Opinion

The U.S. in 2019 is more King's Landing than Winthrop's shining city on a hill: Neil Macdonald

As Canada heads into an election, we should gaze south unblinkingly and be thankful that our issues are so wonky and bland by comparison.

Consensus, laws and treaties are out. Smug, religion-soaked majoritarianism is in fashion

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prominent in the big-belly, suit-flapping brigade, told a fundamentalist broadcaster in March that U.S. President Donald Trump was quite possibly sent by God to save the Jewish people. (Mandel Ngan/The Associated Press)

The savage, lawless, fundamentalist assault on the autonomy of a woman over her own body that is currently underway south of the Mason-Dixon line has reverberated, like a pinging sonar, into the Canadian polity, as though it matters here.

A few right-wing columnists, excited, have advocated re-regulating abortion here.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, alert for hot election buttons, has proclaimed disappointment over what he called "backsliding," and promised Canada will stand firm. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, whose record suggests he does not believe in a woman's right to choose, has tried to simultaneously defend his anti-abortion credentials and proclaim that if elected, he will absolutely, definitely not re-open the abortion debate. Any suggestion that he would, says Scheer, is appalling and disgusting.

Well. Good.

Scheer is as close as we get to the big-bellied, combed-over men with their condescending smiles and flappy suits governing America and praising Jesus at the moment, and really, he's not even a pastel imitation of them. (Okay, they might not all be big-bellied and combed-over, and some of them are women, but there are enough of them to justify the generalization).

Scheer might, down deep, cherish dreams of running Canada the same way — I listened in the audience a few years ago at a conservative get-together as he introduced and gushed over the Tea Party darling and key Donald Trump enabler Jim DeMint — but he's sensible enough to understand that DeMint's carnivorous social conservatism is just not on in this country. As my once-colleague Andrew Cohen tried to explain to Fox News during the protests in Ottawa over George W. Bush's visit in 2004: think of Canada as one big Massachusetts.

Canada has treated abortion as just another medical procedure since 1988, when the Supreme Court struck down the old criminal law. Most Canadians seem to think that's fine. With the exception of our small but noisy cohort of Trump-adoring far-right fanboys, nobody is interested in using criminal law to force a woman to carry her rapist's (or her own father's) fetus to term, the way Alabama's and Missouri's politicians just voted to do, in flagrant defiance of Roe v. Wade, the 46-year-old pro-choice Supreme Court ruling once described by the court's current, Republican-appointed chief justice, as stare decisis, or settled law.

Bringing church back to state

But that's the way America rolls nowadays. Consensus, laws and treaties are out. Smug, religion-soaked majoritarianism is in fashion. It is not coincidence that Bible study is returning to American public schools.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, prominent in the big-belly, suit-flapping brigade, told a fundamentalist broadcaster in March that U.S. President Donald Trump was quite possibly sent by God to save the Jewish people — by which he meant Israel — by unilaterally repudiating an international agreement under which Iran halted progress on achieving nuclear weapons in return for a lifting of sanctions.

Pompeo no doubt applauds the notion of defying the Supreme Court and criminalizing abortion, because to him, the only settled law is Christian scripture, or at least his version of Christian scripture. In 2015, he urged evangelicals to get involved, and fight to impose their ideology, until they are raptured up to heaven while God destroys the unbelievers. That fight includes using U.S. influence to thwart abortions abroad, too. This, in a nation that in theory separates church and state.

Trump ordered Attorney General William Barr, right, to investigate the government agencies that investigated him for obstructing justice. (Reuters)

In the White House, the biggest, flappiest suit of all stomps around like a frustrated Caligula, reviewing pardons for convicted American war criminals, ordering his attorney general to investigate the government agencies that investigated him for obstructing justice, and complaining about the reluctance of the judiciary and Congress to abet his racist agenda – as in why do we allow in people from "shithole countries," and why can't we have more Norwegian immigrants?

When Republicans and Democrats in Congress, sickened by the murderous behavior of Saudi Arabia's thuggish crown prince, block the export of offensive weaponry to the fundamentalist kingdom, Trump, urged on by Pompeo, invokes emergency powers to override the decision. The Saudis may be hell-bent on exterminating Houthis in Yemen, and yes, they tortured and murdered Saudi dissident (and U.S. resident) Jamal Khashoggi, but Trump apparently still considers them a swell bunch of guys, and besides, as he has pointed out, they buy his luxury apartments.

Also, the Houthis are supported by their Shia co-religionists in Iran, and anything Iran does is an act of war. Trump has not only ordered a disturbing military buildup in the Persian Gulf, he's determined to punish any country that has continued to do business with Iran since he withdrew from the nuclear treaty the United States instigated and signed in 2015.

Because, you know, Iran is a threat to national security, and any threat to national security justifies declaring an emergency. Like asylum seekers at the southern border. Or foreign-made steel and aluminium. But not Kim Jong Un. For some reason, the North Korean tyrant, with his program of state murder and forced labour gulags, gets a pass. His ballistic missiles are not ballistic, you see, and his tests of those missiles are not even bothersome, and he is a very smart man, not a threat like Iran.

Canadian bland

All this is America in 2019, more King's Landing than Winthrop's shining city on a hill. The current president, probably understanding the contempt in which he is held here, evidently has no plans to visit Canada. Excellent.

But as Canada heads into an election, we should gaze south unblinkingly. And be thankful that our issues – the wisdom of the carbon tax, the jurisdictional difficulties of oil pipelines, redistribution of wealth by equalization, how to properly reconcile with Indigenous people, fine-tuning our immigration system, the extent to which government should intervene in housing markets, whether people should be allowed to own handguns at all, etc. – are so wonky and bland by comparison.

Montreal economist and pundit William Watson recently accused Canada of being a nation of humblebraggarts. Perhaps so. But in a world where the big bellies in flappy suits, or whatever tribal dress they prefer to wear, seem to be taking over everywhere, bland is good reason for humblebrag.


This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read our FAQ.

About the Author

Neil Macdonald

Opinion Columnist

Neil Macdonald is an opinion columnist for CBC News, based in Ottawa. Prior to that he was the CBC's Washington correspondent for 12 years, and before that he spent five years reporting from the Middle East. He also had a previous career in newspapers, and speaks English and French fluently, and some Arabic.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.