The ratings for major television news outlets in the United States have risen significantly over the past couple years.
Many Canadians are focused on the increasingly bizarre spectacle taking place south of the border. It’s an evolving story that’s so unpredictable, so fraught with risk, so confusing and polarized, that it unfortunately makes for excellent reality TV.
As we watch with increasing concern from Canada, it’s important to remind ourselves that the Americans are our friends. Our economies are intertwined, we spend large amounts of time vacationing in their land, and they in ours. We share many of the same pastimes and, for the most part, share the same Judeo-Christian values. And while our Jewish communities are different in important respects, many of Canada’s most prominent Jewish institutions are influenced by, and similarly influence, their American counterparts, and we are inextricably linked through Israel, as well.
But American society is not healthy. The extent of polarization is extreme, beyond anything I can remember. Whether it be the process related to the appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the approach to immigration, the outcomes of the #MeToo movement or virtually anything President Donald Trump does or says, it is becoming increasingly impossible to have informed, courteous conversations in the U.S., without a major conflict erupting among people who will invariably have different points of view. Families are prohibiting conversation around a whole series of topics, in order to avoid discord. The idea of agreeing to disagree has apparently left the building.
Polarized societies that focus on attacking those with different points of view are invariably weakened, as a result. In any society, people will have different views on a variety of issues. Dealing with these areas of disagreement can only be reached by communicating with one another and accepting the possibility that the other side can be correct, at least in part, and is worth listening to and respecting. This is not happening in the U.S. – not in government, in the media or among the general population.
Should Canadians care about this state of affairs? Absolutely. The United States is our neighbour and Americans are our friends. It matters because we are part of the American economic engine and entirely connected to its society. And it matters because the U.S. remains the leader of the free world, as well as Canada and Israel’s most important and powerful ally.
We need to pray for great American leaders to emerge who can reduce partisanship and move the needle on the great challenges of the day. It can be done – the American economy is strong, as is its constitution and underlying morality – but it requires positive leadership.
Trump won the presidency, in part, because he took advantage of a level of disenchantment among many in the U.S., of which the Democrats appeared to be oblivious, and because former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was deeply flawed. There is much about what Trump is doing that I support – in areas of foreign policy, in particular, and his excellent work in injecting truth into the Middle East situation and at the United Nations, to Israel’s benefit. But his approach to governing is entirely too polarizing. I keep wanting to shake him and tell him to stop with the inconsistent, polarizing behaviour. It’s not necessary, and it’s not good for America.
Party politics aside, what is required is a leader who can bring people together, someone who has a history of non-partisan approaches to decision-making. America needs a consolidator, not a polarizer.
If and when that happens, Americans will take the first step in turning their ship in a more positive direction. And when that happens, Canadians should be cheering from the sidelines.