Win or lose next month, Donald Trump has won the day – for years to come.
With or without Trump, Trumpism is here to stay awhile. No matter who wins the presidential election, we’ve already lost our way.
Not just them but us. Not just American democracy, but Canadian political culture and public discourse.
If this sounds alarmist, be alarmed. Don’t take my word for it, heed the warnings of two savvy politicians who witnessed the days of declining democracy on both sides of the border, on the front lines and behind the scenes.
David MacNaughton served as our Ambassador to Washington, DC for most of Trump’s presidency. Longtime political assistant, campaign organizer, and private consultant to Canada, MacNaughton walked away dismayed by the American collapse – and worried about our collective ability to withstand the fallout.
The ambassador made it his mission to repel Trump’s attacks and save NAFTA – a Canadian in the lion’s den – bringing together politicians from all sides with union and business leaders for a coalition ” Team Canada ”. But even this success has proven to be a fleeting alliance, as Canadian politics increasingly fragment into hyper-partisanship and “fringe groups” that threaten a tradition of compromise and compassion.
“We cannot be sufficient,” MacNaughton told a Ryerson Democracy Forum I hosted this month. Unless Canadians come together – not just politicians, but the voters who elect them and the media that influence them – “this is going to get worse.”
As wary as MacNaughton was, his colleague Naheed Nenshi seemed even more worried. Calgary’s outspoken mayor invented his own brand of popular politics a decade ago, but fears Trumpism is trampling on his best plans for civil society.
And now he’s wondering if he’ll even be part of our politics as it unfolds.
“I have to tell you that I have to decide now if I will run for another term,” Nenshi told a surprised audience of students and professors. “What a lot of people tell me is, ‘Why the hell are you doing this to yourself in this political environment?’”
The problem is, “politics right now is broken and ugly and horrible, and I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but … politics is just a reflection of who we are as a people.”
We brought together these two uniquely Canadian people – a political agent and a practicing politician – not only to diagnose the American political virus, but also to prescribe a cure for Canada to infect and quarantine itself against the contagion in full pandemic.
We expected the former ambassador to offer a pessimistic account of the American turmoil while the mayor could offer an antidote – or at least a dose of optimism. We were wrong.
There will be no happy ending even if Trump is defeated and his Republican enablers lose their grip on Washington. In the worst of times, the best one can hope for is a fresh start – a rebuilding of democracy on both sides of the border.
As tempting as it may be to wiggle your fingers at Americans – their monetary policy, their racist policies and their stalling policies – Nenshi points an accusing finger closer to home.
“I don’t know if I have a happier story for the future,” Nenshi told himself after hearing the Ambassador’s dystopian analysis of America. “There are a lot of not funny things about public discourse.”
Right here in Canada.
“Things have changed completely in the 10 years of public life that I have lived. The amount of racism, the amount of anger and vitriol that I am subjected to… on a daily basis is truly incredible, and it just got so much worse.
Canada’s political culture depends on “big parties” bringing people together rather than pulling them apart, argued MacNaughton, principal secretary to former Prime Minister Dalton McGuinty. “It’s very disturbing, and I think what you see in parties is polarization… it’s a real threat to our democracy.”
The recent political upturn by Prime Minister Doug Ford, who gave up his pugnacity after hesitating a lot in the polls last year, shows that people are in a post-partisan mood, in the mid-pandemic: “Canadians don’t want to that their politicians fight time. “
Both agreed that Canada was not yet America, although our rhetoric has grown. Nenshi recounted how his skeptical Calgary City Council finally backed mandatory masks after a doctor launched a passionate plea.
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Masks are the new medicare system – proof, like gun control, abortion and capital punishment, that we are truly different. But when the going is right, Canadians are not immune to intolerance.
Our consensus on immigration and refugees is easily shaken when boat people land on our shores or cross-border migrants walk. Yes, politicians tend to exploit people’s fears, but marginal positions tend to disappear from the Canadian landscape – whether it’s because voters don’t swallow what far-right politicians say or viewers don’t. not buy what the far-right media sell.
The power of social media and mass media to distort our discourse – from Twitter to Facebook and Fox News – cannot be underestimated. But when the two panelists – aging political warriors – were asked by a young audience member if they had any “words of warning or support” for today’s youth amid the political uproar, they rallied to the cause:
“Get involved because you can make a real difference,” MacNaughton insisted.
“All this chaos, all this madness happening around us is also an opportunity… to discover something new,” added Nenshi. “What I would say to young people who are really discouraged is: your country is not something that happens to you, your country is something that you have to build.
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