The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion As Canadians sort through midterm results, we should rethink our ties to Washington

A supporter of Democratic Senate candidate Beto O’Rourke cries as he concedes to incumbent Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at O’Rourke’s midterm election night party in El Paso, on Tuesday. (Mike Segar/Reuters)

After months of expectation that the Democrats would ride a blue wave into a different kind of Congress, Tuesday’s midterm elections delivered mixed results for the party and its supporters. But long before congressional elections began, one outcome was guaranteed: whichever party controlled the House and Senate, post-election America would continue its decline into toxic polarization, endless gridlock and poor policy representation. As the sun rose on Wednesday, few awoke to morning in America.

Including Canadians. North of the 49th parallel, the longest undefended border in the world, many of us watched returns carefully, including federal cabinet ministers, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made it clear his government would work with whomever it must, regardless of party. Leading up to the vote, officials and political watchers in Canada were paying close attention to congressional and gubernatorial races as they wondered about the future of the fragile U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, tax rates, cannabis (which was legalized for recreational use in Canada in October) and the border. We also watch with anxiety wondering if the rise of widespread nasty, hateful anti-democratic practices could become a corrosive import.

Those issues are salient and will remain so. But even with the House in the hands of the Democrats, Canada must look much further ahead toward the next 30 years or 50 years and imagine what its place will be in a changing geopolitical landscape. The constitutional monarchy whose fate has been linked to the United States since before its British forebears torched the White House needs to consider what a future increasingly decoupled from the republic to its south might look like. That reconceptualization of the North American project entails a reassessment of trade, border security and military cooperation. I don’t make this point lightly; in many ways, these arrangements have served both countries well. And I’m not presupposing that Canada should prefer to walk out, as it were. Rather, I’m drawing on what we learned from elections in 2016 and 2018 and the analyses outlined in books such as “How Democracies Die,” “Can It Happen Here?” and How Democracy Ends,” which sound the alarm on a declining American republic and the global siege of liberal democracy.

Canada has long enjoyed a special relationship with the United States thanks to language, history, geography and philosophy, as well as some attendant convergences you’d expect given those links (for instance, culture). That relationship may not disappear. But it can no longer be taken for granted, if it ever could.

As Canada thinks ahead to a future that is radically different vis-à-vis its relationship with the United States, it can and should embrace an opportunity to model to America and the world (and hopefully become) the best version of itself—an open, inclusive, prosperous, egalitarian, multi-ethnic and multicultural country backstopped by robust and resilient democratic norms and institutions. Canada isn’t the caricature of itself offered by some who imagine it as a socialist paradise or a liberal arcadia, but it leads the world on freedom, electoral integrity, political rights and civil rights; it also holds its own on social mobility and performs fairly well on trust. Canada is pressing forward with a flawed but important carbon tax and a half-decent election modernization bill. Our partisan polarization levels are low. Also, our head of state isn’t politicized.

None of this is to say the country is without serious shortcomings — as I’ve argued before, Canada is not your utopia. But the regulative ideal of a Good Canada, which can be closely approximated with greater self-awareness, creativity and bold leadership, is valuable. As I often say these days, Canada will probably be one of the last advanced industrial democratic dominoes to fall, if they begin to topple. We should make that count. (I’m a lot of fun at parties.)

Last night’s midterm elections were a ride only a lunatic would want to take, but Americans and the world were dropped on board nonetheless — and they whipped and wobbled and careened to a final destination, if not to safe harbor. Now, as everyone prepares for more of the same (except perhaps worse as Trump and Congress prepare for mortal combat in the lead up to 2020) and as even some True Believers come around to the realization that Nov. 6 offered no lasting salvation, America’s allies, especially Canada, must redouble their efforts at imagining and preparing for the prospect of a radically different future.

Read more:

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David Moscrop: Canada is not your utopia