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The United States Is Not Very United

Posted by Grant Murray on
The United States Is Not Very United

Donald J. Trump, on his journey to be elected President of the United States, tossed many very large grenades into the political fabric of his country. He exposed to the whole world how deeply Americans are divided on so many issues . . . issues where considerable unity and a high degree of common purpose among the electorate is crucial for the smooth functioning of a modern democracy.

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The results of the Presidential election have confirmed how badly the country is divided. In many cases, the opposing views are rather evenly split. In other cases, the results are very lopsided in favour of one view or the other.

While collecting and analyzing the election data for this paper, I also became increasingly concerned that the current model of American democracy is at great risk and that all of us should be very worried even those of us who live beyond the U.S. borders.

But let me begin with an analysis of some of the many divisions currently plaguing the United States before turning to the future.

The following is a list of many of the most obvious demographic differences and other issues where division in the electorate is rampant and not just between staunch Republicans and staunch Democrats but among other major stakeholders in American society.

  • White people vs. people of other colours and races
  • Rural voters vs. urban voters.
  • Men voters vs. women voters
  • Millennial voters vs. Gen X voters
  • Liberals vs. conservatives
  • Religion vs. pragmatism
  • Less educated voters vs. more educated voters
  • Citizenship vs. immigration
  • Free traders vs. protectionists

While the analysis of the November 8th election is still ongoing, there is already sufficient data to draw conclusions on the impact of many of these issues on voting patterns and, hence, the electoral results. Much of the data has been gathered at the exit polls and is, therefore, subject to some further analysis. It should also be noted that the percentages do not always add to 100% due to non-responses to some of the questions.

White people vs. people of other colours and races

It is well known, of course, that there are major political and cultural differences between the white population and people of other colours and races. It was anticipated by many people that because of the shift in the demographics since the last election, this latter group could come together in some kind of an informal voting bloc that would overcome the dominance of the white electorate. This did not come to pass. White voters continued to dominate. Also, unexpectedly the voter turnout by the other groups, particularly African-Americans, was way below expectations. This has been attributed to voter suppression and also Clinton’s failure to address their concerns or to offer new programs or other measures to address their concerns. In any event, this drop off benefited the white population and gave it proportionately more clout.

That being said, the total vote was also low. It is expected to be about 50% of the eligible electorate. That compares to 53.6% in 2012 which has been the historical average for many previous elections.

70% of the total vote was by white voters. Of this number, Trump had 58% and Clinton had 37%. The breakdown of the 30% non-whites was 21% for Trump vs. 74% for Clinton.

So, Trump attracted significantly more white voters than Clinton. However, Clinton attracted more than a third of the white voters. She also had three-quarters of the non-white voters. This shows there is a considerable difference based on race. It also shows there is still a significant bloc of white voters in each camp and each party will have to continue to cater to their needs in any future campaign and this could cause further division across party lines. As well, the Clinton crowd will not only have to work harder to keep the non-white voters in their camp but, more importantly, to get them to the polling booths.

Looking ahead, there is another potentially major factor at play. If Trump puts the lid on future immigration as he has promised to do, the ratio of whites to others could remain more or less the same. It could even increase the ratio of whites. If this happens, the non-whites could feel even more disenfranchised and if they continue to reside on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, this could spell trouble for the white majority. For instance, they could become motivated to create a political bloc of their own.

Rural voters vs. urban voters.

In this election, the gulf between rural voters and the urban voters was very much wider than anyone expected and this split had a major impact on the outcome. And, it should be kept in mind, that in 2014, 81% of the population lived in the cities and suburbs. The migration from the farms to the cities is predicted to continue which means the discrepancy could be even greater by the time of the next election. Some post-election polling in the farm belt shows there was a strong feeling rural folk were being ignored and too much emphasis was being placed on minorities in the urban centers. This view could lead to further feelings of disenfranchisement in the rural communities as they become a minority themselves.

By far the majority of observers agree that Trump won the election because of the rural vote and, since the election, much has been written about this major divide. However, to this point, there is no aggregate data to measure the exact impact but there are 3 states where the results clearly portray that the divide did impact the outcome.

In Michigan, Trump won the election by 13,107 votes. In the Michigan cities, Clinton won 230,000 votes more than Trump. But in rural areas and small towns, Trump won 240,000 more votes than Clinton, enough to carry the State. This is the first time the Republicans have won Michigan since 1988.

