Friday, March 22, 2019

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No Saviours Here

****

For the past eight years, it's been difficult for Canadians
of a liberal disposition to feel anything other than fear and loathing when
they looked at American politics. Except for the occasionally hilarious
linguistic blunder or intellectual gaffe, they have gotten little satisfaction
from watching President George W. Bush govern his country into the ground. It's
not surprising then that many of them are looking at the Democratic primaries
not as an exercise in America's
eccentric interpretation of democracy but as a rare opportunity for optimism.
Some have tied their hopes to Hillary Clinton and others to Barack Obama, but
Canadians paying attention to the race between the two are united in the belief
that their candidate of choice will dramatically change the course that George
W. Bush charted during his tenure. They are, unfortunately, quite misguided.

There would be encouraging aspects of a Democratic
administration. Should Obama or Clinton win the White House, Canadians can be
assured that the President of the United States
will no longer be viewing the world through the intellectual prism of a nine
year old boy. It's safe to say that a Democratic White House wouldn't appoint
ideological sycophants like John Boulton, John Ashcroft, Harriet Miers, or
Alberto Gonzalez to important positions that define how America
interacts with the rest of the world. It's even possible that a Democratic
administration might agree to participate in international institutions and
agreements again, perhaps signing the next-generation Kyoto Protocol and
recommitting to the Geneva Convention.

It is, however, equally possible that a Democratic President
would be worse news for left-leaning Canadians than the Republican. Both Obama
and Clinton have mused about the merits of invading Iran,
a move that would have catastrophic regional and global consequences. Both are
critical of the North American Free Trade Agreement, and particularly so with
respect to the trading relationship with Canada.
It's conceivable that a Democratic President would force a re-negotiation of
the agreement in terms even less favourable than the current deal. Meanwhile,
the steady stream of pornographic patriotism that has defined the Bush White
House would continue unabated, if perhaps slightly modified.

The problem with attaching expectations of transformative change to any of
the Democratic candidates is that in spite of their ethnic, gender, religious,
and geographic differences, they're all still Americans. This sounds like a
truism but it's an important point to remember. The one thing that all
candidates for public office in the United States share, outside of an aversion
to atheism and the French, is their belief in their country's manifest destiny,
that the United States is responsible for determining not only its own fate but
also that of the rest of the world. We non-Americans are but charges in their
benevolent care, and those of us who might dare to misbehave are sure to
receive a reprimand for it.

The only difference between a Democratic President and a Republican, even
one as unsophisticated as George W. Bush, is how they interpret that concept. The
question, in other words, is not if they'll pursue their ambitions above those
of others but how, whether they will rely on international institutions and
diplomacy or "proactive interventions" in "rogue states." More to the point,
the possibility that the fate and future of the world does not depend
fundamentally upon the United States
does not, and indeed can not, occur to the leaders of either party.

This new interpretation on the old American theme of manifest destiny came
about largely after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War,
Francis Fukayama's notorious "end of history." But it was first and best
articulated all the way back in the early 20th century, by President
Woodrow Wilson after the First World War. He believed that "this is the time of
all others when Democracy should prove its purity and its spiritual power to
prevail. It is surely the manifest destiny of the United
States to lead in the attempt to make this
spirit prevail." The Bush II White House simply took it to its logical conclusion,
the export of democracy, liberalism, and the American way of life at the barrel
of a gun, or in the crosshairs of a smart-bomb. Anyone expecting a radically
different interpretation of Wilson's
wisdom from an Obama or Clinton White House is in for one hell of a
disappointment.

We'll know who the Democratic candidate for the White House
is soon enough. But whether it's Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, we shouldn't
get our hopes too high about the possibility of a kinder and gentler elephant
sharing a bed with us and a house with the rest of the world. Things won't
magically improve just because the world will one day soon wake up to a White
House not inhabited by George W. Bush. After all, he's going to be replaced by
another American.

Toronto, February 10th – 812 w.

 

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Max Fawcett

Max Fawcett is the former editor of the Chetwynd Echo, a weekly newspaper in the small northern town of Chetwynd, B.C. He currently lives in Edmonton, and works as the managing editor of Alberta Venture Magazine.

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