At the risk of , yet again, comparing ourselves as Canadians to our ever-dominant neighbour to the south, I have had some thoughts about how we are truly different from our friends there.
Canadians often say they are different from Americans but usually have some difficulty in articulating just what that difference is. We certainly enjoy many of the same kinds of things — baseball, junk food, Facebook, and the like — but there are some cultural aspects that definitely do differentiate us. Let me also acknowledge that these comments are both general and personal. Thinking about this the other day, I realized that I have as many American friends as Canadian. People I respect and have great affection for. At the same time, most Americans in my experience truly believe in their own xenophobic mythology
However, looking at the bigger political picture, I also admit that there are flaws on both sides of our common border. Let’s look at Canada first.
We have a parliamentary system that requires the leader and the senior ministers of the governing party to be present to respond to questions from the members of the opposition. Theoretically, this should keep everybody honest. Yet, our Prime Minister’s Office has become more imperious and controlling — especially since the days of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. Even in a minority government we have seen our parliament prorogued twice in order to protect the backside of the governing party. And, currently, the Conservative Party, having garnered only about 35% of the popular vote in the last election can still stonewall investigations into the treatment of prisoners in the Afghanistan engagement. The PCs stay in power because the Liberals and the New Democrats, who should be on the same side of the political spectrum, can’t seem to abide each other and are too fragmented to form a sensible alternative.
However, the House can knock the governing party out if the votes are there. The Liberals have no stomach for an election at the moment so we see a farcical charade go on each day that the house sits and the members jeer at each other during question period. Leaving theatre aside, the members can still work together in committee. The critical element is the fact that a majority vote in the House will carry the day.
In the US, a single Senator can hold up proceedings almost indefinitely. Watching the attempts of the Democratic majority over the past year or so has been an exercise in frustration. Observing Republicans and some Democrats go against the best interests of the public because of the financial clout of corporate interests is truly frightening. Is the voting public that gullible that they will let their representatives get away with that kind of behaviour? I’d like to think not but watching the antics of the ignorant and misinformed (e.g. Palin & the ‘Tea Party’ bigots) can be really depressing.
So we are countries of imperfect humans who can be fooled by others while thinking we are doing the right thing. That’s not the point of differentiation. Where we are truly different is in the way we think about ourselves. The American mythos is so pervasive that the typical American has absorbed it fully before leaving primary school and it tends to stick for the rest of his or her life. I have worked with Americans, shared business committee decisions with them and had many a sociable time with them. At no time did I ever sense that they felt inferior to any other nation. As far as most of these individuals were concerned, America is the most generous, most noble, most creative nation on earth and whatever America does is the best.
Because these Americans who have not been able to perceive any flaws in their institutions or way of life, they continue to think that whatever they do is for the good of humanity and their way is the best way.
Canadians on the other hand tend to think that others can do things well and even when we do something that is excellent, we know we can always learn from others and improve.
Americans have a difficult time trying to figure out why there are so many groups, both foreign and domestic that don’t buy into the national mythology. Perhaps they feel that their business interests are more important than the well-being and safety of others. When the corporate interests of American firms run into objections from other nations who prefer not to have their people exploited, the CIA will move in to disrupt the economy or the power structure of that country. Countries have learned not to mess with the US or the corporate investors will take any steps necessary to fulfill their ‘manifest destiny’ and be backed by the power brokers of the US.
So, are we different because we don’t have the economic clout to bully others? I don’t think so. The real difference is that we do not have a national mythology that imbues a sense of superiority which is dedicated to making everyone else like us.