In Wisconsin, Trump won by 27,257 votes and even though Clinton outpolled Trump by more than 125,000 votes in the cities, Trump won the State. This is the first time the Republicans have won Wisconsin since 1984.

In Pennsylvania, Trump won by 68,236 votes even though Clinton beat him by more than 215,000 votes in the cities.
As I said, forecasts make it clear that the shift from the farms to the cities is going to continue. As rural voters see themselves becoming a minority and watch their influence diminish, they could very easily decide to organize their own political party and, if they chose to do so, they could wield considerable clout. As we know, when organized, they already have considerable clout on agriculture policies and on trade matters.

As a Canadian, who can forget the United Farmers of Canada which was a political party from 1926 to 1949? And, in 1932, another western Canada political party supported by the agricultural community and known as the CCF was formed. In 1961, it changed its name to the National Democratic Party, and is popularly known today as the NDP. So, it can happen.

Men voters vs. women voters.

It was widely expected that given Trump’s rants and his behaviour, women would support Clinton in droves. It did not work out that way.

White women comprised 37% of the electorate. Surprisingly, of this group, 53% voted for Trump and only 43% voted for Clinton.
It should also be mentioned that Latino voters made up 11% of the electorate. In this grouping, only 62% 0f the men and 68% of the women voted for Clinton. That means that about one-third of the Latino voters supported Trump which is many more than predicted.

Once again, these results show that women and Latino voters are deeply divided, and much more so than anticipated. These results also suggest that today a number of factors are involved in the voters’ decisions and that the outcome is no longer played out primarily along party lines. Quite often voters become caught up in other causes which take precedence over party loyalty even if it means crossing party lines.

Millennials vs. Gen Xers

It was anticipated that, on the assumption Millennials represented a higher percentage of the population this time, they would play a more pivotal role in the election and this would help Clinton. Not so.

In the 18 to 29 age group, which represented 19% of the electorate, 55% voted for Clinton and 37% voted for Trump. In the 30 to 44 age group, which represented 25% of the electorate, 50% voted for Clinton and 42% voted for Trump.
Both in terms of the demographics and the percent of votes, these results were not very different from the results in the 2012 election. In that election, the 18 to 29 age group, which also represented 19% of the electorate, 60% voted for Obama and 37% voted for Romney. In the 30 to 44 age group, which represented 27% of the electorate, 52% voted for Obama and 45% voted for Romney. So, despite the expectations, the Millennials did not vote overwhelmingly for one candidate or the other but, nevertheless, remained divided, often quite deeply.

The question becomes….what will happen in the next election because there is a general belief that Millennials will demographically become a larger segment of the population?

In my view, this is not a certainty. North American birth rates have continued to decline for some time, and even in the short term, there will be proportionately fewer young people. So, sooner rather than later, the balance could well shift to older people who, of course, have very different views on many things. Further, if Trump clamps down on immigration, this will have a very dramatic effect on the country’s demographics. For instance, younger immigrants of military or near military age will not be very welcome because in Trump’s world they will be perceived as terrorist threats. Also, as other countries develop, there will be opportunities in those countries to keep young people at home.

If this is the case, the demographics for Millennials could change and their influence, unless they take action, could even decline.

Liberals vs, conservatives

These labels no longer have the same meanings they traditionally had and, in my view, are now virtually meaningless and, worse, misleading.

Today, a “conservative” can be anybody from a moderate progressive, to an adherent of the Tea Party, to a devotee of the Alt.right movement. A “liberal” can be anyone from a fiscal conservative to a socialist.

Under the cloak of the Republican banner, Trump at times claimed to be a conservative but he is anything but. I doubt that he has read the Republican Party’s platform or would understand it if he did. Cruz is a strong supporter of the Tea Party but has been trying to keep that under wraps these days. Steve Bannon is the flag bearer for the Alt.right and a self-proclaimed white supremacist. All these people continue to portray themselves as good old fashioned conservatives which is certainly a misnomer. Bernie Sanders portrays himself as a liberal under the Democratic banner but he is a socialist through and through.

Another thing happened in the campaign. The candidates largely avoided the terms liberal and conservative to describe themselves. They also avoided the terms Democrat or Republican.

Instead, they adopted an approach to promote themselves not their party. In other words, their own name became their brand. You may have noticed that most of the TV ads featured the candidate and his or her name only. There was seldom any mention of the party unless the ad was being aired by the party itself. In this way, the candidates hoped to avoid being associated with their party or their leaders or with any other political labels for that matter.

