Canada and the crisis in American democracy
America: democracy in crisis
Thomas Homer-Dixon is executive director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University. His latest book is Commanding Hope: The Power We Have to Renew a World in Peril. Writing for the Globe and Mail at the tail end of 2021, he turned his attention to the specific peril of collapsing American democracy and its implications for Canada.
His article begins:
By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a right-wing dictatorship.
Leading American academics are now actively addressing the prospect of a fatal weakening of U.S. democracy.
The article, which we highly recommend, outlines with detail and clarity both the causes of America’s current profound political, social and economic dysfunction and the very real possibility that Trump will be re-elected in 2024, with dire consequences for the American polity and therefore for Canada as well:
A terrible storm is coming from the south, and Canada is woefully unprepared. Over the past year we’ve turned our attention inward, distracted by the challenges of COVID-19, reconciliation, and the accelerating effects of climate change.
But now we must focus on the urgent problem of what to do about the likely unravelling of democracy in the United States.
New US polling shows “mainstreaming of insurrection”
Matt Field, an editor at the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, comments on the implications of new polling data tracking the support in America for violent extremism:
The crowd that knocked over barriers, beat back police, and crashed through doors at the US Capitol last January 6, may have numbered around 2,000, but a vast swath of America has its back, according to a new survey by Robert Pape, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, and his team.
One of the main drivers influencing what Pape’s report terms the “insurrectionist movement” is belief in the great replacement [white genocide conspiracy theory]. Seventy-five percent of insurrection supporters agreed that the Democratic Party was trying to reshape the US electorate with “obedient” voters from the Third World.
In Pape’s view, this “great replacement” theory also enhances support for the QAnon conspiracy, a belief by about 21 million adult Americans that a group of Satanist pedophiles is running the US government and Trump has a plan to “right the ship”.
Facebook plays a direct role in spreading these theories. Pape writes:
As part of a test, for example, a researcher employed by [Facebook] set up a fake account for a supposedly politically conservative mother. Within days, the platform was recommending the “mother” join QAnon groups.
But Pape’s survey found that the most common sources for the population that supports insurrection are mainstream conservative television stations like Fox News or Newsmax.
Pape also examined the background of the 654 people arrested for their actions at the Capitol on 6 January 2021. He found that about 50 percent of them were business owners or white-collar professionals:
These are folks who are experiencing and seeing demographic change in their area. And they’re also being exposed to this right-wing theory called the great replacement by political leaders they follow, by media people they follow, and so [it didn’t come] as a huge surprise to us that a portion of those mainstream followers are starting to embrace those ideas and become angered by them. [emphasis added]
We are facing the most strenuous test of our democracy in our lifetime…. The number one thing we have to do is diagnose what’s really going on.
What can/should Canada do?
Professor Homer-Dixon, in the Globe and Mail article cited earlier, writes:
We need to start by fully recognizing the magnitude of the danger.
His key recommendation is a standing, non-partisan parliamentary committee with representatives from the five sitting parties, all with full security clearances. He elaborates:
It should be understood that this committee will continue to operate in coming years, regardless of changes in federal government. It should receive regular intelligence analyses and briefings by Canadian experts on political and social developments in the United States and their implications for democratic failure there.
And it should be charged with providing the federal government with continuing, specific guidance as to how to prepare for and respond to that failure, should it occur.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
We strongly support this recommendation and would add that its establishment should include a funding envelope for staffing and other supports, commensurate with the scope and seriousness of the issues to be addressed.
We call upon the Prime Minister of Canada to establish a standing non-partisan parliamentary committee with a mandate to (1) consider political and social developments in the USA and their implications for democratic failure there and (2) to provide the federal government with continuing, specific guidance as to how to prepare for, and respond to, that failure, should it occur.
Further elements of the committee mandate should include:
- representatives from all five sitting parties, all with full security clearances,
- the receipt of regular intelligence and expert briefings,
- the continuation of the committee regardless of changes in government, and
- a funding envelope for staffing and other supports commensurate with its extraordinary mandate.
