American political analyst Michael Podhorzer laid out a frightening scenario last week in a newsletter penned for activists. He suggests that the time might have arrived when the United States is not one country but two nations that happen to share the same geography.
Ronald Brownstein, the senior writer for the Atlantic, wrote about Podhorzer’s insights, and thinks there is more merit to his views than he is given credit for. The words sound mildly eccentric yet are laced with a kind of historical common sense.
“When we think about the United States, we make the essential error of imagining it as a single nation, a marbled mix of Red and Blue people. But in truth, we have never been one nation. We are more like a federated republic of two nations: Blue nation and Red nation. This is not a metaphor; it is a geographic and historical reality.”
It’s also a bold and sobering assessment of the causes of the increasing crises piled on top of the others for our neighbours to the south. It’s almost as if time has moved developments faster than we can make sense of them. In just one week, the world watched as the January 6 congressional hearings competed for prominence with the Supreme Court’s validation of the rights of citizens to bear arms in public and its radical reversal of Roe vs. Wade. These weren’t merely fascinating theatre but full-scale five-alarm fires representing attacks on democracy itself.
What makes such developments so vital is that they are not unique to America – representative democracy seems in trouble everywhere. Solitudes are rapidly growing in Britain, France, Germany, and struggling democracies in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. On display are self-assured entities that show no willingness to compromise or pull back. America is the point of the spear in what is turning out to be a revolution of democracy at war with itself.
Canadians should refrain from their usual smugness. Earlier this year, political scientist Thomas Homer-Dixon provided a dire warning in the Globe and Mail: “By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner,” he adds, “the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.” Then directing his thoughts to Canada, he adds: “A terrible storm is coming from the south, and Canada is woefully unprepared.”
There is a growing sense that such observations are now more valid than ever. While much in the Canadian political context remains relatively stable, sectors are emerging that could harden in the coming year, making political compromise impossible. Some will find this too extreme to mention. Still, after the release of his article, Homer-Dixon noted that, in 2014, Canadians would have thought the chances of Donald Trump winning the presidency would have been nil. Now he has become a never-ending political story.
Polls reveal that this “great divergence” making its way through political life is of growing concern to many Canadians. Disruption always plays a crucial role among our political parties as they vie for power, seeking to create doubt about their competitors. But the more recent tendency to tear apart the country and its globally-noted hegemony in that thirst for the brass ring has the potential to take us down the same road as Britain and America. Suppose that process results in increasing portions of the Canadian population proving completely unwilling to consider other arguments or diverging points of view in search of consensus. In that case, Canada might find itself constituting groups of uncompromising Canadians sharing the same nation.
In his In Front of Your Nose, published in 1946, George Orwell of 1984 fame somehow intuited the divisive dangers we face today. His insights resemble the world we now see unfolding and which Canadians must resist at all costs.
“The point is that we are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.”