I’m not sure this worked to the extent they hoped it would. To the contrary, it probably left the poor voter more confused than ever. Beyond confusing the voters, I doubt it is an issue weighing heavily on voters’ minds but it does open the door for voting blocs void of any identity or affiliation with the old line parties.

Less educated voters vs. more educated voters

There are a number of results that try to slice and dice this category of voters. The following numbers provide one overview.
College grads in total voted 52% for Clinton vs. 43% for Trump. Voters without college degrees voted 44% for Clinton and 52% for Trump.

White college grads voted 45% for Clinton and 49% voted for Trump so the difference was not that great. But, when it came to white voters without a college degree, the difference was substantial i.e. 28% for Clinton and 67% for Trump.
When it came to non- white voters, the differential was very significant for both voters with a college degree and voters who did not have a college degree. For non-white voters with a college degree, 71% voted for Clinton and only 23% for Trump. For non-white voters without a college degree, 75% voted for Clinton and just 20% for Trump.

When it comes to women, white women with a college degree voted 51% for Clinton and 45% for Trump. White women without a college degree, voted 34% for Clinton and 62% voted for Trump.

Based on these results, which I know can be confusing, it is difficult to draw very many general conclusions save that non-white voters, whether with a college degree or without a college degree, voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. Her problem was that enough of them did not turn out to vote.

Religion vs. pragmatism

The exit polls produced very little information about the role of religion in the election or how divisive it was across the electorate. However, the exit polls did produce the following data about one religious segment which was very informative.

According to the poll, 26% of the electorate identified themselves with the born again and evangelical Christian religious faiths and this was a not insignificant percentage of the total electorate. In this segment, 16% voted for Clinton and 81% for Trump. It is surprising, given Trump’s moral shortcomings during the campaign, that he would enjoy this much support compared to Clinton. One can only conclude that the voters decided Trump’s transgressions were considerably less serious than Clinton’s transgressions. Also, given the fervor of these religions, it is surprising that so many of the faithful were even prepared to forgive and forget.

Citizenship and immigration

As we know, the moment Trump threw his hat into the ring, the issue of immigration became the centerpiece of his campaign and dominated the discussions and debates until election day.

This issue is so complex and there are such a variety of models on the table that it almost impossible to find many meaningful aggregate statistics. Moreover, the information coming from the 2016 election exit polls is very scant. However, the few numbers that are available confirm that the Americans remain very divided on 2 issues.

On the question of legal status for immigrants, 70% of the electorate favour granting legal status to immigrants. Of this number, 60% are Clinton supporters and 34% support Trump. However, the differential is very different among the remaining 30% who want immigrants deported to their home countries. Here, only 14% of Clinton supporters favour this approach whereas 84% of Trump are in support. Unfortunately, the results do not make any distinction among documented immigrants, undocumented immigrants or immigrants who have committed a criminal offence.

On the question of the wall between Mexico and the U.S., 40% support it and 54% oppose it. For supporters of the wall, only 10% are Clinton supporters whereas 80% are Trump. For opponents of the wall, 76% are Clinton supporters and 17% are Trump supporters.

Free traders vs. protectionists

This debate was another hot button issue during the campaign. Certainly, most voters understood there were winners and losers but it was also a very complex issue for individual voters to understand. As is the case with so many of these very complex issues, voter literacy was a major problem. To sell your point of view, It is very difficult to come up with sound bites that are educational as opposed to inflammatory. Therefore, it was almost impossible to undo the rhetoric of the protectionists especially when two of the presidential candidates weighed in on the protectionist side. Eventually, because of the campaign rhetoric, most voters concluded there were more losers than winners because of free trade agreements.

So far, the data coming from the exit polls is very limited. The only major finding related to jobs.

The exit polls found that 38% of the electorate believed the trade agreements created jobs, 42% felt they took away jobs and 11% said they had no effect on jobs. In the first group, 59% were Clinton supporters and 35% Trump supporters. In the second group, 31% of Clinton supporters believe the agreements took jobs away but a much greater number of Trump supporters, namely 65%, believed this to be the case.

There are several recent opinion polls, not related to the election results, which provide some additional perspective on this controversial issue. As you might expect, there were literally hundreds of polls conducted over the past several months, some credible and some not so much, and, if one searches long enough, you can find a poll which supports your personal point of view. Also, some polls only skim over the surface and can be misleading. For instance, a couple of polls found that people were very supportive of free trade but when asked were very opposed to the free trade agreements and that skewed the findings.
But some of the credible recent polls do present an overview of the voters’ thinking.