For more Canadian analysis on the role of white evangelical Christians in the deep malaise at the heart of America, see Republicans draw from apocalyptic narratives to inform ‘Demoncrat’ conspiracy theories (Christopher Douglas, theconversation.com, 4 January 2022). Douglas writes:
While demoncrat is not quite popular usage, the concept, it turns out, is widespread. A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute indicates that 18 per cent of Americans believe that the “government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex-trafficking operation.”
Conservative propaganda organs such as Fox News, One America News Network and Newsmax circulate these fantasies to their viewers, but I would like to suggest they do not originate there. Their beginnings may have more to do with apocalypse, an important element of Christian theology that is dominant among conservative white Christians, especially evangelicals.
The article ends with this chilling conclusion:
In apocalyptic politics, all uses of power by the good side are considered fair. It contends that the demoncrats, illegitimate even if elected, must be prevented from seizing power from God’s chosen people in his favoured nation.
What else should Canada do?
Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley, believes the answer lies, at least in part, in fixing the deeply unfair system of capitalism that has left so many Americans behind. His books on this issue include Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few and The Common Good.
His new book, The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It, is out now. He writes:
Trump filled a void in a part of America that continues to yearn for a strongman who will deliver it from despair. A similar void haunts other nations where democracy is imperiled. The challenge ahead for the US as elsewhere is to fill that void with hope rather than neofascism. This is the real meaning of 6 January.
Professor Paul Rogers, one the leading thinkers on moving beyond our hopelessly outmoded and dangerous military-centric notions of building security, also sees an urgent need for a new global economic system built on fairness and sustainability. In a new article for openDemocracy he writes:
Rising inequality is the result of the neoliberal economic system that has wreaked havoc since the 1980’s. A different path is possible.
Paul Rogers is talking about the British system and Robert Reich, referenced earlier, focuses on the even-more egregious American model. Canada is not there yet but we are nonetheless suffering from deepening inequality, a lack of effective regulation and continuing tax unfairness.
Recall our last blog of 2021 with the clarion call for global solidarity as the only way forward, not only regarding the pandemic but in relation to climate change and other global threats.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
Solidarity begins with ending the insane inequality of our current neo-liberal economic system.
Report outlines tax fairness measures needed now
A recent CBC article by Sophia Harris, entitled Dozens of big companies headed by top-paid CEOs collected COVID-19 government benefits: report (4 January 2022), references a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives which can be accessed in PDF format here.
Author David MacDonald writes:
The CEWS [Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy] was meant to go to businesses that saw large declines in revenue during the worst of the pandemic, but some companies with the highest-paid 100 CEOs in Canada continued to pay their CEOs extraordinary amounts while receiving the CEWS.
But there are solutions, and in the recommendations section of the report, MacDonald writes:
Higher taxation levels can reduce inequality and help refill government coffers following the impact of the pandemic.
He then outlines some key steps related to fairer CEO pay measures, including:
- Capping the corporate deductibility at $1 million total compensation per employee [as the USA has done].
- Eliminating the capital gains inclusion rate loophole so that gains in stock prices are no longer taxed at half the rate of regular income.
- Eliminating the stock option deduction for large companies, thus preserving the incentive for tech start ups where it is needed.
- Implementing higher top marginal tax brackets.
- Introducing a wealth tax to constrain growing wealth inequality from the difference in valuation of, and therefore taxation rate of, stock options and stock awards from regular income.
See also the Alternative Federal Budget 2022 (released 9 November 2021), available here, which inter alia recommends implementing:
universal public child care, reforming Canada’s income security system, addressing the housing crisis, strengthening and expanding the existing health care system, stewarding a just transition away from the oil and gas economy, and moving forward on reconciliation.
But clearly much more is needed.
Implications for Canadian foreign and defence policy RIGHT NOW
American Professor Emeritus of International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh Michael J. Brenner, the author of many books on American foreign policy, international political economy and national security, recently wrote:
The U.S. will not face reality about its foreign policy disasters but rather retreats to fantasy worlds that exist only in its own imagination.
