In the past I’ve been known to spit tacks at things in American political life that irk me. Jonathan and I started Dial M ten years ago, as of August — somehow I missed the chance to congratulate myself on the anniversary — which means that I started blogging in the later years of the GW Bush administration. And I had no shortage of things to complain about. But in the intervening years I have grown a bit tired of the political horse-race, and have also come to the conclusion that it is in poor taste for someone to criticize the politics of a country in which he is a guest.* So I will leave to it Jonathan to weigh in on American politics in general and, if he wishes, the recently-concluded election. For my part I will say only two things:
- I don’t … uh, much care for Donald Trump. (Can I say that much?) But I refuse to join in the contempt and outright hatred being shown Trump’s supporters, who may include white nationalists and out-and-out fascists, yes, but who also include decent people whose motivations for voting for Trump should be taken seriously by American progressives — and also by those outside the United States who might be tempted to reach for certain convenient narratives of American lumpenness. I encourage you to read Chris Arnade on the troubles of those American working-class people who feel that they have been sold out by the undeclared ruling class of meritocracy. And if you want a polemic on just how badly we of the scribal classes have been ignoring such people, I recommend this piece by Glenn Greenwald.
- I may be a bit of a lapsed Buddhist, but I am still enough of a Buddhist to quote the Dhammapada: Hatred is never appeased by hatred. Hatred is only appeased by non-hatred. This is the eternal law. Of course, to think such a thing is to be an unpolitical person. Well, so much the worse for politics.
In case you want to know what my own politics are, I have said elsewhere that I think the height of civilization was reached in Canada during Trudeau years, precisely because it was not a terribly efficient political system. I am a big fan of parlimentary monarchy. God save the Queen! And I write that in the same spirit as Trudeau’s famous pirouette behind the royal back:
Which is to say, it is possible to acknowledge the absurdity of monarchy while valuing the very fact of its absurd and incongruous preservation within a modern parlimentary democracy.**
Most of my readers are Americans, who might be divided on every other political question but will unite in anger and disgust at any suggestion of monarchy. Rebellion against King George III is the most indispensable ingredient of the American national myth. Well there, I have made my own contribution to the reconciliation of a divided people. You can all agree that I am full of crap.
*In my case, a very long-term guest: since marrying my American wife 20 years ago, I have been a permanent resident while remaining a citizen of Canada and the U.K. My family on my Mum’s side is English, and while I grew up Northern Ontario, I had an English accent when I was little, a distant trace of which still comes back when I’m nervous. (When I first plucked up my courage to phone the girl I would later marry and ask for a date, I got her roomate, who told Helen that “some old English guy” had called while she was out.) Most of my extant family lives in the U.K., but I’ve never lived there and have only visited a handful of times. My Dad’s side of the family is Canadian, but I know almost nothing about them. My grandfather was an English orphan who was “adopted” (i.e. bought as a kind of chattel slave) by a brutal farmer in Barrie, Ontario, a bit more than a century ago. He ran off to fight in WWI when he was 15 or 16, and my understanding is that the mud and blood of Vimy Ridge was actually preferable to life in Barrie. Now that I think of it, it’s odd that I and my family bear the name of some random exploiter we’re not at all related to.
So insofar as I have a political identity at all, it is complicatedly Anglo-Canadian, though with a lot of love and sympathy for the nation I have made my home for a good long while now.
**Edward Gibbon: “Of the various forms of government which have prevailed in the world, an hereditary monarchy presents the fairest scope for ridicule. Is it possible to relate without an indignant smile, that, on the father’s decease, the property of a nation, like that of a drove of oxen, descends to his infant son, as yet unknown to mankind and to himself, and that the bravest warriors and the wisest statesmen, relinquishing their natural right to empire, approach the royal cradle with bended knees and protestations of inviolable fidelity? Satire and declamation may paint these obvious topics in the most dazzling colours, but our more serious thoughts will respect a useful prejudice, that establishes a rule of succession, independent of the passions of mankind; and we shall cheerfully acquiesce in any expedient which deprives the multitude of the dangerous, and indeed the ideal, power of giving themselves a master.”