It’s been a while since I spoke about the politics of our neighbours to the South, and there’s been a good reason for that. Let’s be real here, when Donald Trump was still President we had to pay ahead because he was capable of doing any kind of crazed depravity in the attempt to advance whatever goals he had. We paid attention not because we wanted to, but because we needed to out of caution. And folks, it was exhausting.
That’s made the past months of the Biden administration seem like a massive relief relative to what was happening before. Yeah, we still have our disagreements and policy fights, but at least with Biden we know that something crazy isn’t going to happen just off the cuff out of nowhere. We don’t need to worry about what Joe might say on Twitter. We don’t need to worry much about him because, well, he’s been quietly competent. That makes for a striking comparison to his predecessor and it’s hard to think of it being starker.
But this past week I’ve found myself tunning back into what’s happening in the United States for two big reasons. Today is the 4-month anniversary of the insurrection at the US Capitol. You know, the near-death experience that American Democracy had in which Trump supporters tried to overthrow the democratic process, aided and abetted by certain Republican politicians. I remember watching all of that unfold in horror, because it was just the kind of thing, we’d never think we’d see in the nation’s capital of the leaders of the Free World.
It was a watershed moment that made many wonder if the fever of the Trump grip on his party would finally break. In the immediate aftermath of the insurrection, it seemed that maybe it would, as many high-ranking Republicans went on the record condemning what happened, stated the fact that the election wasn’t stolen and was free and fair, and started to distance themselves from Trump. It felt like maybe things had finally hit rock bottom, that things couldn’t get any worse.
But as that date has moved further from peoples’ minds, it’s starting to appear like the fever is stronger and more pervasive than we dared to think. We’ve seen Republican governors and politicians move fast to change election laws based on “The Big Lie” about the election. We’ve seen Trump continue to spread that lie, and more Republican politicians supporting his words when they make their regular pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago to worship at his feet and seek his approval. And while that is disturbing in and of itself, for me the more disturbing actions just started to take place in the past week, as we’ve seen disturbing acts taken against those Republicans who dare to tell the truth. Look at what happened to Senator Mitt Romney and Congresswoman Liz Cheney in the past days:
The partisan in me should probably be cheering at the sight of Republicans tearing themselves apart stem from stern, but the democrat in me cringes and worries about these stories. Having worked in politics here at home, I may have my own partisan stripe and beliefs, but I can honestly say I have friends in all parties. I learned early on that you can disagree on policy without being disagreeable and you can have policy debates with respect. That may seem very quaint and old-timey in 2021, but its my approach to things.
That’s why I worry when I see those stories play out and what is says about the health of democracy in the United States. A health democracy needs a few things to thrive. One of those is an adherence to respect for the democratic process itself and not undermining it for perceived political advantage. Right now you have a large part of the Republican Party clinging and pushing the lie that the last American election was somehow illegitimate. We’re seeing conspiracy theories and wild accusations take hold over rational facts and principles. And for the shrinking few that decide that they cannot countenance this anti-democratic and insane behaviour, all to win a vote, they are being openly attacked.
So while on policy I agree with Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney on very little, I have immense respect for what they are doing right now. They are doing what true leaders do, which is saying what needs to be said, when it needs to be said and done with clarity of purpose and true to the tenants of democracy. Yes, there are still those crazies in the crowd saying their crazy things, that’s not the part that’s changed. No, what’s changed is the cowardice of elected Republicans who have put the finger up in the air and are now moving to where they believe the winds are going. Two prime examples of this are House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, shown right here:
To call Congressman McCarthy a weasel would be an insult to all mustelidae in existence on Earth. I’m not shocked to find that this guy is that craven and without principle, but it’s still shocking to see it laid out so bare, in his own bloody words. As for Congresswoman Stefanik, I continue to shake my head. Her district is right across the St. Lawrence River from where I live and I’ve seen first-hand some of her work as an elected member, and suffice it to say, I was not impressed. Yet it somehow got worse under Trump, as she didn’t just drink the Kool-Aid, she went the fully Barney Gumble and just screamed “just hook it to my veins!”. She felt that was the way to advance her political career and continues to put her own career over democracy itself.
So again I find myself watching the American political scene with a sense of dread because you can’t have a strong democracy when you have a major party who doesn’t believe in democracy if they lose. You can’t have a strong democracy when you’re guided by lies, conspiracies and crap. You surely can’t have a strong democracy if you punish those for speaking the truth and standing up for the basic principles of democracy itself. And given that we share a massive, long border with said nation with this problem, we naturally worry about not only the health of American democracy, we worry that these ideas and lies filter across it and infect our relatively healthy democratic institutions. When you’re the leading democracy in the World, some people in the worlds other democracies will take inspiration from what they see in the US. So yeah, we all have a stake in this insanity we’re seeing play out. And while we may not support the policy views of Republicans like Romney and Cheney, we should be supporting them in this moment as they tell the truth in the face of “The Big Lie”. Because if we take an equally craven approach to what Republicans like McCarthy and Stefanik are, don’t be surprised if we find ourselves in a similar fight in the future, having to pick sides as a “Big Lie” of our own tears our democracy apart.