.
Americans have zoned out as politicians’ lies are increasingly sponsored.
The mainstream media is also in disastrous shape; issues are poorly debated, there is little exposure of Washington corruption and the world outside the United States is seldom talked about. Beyond the empty talking heads and talking points, consequential things are happening: The governing majority is stalled by a reticent minority; the judiciary has declared it unconstitutional to limit corporate or union campaign advertising financing; and no meaningful action has been taken on preventing another economic crash like that of 2008.
The No Child Left Behind program initiated by the Bush administration allocated school funding based on the grades received by students on standardized tests. Schools are now unofficially labelled “A” schools, “B” schools or “C” schools depending on these grades. As a result, funding for underperforming inner-city schools is drying up.
Elsewhere, ambiguous official immigration policy has left the border with Mexico wide open and there is a tacit acceptance of illegal immigrants. This has kept wages low in the border states, made a class of people who work under threat of deportation and created a group of low-wage or jobless American citizens with strong anti-immigrant sentiments.
Defence spending makes up some 20 per cent of the budget and, in the absence of transfer payments between states, securing military contracts is one of the best ways for congressmen to bring money into a state.
These are not just America’s concerns. They should be Canada’s as well.
The course that Canada takes is inextricably bound to the course taken by the United States. Although we are able to chart an independent course, history and geography have placed us well within the American sphere of influence and we need to be concerned where that sphere is going.
We are 15 years passed the signing of NAFTA and there is very little political will to see this agreement discarded. In fact, technological development and the formation of multilateral trading blocs around the world have made globalization inevitable. Canada will become a tighter partner with the U.S.
Canadians need to begin having a discussion on what the growing union between these two countries will mean for us economically and politically. There are no meaningful discussions on how to make global transnational integration democratic. Nationalisms are often played off against each other to limit our faith in the people of other nations.
Further, we need to ensure that the economic drag of greater income disparity does not occur in Canada.
Americans are, however, engaged at the local and state level in a way that should shame any Canadian. The pride that the American people have in their country did get them out of the power and income polarization that was occurring 100 years ago. Although the American people know they can do it again on their own, it can’t hurt if the people of Canada want to support them.
Joe Kornelsen is a roofer in Southern Manitoba while on a year-long hiatus from school.
Published in Volume 64, Number 23 of The Uniter (March 18, 2010)