In general, they show that the American electorate continues to strongly support free trade. In September, 2016, well along in the campaign, the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll found that 55% of the electorate felt free trade was good for the country and 38% felt it was bad. Another recent credible poll (The Chicago Council On Public Affairs) found in September, 2016 that 65% favour free trade and 34% do not. Although Americans still favour the Trans Pacific Trade deal, support is 60%, down from 64% a year ago.
Finally, polls show that in the past 10 years, support for free trade among Democrats has increased while support from Republicans has declined. This seems odd since, up until this election, the Republican platform has always been strongly in favour of free trade.
So, on this very important issue, the U.S. electorate is not only divided but I suggest very confused.
In summary, as I said at the beginning of this paper, the U.S. electorate is badly divided on a great number of important issues. As well, the American political system has become very fractured.

After digesting the flood of data and opinion coming out in the aftermath of the 2016 election, it is my view that one fundamental pillar of the U.S. democratic model is very much at risk. I believe that the shelf life of the two party system has become very much shorter as one fallout of this unfortunate election. Let me explain.

There is general agreement that prior to the next election, both the Republican Party and the Democratic party must make significant changes within their own parties and must also support meaningful changes to the electoral system. During this process, all the dirty laundry and the divisions in the party will be brought to light. Given the number of issues and the rifts within the membership it is most unlikely, that either party can build a tent large enough to accommodate and resolve all these issues to the satisfaction of all members.

Already, there are a number of party leaders who profess to be loyal to their party but have their own agendas. As I said, many are also shying away from flouting any party affiliation at all and building their brand in their own name. This is a trend which can lead to voting blocs loyal to an individual candidate.

Currently, there are well-known voting blocs which could become formidable political parties organized around particular issues. The Libertarians could recruit more effective leaders and become a stronger player. The Green party could mobilize the increasing number of Americans who want stronger action against climate warming. The Tea Party could find new life under the leadership of someone like Ted Cruz. The Alt.right movement could morph into a political party and give a powerful voice to the far right. The supporters of Bernie Sanders who feel they were betrayed by the hierarchy of the Democratic party and who also believe Clinton cost them the election, could break away from the mother ship and organize a political party. The millennial s could feel they have lost their voice and choose to organize. The farmers, like the farmers in western Canada, who feel they have become disenfranchised by city folk, could organize their own party. And, the list goes on.

It must also be remembered that in a world with pervasive communications, intrusive social media and new techniques such as crowd funding, it is certainly much easier to organize motivated people.

Such an outcome would be both traumatic and chaotic. The U.S. Constitution is not designed to function within a pluralistic form of government and there are very many impediments to the implementation of a multiparty system. How would the country elect a President? How could the Electoral College function? How could the process to appoint Supreme Court judges work? How would the system be able to accommodate coalitions? How would the Government ratify international treaties?

These problems are just the tip of the iceberg.

Clearly, this situation, if it should happen, would not fully develop overnight. However, if one of the major players becomes a political force and starts the ball rolling, it could unfold rather quickly and there could be a rush to get on the band wagon early in the new game.

I may be too pessimistic. But one thing is sure. If you live in the United States, you better fasten your seat belt very tightly because there is a very rough road ahead.


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Republicans vs Democrats

Posted by Grant Murray on
Republicans vs Democrats

As I watch the U.S. election lurch towards the finish line, I have been trying to decipher the single most significant philosophical difference between the Republicans and the Democrats in the fog of the current campaigns.

Obviously, there is no simple answer. Nothing in either parties’ campaign platforms can be defined in black and white. Often, the differences cannot even be described in shades of grey. Also, within each party, there are extreme factions which muddy the waters even further.

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That being said, some things are clear. For example, the traditional labels which are used to differentiate political philosophies frequently do not apply in the current political environment. Terminology such as conservative vs. liberal, left vs. right, capitalist vs. socialist, free trade vs. protectionism, for instance, are for the most part no longer particularly meaningful in the context of the current campaigns and can often even be misleading.

Both parties, to a greater or lesser extent, have platforms which embody concepts of capitalism, socialism, protectionism, free trade, universal medical care, tax reform, and bureaucratic reform, to name a few examples. Often, it is more a matter of degree, and, as a practical matter, the differences can be hard to define and articulate let alone explain to the voting public.

