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Episode Info: PODCAST: Let me begin by saying I’m an outsider to U.S. politics. I come from and still live in southern Ontario, on the border with New York State. Like many Canadians, I’ve always been about equally aware of the trials and tribulations of American and Canadian politics. The two political cultures are definitely distinguishable and always have been. Canadian politics is nothing glorious and I’m not about to hold it up as a model that any other country should follow. We have our problems too, but American politics right now—what happened? How did they get here? It’s too easy to point to one political party or one individual as the source of what has gone wrong. This began long before he took office and it’s certain to continue long after he’s out of office. Are we witnessing a wholesale breakdown of American democracy? My interpretation will be less apocalyptic, but I do see the situation as bleak. I’m going to mention five factors that seem to me to have driven American politics to its current predicament. The first is the notion of American exceptionalism. This old doctrine has been a unifying force in American political culture for two centuries, and it has been dealt a death blow by globalization. Like so many other national myths, it was a dubious idea from the beginning, but it did provide the country with a solidarity that was at least notional. Conservatives try to retain this idea, but it rings hollow. America is not an exception in the world. Other forms of solidarity will need to replace exceptionalism and haven’t yet. I have no prediction as to whether they will. A democratic polity needs some kind of social glue, and the old glue isn’t holding. This leads me to my second point. Identity politics. This has come to America in a big way. Canada and a great many other countries have been down this road, and it’s a bad road. It takes many forms, on both the right and the left, and it works by pitting every group against every other in one enormous dance of death. It claims to be about justice, and it isn’t. It’s about power and power only. The will to power, as Nietzsche pointed out, always wears a mask and it springs eternal. It takes a thousand forms, some of them baser than others. Identity politics has been gaining ascendency for a few decades now and it currently has very little opposition. The only solution to some wars, including culture and identity wars, is for war-weariness to set in, and this can take decades. It probably will. Don’t expect any great unifier to emerge. No politician or anyone else can do this alone. This is a societal phenomenon, and it’s not going to change from the top down unless it’s matched by an equal push from the bottom. I don’t see this on the horizon. Identity politics has become the only game in town. The third point is closely related to this, and it’s hyper-parti...
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