This long litany of failure and incompetence is overshadowed by the strategic blindness of treating Russia and China as implacable enemies.
By doing so, Washington has not only obviated any alternative strategy for developing a stable, long-term relationship. It has also cemented a formidable power bloc that is now well able to contest the United States in whatever sphere it wants to cross swords with.
We at the Rideau Institute have consistently advocated for Canada to avoid being drawn into America’s futile and dangerously provocative military “containment” strategy for China.
See for example:
— Institute for Peace & Diplomacy (@Diplomacy_Peace) December 24, 2021
And see also the Quincy Institute/Institute for Peace and Diplomacy co-sponsored debate Should the U.S. Seek to Contain China?, available here.
New Trudeau national security advisor apparently an ill-informed anti-China hawk
We are therefore extremely dismayed by the appointment of former Deputy Minister of the Department of National Defence Jody Thomas as the Prime Minister’s new National Security and Intelligence Advisor.
Her ill-considered comments on China at a 2021 virtual conference sponsored by the Conference of Defence Associations (CDA) were quoted approvingly in a recent Globe and Mail article by journalists Robert Fyfe and Steven Chase as a “frank” and “realist” assessment of “an increasingly aggressive and belligerent China”.
Thomas stated, inter alia:
We should not underestimate at all that threat of resource exploitation in the Arctic by China in particular….
China has a voracious appetite and will stop at nothing to feed itself, and the Arctic is one of the last domains and regions left and we have to understand it and exploit it more quickly than they can exploit it.
Bear in mind that this is now the most senior security advisor in the government interpreting the fact that China, a country that is the top trading partner of over 120 nations and which has the second largest economy in the world, may seek potential new resources in the Arctic as a threat per se.
In the view of the Rideau Institute:
There is so much wrong with her comments that one hardly knows where to begin. Suffice it to say that the exploitation being discussed here is economic and that cannot take place without the agreement of those whose resources China would seek to access.
Underlying the statement seems to be a breathtaking conflation on Thomas’s part of China’s attitude to Hong Kong (a part of China), Taiwan (a part of the one-China policy) and areas such as the South China Sea, where China has long-standing (if very weak) territorial claims on the one hand and the rest of the world, on the other.
We quote again a noted Conservative commentator, David Frum, on the issue of China’s alleged hegemonic ambitions:
So we must face the first of these facts. The West cannot change China. China is too big, and too strong. The West should wish those Chinese people, including many in Hong Kong, who seek a freer future for China, well.
But as they wish them well, Western countries need to keep in mind that the present Chinese state is not like the former Soviet Union. It is not as aggressive, not as expansionary, and not as ideological. The Chinese state is more dangerous for the harm it incubates inside itself than for the harm it schemes against others.
Jingoist incantations by anyone with a public platform are dangerous. Coming from the new prime ministerial National Security and Intelligence Advisor, they are downright frightening.
Anti-China bashing plays well in the media, but it does nothing to help us understand the true nature of the challenges that country presents us.
We call upon the government of Canada to continue to avoid falling into the anti-China military-containment trap that has been successfully, but narrowly, resisted thus far.
A word about NORAD modernization
We have indicated many times in past blogs our wholehearted support for the fiscally and diplomatically prudent course Canada has maintained on NORAD modernization, focusing on our niche area of “all domain awareness”, including underwater sensors, and continuing to avoid any entanglement in the US strategic ballistic missile defence boondoggle.
Right wing commentator Paul Wells disagrees, arguing that Prime Minister Trudeau should change his position on non-participation in American strategic ballistic missile defence:
But not deciding is a decision: when the Americans make command decisions on missile defence, they do it without their Canadian counterparts present, and NORAD stops being NORAD for the duration of the conversation. To the extent that the Americans need to ensure their continental defence in the absence of our half of the continent, they’ll simply proceed without us. At some point that becomes embarrassing.
