Thursday, December 8, 2022
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A moment of peace at St. Paul’s — December 14

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Sideline Politics


by L. G. William Chapman, B.A., LL.B.

Wintering on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina – one of the more distinctive Confederate States – I have incrementally submerged myself in American politics. The media is equally immersed in political saturation as the Presidential Election in November approaches. As gripping as I have found the topic to be, and as regularly as the accusation of self-absorption is levelled at Americans, strangely it is of little interest to many. When for example a journalist recently asked some what they thought about the candidates of the competing Democratic and Republican parties, it was acutely evident that they had no idea who was involved. If nothing else, the result affirms the value of spending astronomic amounts of money on television ads in the hopes of persuading those who might ultimately deign to vote. Additionally it perhaps sadly signifies that many Americans could care less and are largely estranged from the political process, dismissively imagining that things will unfold one way or another without real difference or change. It was only in 2008 with the prospect of election of Barack Obama as the first black president that the numbers of voters spiked and that is mainly attributed to the unique involvement of African American voters.


Another striking feature of the political process from my grandstand view is that the Republicans (also known as the “Grand Old Party”) are now shamefully estranged from what they were originally formed to be in 1860 when President Abraham Lincoln was elected as the champion of the abolition of slavery and the provision of equal rights to all. Everything has been turned on its head. Even the “spoils system” (a practice in which a political party, after winning an election, gives government jobs to its supporters, friends and relatives as a reward for working toward victory and as an incentive to keep working for the party – as opposed to a “merit system”) was initially popularized by Democrat Andrew Jackson in 1828. Today the habit of not only going up to the trough but of also getting into it is considered more characteristic of the GOP.

The pervasive discontent of Americans with both political parties is now captured in those who are considered the front-runners for nomination – Bernie Sanders for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans. It is no accident that polls repeatedly show that voters are randomly torn between the two possible candidates for President even when voters were traditionally aligned with one party or the other. Sanders and Trump both represent the deep-seated discontent of the masses with traditional politics; the one is branded as “revolutionary” the other as “vulgar”. There is no question that the hierarchy of both parties is concerned about the path that its leading proponents are pursuing. The cold water that is being thrown upon the leaders (from within their own ranks) varies from accusations of “not being able to deliver” to “shameful representation”, complaints which capture the attack on hopeless change and lower-class association respectively. Either way the inescapable conclusion is that Americans are fed up with politics in general and Washington in particular, themes which are indiscriminately awash upon both parties. It is also singular that, apart from Sanders’ years as a Senator and Trump’s years as a businessman, neither has any particular claim to governance experience. Both Sanders and Trump indicate a sharp departure from the cookie-cutter model of politician and party hack. Never in my lifetime have I seen American politics more blatantly allied with popular opinion. The mere mention of Goldman Sachs in the same breath as a politician is anathema! Even the language of the leading candidates is the popular vernacular.

There is however one critical distinction which remains between the Democratic and Republican leading candidates and that is the issue of immigration. Sanders advocates wiping the slate clean and putting illegal immigrants who are currently working and living in the United States on the path to legalization. Trump on the other hand wants to send the interlopers back, build a wall along the border with Mexico and bar Muslims from entry. Obviously there will be accommodation by both candidates as they approach Election Day but presently the immigration issue is the only clear distinction preserved between the two party hopefuls. The immigration issue is illustrative of many other deeply rooted traits of the American psyche. In its broadest terms the issue is one of tolerance generally, which includes everything from religious tolerance to race relations and gay rights. The Republicans continue to be associated with so-called “conservative” policies (including anti-abortion) while the Democrats are characterized by more “liberal” thinking (including equal pay for women). In the end it may be this fundamental controversy which separates the American public, whether rich or poor, white or black, educated or not. Frankly I have little faith that the sway of money and influence on power will be abolished by Bernie Sanders or by any other politician; it is just too visceral in my opinion. Neither do I imagine that the profound Christian evangelist influence upon mainly Southern electors will dissolve the left-leaning thinking of what some Republican candidates have characterized as Trump’s “New York mindset”.

On the other hand, I see laudable ambition for the modification of the American political system to provide universal health care and higher education. It is also likely that Sanders will make in-roads towards taxation reform especially after he disdainfully characterized the Walmart family as America’s biggest welfare recipient (since their employees are mostly on welfare, food stamps and other forms of social assistance). While Trump harbours some disdain for Wall Street he is more notorious for his isolationism, keeping America from being the police of the world and demanding that the oil-rich North African countries settle their own differences.

Of the two candidates I believe Sanders has the most palatable refrain, essentially to abolish the control of government decision-making by selfish financial interests (investment, drug and insurance) at the expense of the masses. Trump’s platform largely ignores discussion of policy other than to advance that he is smarter than the jerks who are currently running the business of the country. Both candidates are promising endless reform and unimaginable hope. It remains to be seen whether the masses will assemble behind either Sanders or Trump and put their money and votes where they count; otherwise the customary political machinery will kick in and take over once again. On the other hand, having just heard on Sirius XM radio today 74-year old Bob Dylan singing “Some Enchanted Evening” perhaps anything is possible!

Finally it is impossible to ignore the character of the GOP Presidential candidate nomination process. Watching any of the GOP debates is akin to watching young boys scrapping in the school yard and gleefully awaiting the next exchange of rude verbal barbs. On a more substantive level I am intrigued by the constitutional controversy swirling around Ted Cruz concerning his citizenship qualification as a Presidential candidate in light of his birth in Canada. Trump has led the charge against Cruz on this point and there is ample juristic support for Trump’s allegations by leading minds of Harvard Law School. This is the one Republican element which is the real elephant in the room and I don’t for a minute think we’ve seen the last of it! The only realistic relief from the childishness of GOP nomination process is John Kasich who is the one voice promoting internal and bipartisan cooperation, adult behaviour and leadership by example. Kasich’s contribution may however be too little to preserve the GOP from irrevocable tarnish and internal division. It is commonly accepted that the Republican candidates – like Mitt Romney before them – may be tightening the noose about their own necks much to the delight of the Democrats.




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