So, the question remains. Is there any significant or overriding factor which defines the major difference? In my opinion there is such a factor and in this paper I will try to explain this difference, the reasons for this difference and, if my theory has merit, the eventual ramifications which could follow.

It is my view that staunch Republicans, primarily poorly educated white Americans, desperately want to turn the clock back to reflect an earlier time and, in their view, a simpler time in their country’s history. The Democrats, on the other hand, accept the reality that today’s world is a different place since the American Revolution and its aftermath and needs to be governed differently. They understand that old remedies do not necessarily fix new problems.

There are several signs which support my conclusion.

First of all, Donald Trump’s slogan to “Make America Great Again” is itself looking back and attempting to recapture something undefined in America’s past which he wants voters to believe is much better than what they have today. This slogan also implies that unless he is in charge there is little in America’s future that will be any better. Indeed, it will be horribly worse off and this is all the more reason he says we must turn the clock back as quickly as possible.

Next, the furor over the future makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is a case in point. Again, the die-hard Republicans want to turn the clock back to an earlier time. They desperately want to fill the vacancy and future vacancies on the Court with justices who adhere to the judicial philosophy of the late Justice Scalia. He was termed an “originalist” because he felt strongly that the U.S. Constitution must be interpreted according to the meaning of the words as they were understood to mean when they were written in 1789 or at the time of the subsequent 27 amendments. In other words, the meaning of these words should not take into account the changes in the social and economic fabric of the country since the time they were written. The moderate members of the Court accept that the world is different and they are willing to modify, albeit slowly, previous jurisprudence to accommodate this vastly different world.

Lastly, the role of the Tea Party certainly has to be considered in any analysis. The Tea Party, of course, is not a political party and is only a disparate and loosely connected group mostly comprised of active conservatives. While currently not a major player in the national political arena or in the election, their adherents do have an impact on the thinking and behaviour of many Republicans including the Republican members of Congress. And they usually vote as Republicans.

Much of their thinking also advocates a return to the past. Among other things, they advocate a national economy operating with minimal oversight much as it did in the aftermath of the American Revolution. They also strongly support Justice Scalla’s philosophy of originalist constitutional interpretation.

So, all in all, I think there is considerable evidence to support my conclusion that a major thrust of the current Republican campaign is indeed to convince the voters to turn the clock back to some earlier time.

This represents a major divide between the Republicans and the Democrats.

If my conclusion has merit, it raises three important questions.

  1. Why do so many staunch Republicans, particularly white Americans, want to turn the clock back?
  2. Depending on the results of the election, what will happen next?
  3. What will be the future of the Republican Party?

I think the answer to the first question is fairly obvious.

In the decades following the American Revolution, the white population dominated society in the U.S. People of other races or other colour were required to do the bidding of the white class. Further, the economy was primarily agricultural and rewarded individualism. The urban populations were a much smaller part of the landscape. The law of the gun had meaning and often replaced the law of the land. Economic regulations were few and far between. Foreign competitors posed no significant threats.

Today, lowly educated white people are very much aware that this way of life is gone or has changed dramatically and they feel threatened. They believe all the significant changes in the social and economic fabric of their country have worked to their disadvantage. Also, they realize the shifts in demographics are working against them and fast. They are fearful and, understandably, are responding positively to Trump’s campaign rhetoric.

The Democrats are being forced to deal with a much more complicated menu of issues.

They accept that the world is much different these days. They realize that several world depressions and recessions, two world wars and numerous regional wars, together with the threat of nuclear warfare have made our world much more complicated and interconnected. They also understand that the mind boggling advances in such fields as data processing, communications and medical science together with the phenomena of social media have dramatically changed the needs and social behaviour of society.

However, these are difficult subjects to address politically because in the political world voters usually opt for simplistic solutions if offered to them.

Therefore, it is easy to understand why voters, particularly lowly educated voters or fearful voters, buy into Trump’s snake oil proposals which, unfortunately, have a very simplistic appeal.

Next, what will happen in the aftermath of the upcoming election?

I am concerned that whoever wins the Presidency, there will be a major upheaval in the political stability of the United States.

If Trump wins, it will quickly become apparent that he cannot deliver on virtually all the outlandish promises he has made and a major segment of the population will quickly become disenchanted and this could lead to major discontent. To the extent he can deliver, he will certainly create much economic and international chaos. As well, because of the different factions within the party it is more than likely there will be major paralysis in the Congress as the different factions fight among themselves and try to restore their credibility and their power. The situation will be even more chaotic if the Democrats should regain the Senate. Moreover, if, by some stretch of the imagination the Democrats should win both the Senate and the House of Representatives the situation, to use Trump’s favourite expression, would be a total disaster.

