The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion U.S. politics has too many Canadian pundits

President Biden speaks to reporters at the White House on Feb. 16. (Shawn Thew/Bloomberg)
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A sarcastic tweet from user “Gapeway Pundit” delighted many in the American center-left the other day. “I feel like Biden has done absolutely nothing for me,” Gapeway wrote. “Sure he’s reversed the Muslim ban but I’m not Muslim. And the trans military ban, but i’m not trans. He banned federal use of private prisons, but I’m not a prisoner. His COVID bill will give Americans $1,400, but I’m Canadian.”

The joke — and the positive reaction to it — nicely encapsulates a certain exhaustion I’ve noticed among moderate American progressives recently. President Biden remains broadly popular with most voters, yet still faces persistent criticism from an online far-left that insists he’s a disaster. It’s a group largely composed of bitter Bernie Sanders partisans — and apparently a disproportionate number of Canadians, too. Indeed, it’s become something of a running joke among centrist Democrats on social media that before taking the words of some stridently leftist Biden critic seriously, always check their profile location tag.

While I’m hesitant to provoke the wrath of the “Dirtbag Left” by naming and shaming anyone in particular, it’s not much of a secret that several of America’s prominent far-left tweeters, columnists, podcasters and YouTube personalities also happen to be Canadians based in Canada. They’re not Canadian political commentators who occasionally talk about American affairs — as all Canadian commentators do — but rather Canadians who are choosing to embed themselves deeply in America’s domestic political debate and function as outright activists for one very particular side.

As a trend, it should be unsettling and provoke at least a couple of questions. When does one cross the line between being interested in another country’s politics and actively meddling in their affairs? At what point does propagandizing for or against politicians in a country you don’t live in constitute an inappropriate infringement of their sovereignty?

To be sure, a lot of what’s been written over the years about Canadians who “care too much about American politics” is little more than a regurgitation of classic Canadian insecurities. Whenever social justice issues rise to the forefront of American debate, for instance, a certain sort of cocksure Canadian boomer reliably emerges to scold against “importing” American assumptions of race or class. The fact that virtually every article about anti-Black racism in Canada features a defensive comment insisting “it’s not just an American problem” highlights the degree such complacency is taken for granted.

Likewise, it’s obviously true that the outcomes of the American political process “affect Canada too”; not only at the level of formal international relations — such as when a president vetoes a cross-border pipeline — but also through intellectual trends and policy examples. All great Canadian thinkers are influenced by America’s vastly more robust infrastructure of research and ideas, and there’s plenty of reason for left and right on both sides of the border to be broadly invested in the success of their continental counterparts.

Yet all this is still very different from a Canadian who chooses to inject themselves into American political debates to the point of, say, rallying against Neera Tanden’s nomination as head of the Office of Management and Budget.

I’ll confess my hands aren’t entirely clean. From my perch in Vancouver, I spent a year writing for National Review, the famed American conservative politics magazine, and while it was a rewarding experience overall, I often felt awkward and self-conscious writing columns about what sort of bills the president should sign or what constitutional clauses should be changed. At some point, it was quite genuinely not my business, a fact that can be easily measured by imagining the reaction in Canada — or any other country — if there existed some sizable number of Americans who made a living attempting to shape the domestic politics of a place where they didn’t live, either.

The irony is that plenty of leftists think Americans do this already, in the Middle East or Latin America or wherever, and resent them for it. The Canadian left in particular has long been paranoid about American “meddling” in Canadian affairs, and it’s a testament to the blinding righteousness of today’s social media socialists that there’s little introspection about this hypocrisy.

There are plenty of problems that could be solved if Canadians were more informed of American realities, and plenty of benefit to be found in a continent where U.S.-Canadian relations are more open and integrated. It’s similarly easy to be inspired by Canadians — of any political stripe — who possess honest empathy for the struggles of the American people and genuinely want what’s best for them.

But it would be nice if more Canadians who are so inclined could direct some of that energy toward helping combat anti-American ignorance in their own country and deepening cross-border ties of trade, labor and people — a few things the United States needs a lot more than lefty hot takes about its politics.

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