One of the great things about politics is its ability to bring various facets of an issue together, form perspectives, achieve compromise if possible, and then improve public policy. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
But it’s isn’t. We’ve watched it unraveling in real time in recent years and the effect of bad politics hasn’t only turned partisanship into a blunt instrument but has succeeded in alienating people and groups that aren’t even part of the political class. We have seen this past week how an American president, intentionally or not, can fan the flames of hatred, nationalism and violence even when it isn’t election or party related.
We have already been served notice in Canada that our next federal election, due in a year’s time, will likely be “the nastiest ever.” Let that settle for a minute. The leaders of the nation’s two main federal parties are the ones saying this – each blaming the other for an outcome that is months away. These aren’t staffers or backbench MPs, but national leaders who, through hard work with their respective caucusses and reaching across the aisle, could forestall the bloodletting, have respectful debate, and permit Canadians to get on with the primary business of getting along together despite our differences – something for which we have enjoyed a global reputation.
It is the inevitability of such an unseemly battle that perhaps speaks more to the impotence of modern politics than anything else. The reality that we can predict crippling animosity while at the same time proclaiming it inevitable is just one of those key things that causes citizens and voters to avoid engagement and the ballot box.
And it should be clear by now who the winners of all this destined chaos will be: the people who thrive on tearing down, of waging political, social and cultural wars, and, yes, cultivating hatred. Just yesterday, Brazil voted in a far-right authoritarian as president and already pundits and journalists alike are predicting an unsustainable political estate. In other words, democracy is taking another kick in the teeth.
Ironically, the numbers in Brazil, Canada, America, Germany, France, UK and others reveal that the majority of citizens are good, decent, working (if they can get a job) contributors who would just prefer that people, provinces, or a country get along. And, sadly, their natural reaction to political war is to steer away from it, including voting.
South of the border, citizens by the millions are mourning the Pittsburgh massacre of 11 Jewish worshippers at a synagogue, but they are struggling to come together because of the focus on the divisions instead of their shared human commonality.
Perhaps it’s this very inevitability, the warning from politicians themselves that they and the system are incapable of showing the leadership required to tackle the greatest problems of a generation, that might prompt people to explore solutions that historically have been belittled and abandoned.
The partisans will always side with their party and be the most difficult to sway, but could the majority of citizens not holding to any party line begin making their own accommodations to bring about the social, economic and political compact they seek? The only way they can take on the authoritarians is to come together outside of party structures and find a common way of moving forward. To fail to do so would leave the field clear for the power usurpers who so far have been effective at shunting establishing parties aside and gaining power. The power mongers are competing with the power brokers and gaining the upper hand.
So, here’s the crucial question: can those socialists, liberals and conservatives capable of sticking their heads above the political bubble, and who are concerned for the direction of their country, come together and form a collective coalition – not for just winning elections, but reshaping society from the ground up and getting politicians to get on with it as well? And before people toss the idea into the trash can, it’s helpful to remember that it was the coming together of socialist and liberal forces in our past that formed one the greatest societies on earth. And there were many occasions when conservatives joined the fray to press for the greatest social good.
That’s exactly what occurred with the Basic Income Guarantee so recently shelved by the Ontario government. Conservative leaders, including Richard Nixon, Milton Friedman and Brian Mulroney and other Canadian Conservatives worked with others to birth the concept and over two decades all parties eventually signed on to test its effectiveness. Given the political climate, it was one of the greatest democratic accomplishments of the last twenty-five years. Ideology and rampant ideologues then killed it.
The ironic part is that there are many in the Ford government (I know some, as do many others) who wholeheartedly endorse the Basic Income concept but who have been cowed by the authoritarians and tempted by power and remain mum. Even for them the political system is too strong.
The very fact that more individuals are talking about combining social and intellectual forces outside of the political system to take on the bullies in order to keep their countries from becoming havens of hate or prejudice is a sign that the times are a-changing. If politics and politicians want to regain credibility, then the field is already theirs to produce better outcomes. Keep reminding citizens that you can’t even heal yourselves, however, and eventually they will seek other options to retain and uphold Canada’s grand cohesion.