Even if Trump loses and especially if at the same time the Democrats regain the Senate, the political stability will also be badly shaken. However, in this eventually, the major warfare will take place within the Republican Party. Almost immediately, the different factions which have been somewhat muted during the current campaign, will take up arms against each other. They will quickly disavow Trump’s brand of Republicism and try to distant themselves from the ruling cadre. The likely post mortem will be brutal and will reveal schisms that probably can’t be repaired. They will become virtually ineffective as an opposition party and if they continue with their obstructionist tactics they will incur the wrath of many, many voters.

It will not be a pretty picture and this leads me to my final question, namely, what will be the future of the Republican Party?
It is my view that ever since Mr. Trump’s entry onto the political stage, the life expectancy of the Republican Party has suddenly become much shorter.

Any party which chooses to continually deny the impact of history or the reality of changing demographics or which continues to be obstructionist for any length of time cannot survive in today’s environment.

For certain, there will be heroic efforts to save the Grand Old Party. There is, however, a high probability that these efforts will not succeed. The political environment has, largely due to the behaviour of the Republicans themselves, become so toxic that it will be most difficult to arrange even a cease fire let alone total peace within the party. Party devotees have become bitter enemies of each other. Many old school Republicans feel that Trump has already hijacked the party and will certainly fight to totally reject his brand of Republican politics. It is quite likely that the Tea Party will find its voice again. The rivalry between the different factions in the party will probably become even more public and so each faction will publically be fighting to protect its own turf. There will be ugly battles over party leadership. Sitting members will struggle to speak with a common voice and to be respected in Committees and on the floor of the Senate and House. Major donors could shy away as they see a party in total disarray. In desperation, the party could become even more obstructionist and the animosity between the Republicans and the Democrats could become irreparable. And, the list goes on.

Eventually, the voting public would react and show its displeasure.

Given these circumstances, it would be most unlikely that the party could hold itself together. The likely outcome is that some bloc or maybe even more than one bloc will break away and form a third party which will, of course, dramatically change the political landscape in the United States. If that happens, the United States could end up with a system of government more akin to the European models. But that is the subject for another day.

For sure, whatever the outcome of the election, there is going to be a rough road ahead.


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The United States Has Many Problems But Lacks Solutions

Posted by Grant Murray on
The United States Has Many Problems But Lacks Solutions

There is a widespread recognition that the United States is experiencing a myriad of problems which are jeopardizing the American dream. These problems are well known and well documented.

Increasing racial violence, a widespread illegal drug culture, insidious gang warfare, military like law enforcement, inhuman incarceration, inequitable gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, voter suppression, permanent electioneering, political gridlock, the overwhelming political clout of Political Action Committees (PAC’s), income inequality, crony capitalism, eroding social consciousness, erosion of workers’ rights, eroding international respect are some of the most talked about.

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I contend that these examples are only the symptoms. They only categorize the problems in behavioural terms and this descriptive terminology does not identify or address any underlying causes which I prefer to label root causes. It’s like a doctor who tries to address an illness with pain killers without trying to understand the cause of the pain. Unless steps are taken to deal with root causes, it is going to be practically impossible to treat the symptoms.

I have identified five root causes which I believe collectively or individually underlie many of the symptoms which I listed earlier. These are a mix of cultural behaviour and structural shortcomings.

A Frontier Mindset Still Dominates

It can be said that the United States was born with a gun in its hand. Moreover, ever since, guns have played a central role in the domestic history of the country. Not just in the Revolution but in the Civil War, in the war of 1812, in the taming of the wild west, in the war on drugs¸ in fueling criminal activity and in the conduct of law enforcement. And, oh yes, occasionally for recreational hunting and recreational target practice. Given this background, is it any wonder that the National Rifle Association is the largest, best funded, most powerful and most effective lobbying organization in the nation?

The wild west and its frontier mindset still exists in the minds of many Americans.

Unfortunately, given all the evidence, there can be no argument that the right to own and use guns has become ingrained as part of the culture of the United States.

This has given rise to a number of well documented consequences which in my view underlie several behavioural problems in the United States. Perhaps most concerning, not only is the gun culture fostering domestic violence but the gun culture is also feeding the nation’s militaristic approach to law enforcement and to international affairs.

