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Canadians shouldn’t be too judgy about The Donald

From Rush Limbaugh on the right to Chris Matthews on the left, media pundits are suggesting the bumptious brawler Donald Trump needs to get on with the issues or get out of the way. His few platforms are easily picked apart, and his record borders on incoherent. “How can his followers not see this?” ask the pundits. “What does Trump want?”

It’s not about Trump. The New York tycoon and his positions are secondary for his supporters. Few in the Tea Party or religious right think jokes about prisoners of war or menstruation are admirable. What they do see in Trump, however, is a means to an end. Frustrated, principally, by the passive response of Republican leaders in Washington to the progressive show trials, they see Trump as a wrecking ball to obliterate the status quo.

This means turfing the John Boehners and Mitch McConnells who play the Washington “game” of appeasement. It means replacing Supreme Court judges who talk conservative but vote progressive. And it means shaking the foundations of even FOX TV (the bete noir of liberals) and the practiced Sunday morning house Republicans propped up by networks.

The settled establishment of the Republican/conservative wing has offered arch replies to Trump’s bombast that play well inside the bubble but only serve to distance DC from the TV personality’s stunts. Sending Trump’s polls ever higher.

When Trump is finished moulding the GOP in his blast furnace, the Trumpkins will then turn their attention to Hilary Clinton and the embedded political culture in DC. But when they take on the Democrats and the media party, it will likely not be Trump answering the bell. Think Alberta-born Ted Cruz, a firebrand who can actually do policy.

Will it work? Can it work? There are 15 months till we know for certain. But watching the theatrics of Trump (or Bernie Sanders for that matter) is taking one’s eye off the ball. There is a populist putsch underway on both edges of the U.S. political apparatus, and its long-held assumptions are about to create a dynamic unseen since the 1960s.

This raucous turn in the political Octagon baffles Canadians, of course. We try to be scary. A friend recently compared Stephen Harper to Putin, but the Harp is more like a tepid Scott Walker than a man who invades the Ukraine and Crimea. In short, we would’t know a despot even if a well-lubricated Elizabeth May pointed him or her to us.

My old CBC colleague Rex Murphy reflected that sense of there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-we in his recent Donald Trump column. Rex points out that The Donald is a couple of condos shy of a development. By contrast with the entire American political gymnasium, however, Trump is a model of restraint. Rex does not say this approvingly.

To a Canadian, the notion that showing ID to vote is a racist oppression boggles the mind. Likewise, we’re flummoxed by U.S. customs stopping Canadians from bringing an orange into the lower 48 states while its southern border with Mexico operates like a turnstile for illegal visitors. And Trump’s meringue whipped hair? Well that wouldn’t survive any respectable toque.

Serious problems have developed with this country’s political machinery in the past 25 years. The fact that the prime minister controls everything from Supreme Court appointments to security codes on the Commons washrooms being one. But don’t expect a Trump revolution any time soon.

In the community of nations, Canada is the car air bag, a restraint system that keeps us from launching headlong into the windshield of constitutional chaos. As Rex points out, the most important thing to a Canadian is that we are not Americans.

Canadians are highly proud of our accomplishments since 1867, but in modern times our self-worth has largely been predicated on our yin compared to the American yang. After his RCAF stint, my father often derided the Americans as over-sexed guys who couldn’t do parade march worth a damn. American hockey is routinely dismissed as an ego caravan of Phil Kessel clones. American TV is considered a swamp of Ron Burgundy clones. More seriously, the U.S.gun cultures scares the bejabbers out of Canadians.

And so we judge. The scold impulse is never far from the Canadian id as we stare balefully south at the Excited States. In Canada it’s not so important that we have things such as single-payer health care and non-gun culture as that Americans don’t have them. We are the nation that takes a pass on the bungee jump, bragging all the while about our sense of restraint.

But many of Canada’s pat assumptions about what’s happening in American democracy are simply that: assumptions. We need to stop taking seriously Michael Moore’s tongue bath for Canadian health care, for instance. Yes, many Americans are uninsured or under-insured. But single payer is a one-way ticket on the attrition highway whose cost is willfully disguised from the consumer to prevent sticker shock.

There are many more such examples of smug satisfaction over the people whose armed forces defend our territory. Yes, it’s noisy, but America is willing to thrash out these issues in public. Here in Canada we’ve accepted a gag order from both sides on issues of substance. And we think it’s an improvement.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy #notthepublicbroadcaster

(Originally published on 2015-08-17 with The Prince Arthur Herald)