A new regime south of the border -- or not?

Posted 2.5.17

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | Approaching the new regime in Washington, analyst Gwynne Dyer borrowed Rene Levesque's famous prescription: "OK, everybody, take a valium!"

It's slightly arrogant of us here in Canada to think we can inject a little rationality and historical perspective into the drama southward. Few down there, especially within the new administration, are paying any attention to Canada (unless it's NAFTA-linked). Our PM has pointed out the ground he shares with the new president -- supporting the "middle class", and not much more.

Because we live in a multi-party democracy, we easily confound the players with the process. We think that electing one player or another can result in significant changes to the political process, to "the system." Funny we should think this because, administration after administration, the process stays the same.

The process of government seems quite remarkably insulated from change, although influence flows both ways, from the process to the players' agendas while the individuals do their best to tweak the system one way or the other. It's the massive money that keeps the players playing this particular game.

Industry groups, lobbyists, and individuals can urge changes, can promote changes to the system, and we do see shifts, but rarely of the kind promised by demagogues who plan to "turn everything rightside up."

Many of the fundamental changes in our continent's history have been the result of tectonic shifts -- revolts and revolutions, natural disasters, or even surprisingly good fortune.

Hence, on the level of one politician versus another, the differences end up more cosmetic than substantial. It's easy to picture the huge personal differences between Barrack Obama and George W. Bush, but can you think of many significant differences in actions, activities, and processes resulting from those personal differences? After Obama's eight years the US is still fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, Gitmo still has its political prisoners, Planned Parenthood is still fighting for air -- and we could the same here in Canada.

Could there have been greater personality and ideological differences between Harper and Trudeau? But in the end we have the same pipelines, similar excuses for no voting reform, military expenses -- so, yes, there are differences in the politicians, but how significantly do they play out in the long run?

This can be discouraging. It can also be hopeful, in the case of someone like Mr. Trump, given his promises, rants, threats, and off-the-cuff puffery. The process of government is much stronger than any one politician. The process is the very structure of politics, and structure determines everything.

"Limits everything" might be better. Changes to, or even promises to, modify the structure rarely reach reality. Of all the promising, declarations, threats, "solemn commitments" and heartfelt efforts, none have the power and force of the vast sums of money at play in all these political processes. And money demands predictability, stability, and caution.

Or so we hope, especially in the case of someone like Mr. Trump.


Copyright © 2017 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/2.17