Peggy Mason, RI President and former advisor to the then Foreign Minister Joe Clark when Canada rejected participation in Reagan’s SDI programme in 1985, despite the extremely close relations between the American President and Brian Mulroney, Canada’s then Prime Minister, comments:
First off, Canada has made a decision — twice in fact (1985 and 2005) — NOT to participate in American strategic ballistic missile defence. Secondly, the American command for ballistic missile defence is NORTHCOM, not NORAD. Thirdly, the aim (if the system worked, which it does not) is to shoot the incoming missiles down in space, a decision relating to the vital security interests of the USA and NOT involving Canadian airspace, which they alone will make, whether Canada “participates” or not.
Thus, we at the Rideau Institute take great comfort in the fact that Paul Wells is convinced Prime Minister Trudeau is not about to change this decision. Hurrah!
SCOTT TAYLOR: Looking ahead to what 2022 means for the Canadian Forces
Picking up on a constant theme of our blogs since the onset of the pandemic lockdown in March 2020, Scott Taylor argues that Canadians have now become well aware of the gap between traditional defence spending and the retooling so obviously needed to better equip the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) for the much more pressing domestic (and global) threats from both the coronavirus and climate change. He notes:
The CAF’s quick response to assist in civilian long-term care facilities during the early phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, the RCAF’s international repatriation flights for stranded travelers, and military assistance in the wake of climate-change natural disasters in western Canada were all immensely popular with the Canadian public.
He goes on to point out that, despite these heroic endeavours, CAF lacks the equipment and specialized retooling required for these new, urgent tasks, in contrast to some other militaries:
For instance, the Russian air force uses its massive Antonov strategic airlift planes to fight forest fires. In such a mission, the aircraft are equipped to carry and drop fire retardant.
The RCAF presently has five C-17 strategic airlift planes, yet none of them were converted for such a dual-purpose use.
Scott Taylor also forecasts the “inevitable belt tightening” that must come in the hoped-for post-pandemic era, and the important choices that will then need to be made:
I think this inevitable future budget belt tightening by the federal government could lead to a healthy public debate about where Canadian citizens want to see their tax dollars spent when it comes to the defence of this nation.
I think that moving forward, future Canadian defence policies and procurements need to be based upon a wider range of threats than simply military threats. We cannot afford to not do so.
Preparing for a broad-based, well-informed public debate over national defence spending priorities in the post-pandemic, climate adaptation and mitigation era should be a priority of the Government of Canada in 2022.
We call on the Government of Canada to task the Cabinet Sub-Committee on the federal response to, and recovery from, COVID-19 to establish a Working Group on Public Engagement on National Defence Spending Priorities in the post-COVID-19 recovery phase.
Notable note: Cuban coronavirus vaccines a huge success
Cuba has vaccinated more than 90 percent of its population, surpassing the US and many other wealthier nations, including Canada.
It is a truly remarkable accomplishment, given the size of Cuba, and also the U.S. embargo, that restricts their ability to import. – Shirin Ali
For the full article, click here.
Upcoming must-see webinar: Economic Sanctions: Legal and Political Implications
On 18 January 2022 from 10:00 to 11:30 am EST, the Rideau Institute, in cooperation with the Human Rights Research and Education Center of the University of Ottawa and the Group of 78, will host a webinar to explore the legal and policy implications of non-UN-authorized economic sanctions, a policy tool employed by Canada, other western states and regional organizations like the EU and the African Union.
Economic sanctions have become an increasingly favoured tool of international relations over the last several decades, but they have also become increasingly controversial.
Speakers: Professor Craig Martin, inaugural RI Senior Fellow and author of the RI report Economic Sanctions Under International Law, a Guide for Canadian Policy, and EU sanctions expert Professor Clara Portela will be joined by moderator and RI President Peggy Mason for this timely discussion.
Click here to register on Eventbrite for this free event.
Photo credit: Wikimedia images (6 January 2021)