Worse, despite the overwhelming evidence of the detrimental effects this culture is having on so many aspects of American life, the culture has become so strong and so imbedded in the fabric of American society that it is going to be virtually impossible to dislodge it from the nation’s psyche. Obviously, there is little political will to address the issue. Therefore, I fear that the American population will have to endure this culture and its terrible impact on the American dream for a long time to come.

Continuing Racism

In my view, racism in its various forms is alive and well and is enjoying a dangerous resurgence in the United States.

As we all know, much of the history of the United States, particularly in the south, encompassed extreme racial discrimination primarily based on colour. Despite the many well intentioned efforts to eliminate it, it still thrives and in many guises. There has been an alarming increase in ugly racial incidents as reported almost daily in the media. The recent episode involving the confederate flag is a case in point. While common sense prevailed to some extent, and the confederate flag has been taken down in some places, this incident exposed the reality that there are and will continue to be many, many Americans who still fervently support the confederate cause including its rallying cry of extreme racism.

I do not define racism as simply colour discrimination although that is what everybody usually thinks of when hearing the word.

In my view, racism takes many forms and in its most basic form it can broadly be defined as an unjustified domination and dehumanization, or attempted domination and dehumanization, by some members of society aimed at others in society to their detriment. Based on this view of racism, the treatment of undocumented immigrants in the United States¸ for example, is definitely racist. Indeed, some analysts are characterizing Donald Trump’s widely supported assault on Mexicans as not just colour racism but, more accurately, anti-foreign racism or country of origin racism.

In any event, racism is definitely at play in America’s ambivalent attitude to all immigration issues.

It is true that undocumented immigration is currently getting the most focus in the political circus taking place these days and Donald Trump’s rants and his threats to build a wall between the United States and Mexico are, regrettably, striking a chord with many, many Americans. One can argue that many of the people who are taking this bait have a superficial view of these issues but the fact is there are lots of them and they are speaking from their hearts and in the process showing their bias.

But, surprisingly, legalized immigration is also increasingly under attack in a number of quarters and it is hard to believe this is happening in a country which was built on immigration. Here, the critics’ argue that any immigration, even legal immigration, is taking jobs from American citizens and must be curtailed. I have no doubt in my mind that once again racism is a major factor behind the thinking of these critics.

Also, the unjustifiable treatment of many minorities by law enforcement and by the legal system smacks of racism. The oppressive treatment of the poor and the homeless certainly has many of the characteristics of racism.

I believe that since all these oppressive behaviours have racist overtones, they can be just as insidious as outright colour racism. At the very least, they reflect an unhealthy mindset which fuels very negative societal consequences and leads to many of the problems I have identified.

Regrettably, I believe that given the resilience of racism and its resurgence, racism in its variety of guises has become ingrained in the cultural fabric of the United States. Worse, given its status as part of the culture, all efforts by well-intentioned citizens to eliminate it will probably fail. This being the case, sad to say, racism and racial violence will likely plague the United States for a very long time to come.

An Emerging Siege Mentality

There are two facets to this concern, namely the issue of trade barriers and the issue of security.

Throughout the 19th century and up to the first world war, isolation and protectionism were two hallmarks of American policy. Following the second world war Americans changed course and became active participants in such organizations as the United Nations, the Marshall Plan, NATO, the World Trade Organization and NAFTA to name a few and have continued to lead the way in many other initiatives to normalize trade relations.

Nevertheless, during this period a number of trade barriers remained in place. This was and is particularly true inside the United States itself where a number of buy local or buy American policies were enacted and remain trade barriers today especially with respect to interstate dealings.

Now that the world is again facing uncertain times, the somewhat latent attitudes toward trade barriers are resurfacing. The shining example once more is Donald Trump and his rants that America is no longer great and Americans must show the world America is boss by, for instance, slapping 30% tariffs on Mexico and China. His views are getting a lot of publicity but also, apparently, a lot of support. More worrisome it is disturbing to see that some other Republican candidates are falling in line with this thinking and also in line with his approach to immigration issues.

There is also a vocal but growing minority group of Americans who feel strongly that the United States should turn its back completely on the troubled parts of the world and let those nations sort out their own problems.

Perhaps even more significantly, there are signs that the United States itself is taking a firmer stand in its trade negotiations with other countries or other trading blocs. Let’s hope that it does not slide back to a more isolationist or protectionist mindset if there is a change in government. In this regard, let’s hope that the people in power remember that isolationism and protectionism did not work historically and are even less likely to work in today’s complex and interdependent world.

