There is little question that global democracy has hit a speed bump. The many flirtations with populism cascading through Europe and America were too often accompanied by an extremism that made general populations uncomfortable. As hatred, racism and alt-right movements used political turbulence and vulnerabilities to show their true colours, millions of voters and citizens didn’t like what they saw and pulled back.
All of which left those same citizens in something of a pinch, since official political structures were themselves incapable of effectively navigating through troubling terrain.
Brexit is likely the clearest example of manipulative politics on steroids. When half the country can’t fully remember what they were initially voting about and the other half has tuned out altogether, one is left to question the sense of the initiative in the first place. Donald Trump’s America seems to have assaulted every historic convention and introduced an era of endless confusion and is moving at a dizzying pace.
A series of recent and upcoming elections has only added to the tumult. A series of over 40 general elections and 12 parliamentary elections have been held so far this year, including pivotal contests in Israel, South Africa, Philippines, India, Ukraine, Spain, Russia and the European parliament.
Democracy has had quite a year, including the current Canadian election and the U. S. general election next year. The modern state is in travail, leaving relations between nations on unclear footing.
Historically, nations have formed alliances to protect them in uncertain times – most of which were effectively stabilizing in their influence. Today, however, many countries feel isolated and insecure, as the global institutions of finance, trade, diplomacy, culture and science have themselves come under repeated questioning. Canada is constantly being forced to calibrate its relationship with America, Russia, China, India, even the EU. NAFTA itself offers a constantly moving set of new circumstances.
Put simply, state security or economic certainty are no longer a given. And instead of producing agile and compromising leaders, many nations have egotistical and ideological personalities at their helm, leaving the rest of the world in uncertainty. Moreover, many of these leaders are proving more than willing to toss traditional relationships overboard.
Given all this maelstrom of global apprehension, Canada’s condition appears somewhat balanced and overall sound. In Washington this past week for meetings on Africa generally, and South Sudan specifically, bureaucrats frequently cast a n envious eye in Canada’s direction, confessing that diplomacy for them at present was anything but a well-resourced or even noble pursuit.
In any generation, reasonable people disagree and work out compromise. But what transpires when unreasonable people are in charge and anything resembling working out alternatives is deemed traitorous? It is precisely such a condition that caused the Guardian to publish a key story titled, The Demise of the Nation State last year, the first line of which reads, “What happened to national politics?” Its conclusion is even more troubling:
Finally, the old superpowers’ demolition of old ideas of international society – ideas of the “society of nations” that were essential to the way the new world order was envisioned after 1918 – has turned the nation-state system into a lawless gangland; and this is now producing a nihilistic backlash from the ones who have been most terrorised and despoiled.
Where do we as Canadians go with this, especially during election season? Our fixation with domestic politics during the contest is leaving us unprepared for a troubled world, much of which seeks to disrupt those very traits we have been known for: peaceful, diverse, respectful federalism, economic stability, trade integrity.
Our politics leaders understand well enough that in election season only domestic politics really matters. The media rarely covers anything else. But that kind of historical reasoning hardly prepares us for a more dystopian world, where other nation states can pursue policies that could leave us exposed and vulnerable on the global stage. To ignore that reality in the days remaining until Election Day is not only poor politics, but a display of “head in the sand” citizenship.