What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in American politics does not remain in the United States. It drifts across the world’s longest undefended intellectual border, and it falls like acid rain. Prolonged exposure – too much MSNBC or Fox News – can lead to hallucinations, delusions and loss of contact with (Canadian) reality. Voters and politicians are both susceptible to infection.
The Canadian left has caught more than a few American fevers. For example, the American progressive left’s take on race, including placing it at the centre of nearly all social analysis, has been easily absorbed by Liberals and New Democrats alike, and is now fully part of the Canadian bloodstream. The fact that America’s past and present are different than Canada’s – not the opposite; not the same – tends to go unknown and unacknowledged.
But the party most at risk from cross-border emissions these days is the Conservative Party. There’s a lot of crazy in American politics right now, and the majority of it is coming from the people that Conservatives think of as their American cousins. The Republican Party is increasingly going off the deep end. Once the party of law and order and small government, it now often sounds like the party of anti-law, disorder and no government. Democratic President Joe Biden’s first year and a half in office has seen Republicans demonstrate this, in two ways.
The GOP agenda has been almost entirely about obstruction. The Inflation Reduction Act, the watered-down bill to reduce climate emissions and enhance health care, passed with zero Republican votes. That’s because small-government impulses of the old GOP have been replaced by something closer to no-government impulses. What does it want to do about millions of Americans who can’t afford health care? Nothing. What about climate change? Deny it. School shootings? Arm teachers. COVID-19? Just get over it.
And on law-and-order, its transformation has been even more extreme. The party has become unrecognizable.
A half-century ago, Republicans joined with Democratic lawmakers to investigate president Richard Nixon and, after uncovering the depths of his lawbreaking, to remove him. A half-century later, Republicans in Congress and at the state level have nearly all rallied around Donald Trump, repeatedly, despite a level of lawbreaking far worse than anything Mr. Nixon did or contemplated, and despite ever-more troubling revelations from the Jan. 6 committee investigation.
Mr. Trump and his allies tried to block the counting and certifying of votes after the 2020 presidential election; having failed, he encouraged a mob to storm the Capitol, to stop Congress from going through a normally perfunctory final step recognizing Mr. Biden’s victory.
It does not get any more banana republic than this.
Yet the Republican Party isn’t correcting course. It isn’t returning to normalcy and legality. Election denialism has become almost mandatory, and even politicians who would rather see Mr. Trump ride off into the sunset feel compelled to defend him against any and all accusations. The party appears to no longer believe in the rule of law, or democracy.
Once upon a time, Canada’s Conservatives had a natural defence mechanism against being overly influenced by any of that: The party was anti-American. Proudly so.
Conservatives sometimes call themselves the party that created Canada, and that’s no idle boast. But what they need to remember, or perhaps hear for the first time, is that the reason Sir John A. and Co. wanted to confederate provinces was to prevent this country from being swallowed up by the foreign entity to the south. That impulse remained at the centre of Canadian conservatism until the 1980s.
American politics and American culture were, until relatively recently, what conservative Canadians were trying to guard against. There were a lot of things to criticize about this earlier version of Canadian conservatism, but it did at least mean that conservatives and Conservatives of previous eras were acutely aware that Canada was the other country created out of 1776, and that it had progressed and survived through evolution and compromise, not violent revolution.
Many political analysts worry that, if the Conservative Party’s next leader (to be elected Sept. 10) adopts the resentment-based politics of the Trump GOP, then the party is doomed to failure. We worry about something different: that it might succeed. It is, after all, working down south.
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