Security is another issue which is in the forefront of America’s concerns. Americans are being fed a steady diet of fear….fear of terrorism, fear of nuclear war, fear of weather catastrophes’, fear of criminal incursions, fear of data theft, and on and on.

These phobias, real or perceived, are certainly having a huge impact on Americans’ mindset. It boggles the mind to see the explosive growth in security devices and security services. Firms who supply armaments, security cameras, electronic screening devices, motion detection monitors, etc. or supply encryption services or scanning software or who train or supply armed guards to sit on airplanes, for schools, for border patrol, or for banks and munitions factories, have suddenly found themselves in a growth industry. It is being said, more and more, that Americans have become prisoners in their own country.

This mindset of fear is contributing to many other problems and unfortunately there is no sign it will be abating any time soon. Indeed, there are worrying signs that the politicians will continue to ratchet up the fear factor simply for political gain.

The Role of the Dollar

In the United States, a very few people have way too much money and, more often than not, want more. They also frequently want power and influence.

Also, in the United States, there are many, many people who do not have enough money and whose prospects for earning more are very faint. They are also struggling to achieve a decent standard of living.

Unfortunately, the gap between these two extremes is huge and getting worse.

Fortunately, a growing number of Americans have come to realize that if 1% of the population controls 70% of the wealth, this is unconscionable and a recipe for disaster.

This being the case, more and more experts and scholars support a redistribution of wealth so that the wealth of the country is shared more equitably. This can be achieved relatively easily by making changes in the tax code and using other policy instruments. Some experts are even recommending a guaranteed annual income for everybody. Recently, the Canadian Medical Association at its meeting in Halifax passed a resolution supporting a basic income for everybody. This may be too extreme but at least it could be done without the need to amend the Constitution. In any event, the need to address this problem seems to be picking up steam and maybe, unlike some of the other problems I’ve discussed, something will be done.

In the meantime however, the problem of wealth inequality will continue to be the root cause of many other problems.

Many people will continue to struggle because they can’t achieve a decent standard of living which leads to many other problems. There could be lower standards of education. More people could resort to crime, to drugs and alcohol which would lead to even more incarceration and more demand on social services and on law enforcement. People’s health will undoubtedly suffer and there will probably be more mental health issues. This will put more pressure on the health care system and increase costs. There would, in all probability, be more racial unrest.

Let’s hope that in the very near future there will be the political will to address this extremely important issue which has such a significant impact on the American dream.

In my view, the current political environment is extremely dysfunctional and this is the underlying cause of many, many of America’s problems. In many ways it is the over arching issue which is giving Americans the most headaches.

This concern comes in many flavours and is a mix of cultural concerns and structural concerns, mostly structural concerns.

Culturally, in the last several years there has been a major polarization of political ideologies. Today, they span the full gauntlet from the views of the Tea Party, to the beliefs of the libertarians, to the thinking of the communists. As well, the polarization within the major parties has become very alarming.

Admittedly, in years gone by, polarization has frequently been a problem poisoning the American political environment. However, I contend that polarization in the past has never been as intense or as intrusive as it is now and I believe there are a number of reasons for this.

First, education is an important factor in the mix not only because more people are educated but, often, because there is still a lack of education among some voters. Second, today’s communication technologies allow the instantaneous and widespread dissemination of everyone’s points of view, including propaganda of any kind. Finally, the explosion in social media not only lets everyone have a point of view but¸ again, makes it very easy for anyone to broadcast these views far and wide.

There are also increasing signs that more and more people enjoy the drama surrounding polarized positions for its entertainment value and some pundits claim this a factor in Donald Trump’s sudden popularity.

A Dysfunctional Political Environment

In my view, extreme polarization of the country’s political thinking is now part of the culture and is here to stay for a long time to come.

Apart from the cultural issue, there are several structural problems which feed into the dysfunctional political environment.

First, the checks and balances that the authors of Independence wrote into the Constitution are no longer functioning in the manner intended. To the contrary, the separation of the legislature, the executive and the judiciary as presently structured is resulting in many, many obstacles to the proper functioning of government and virtually guaranteeing there will be no semblance of long term thinking or any hope of bipartisan thinking. This is understandable, if for no other reason, than the world and the complexities of governing are vastly different than when these provisions were crafted.

However, there are no signs or, indeed, any hope that the structure of government will be changed to better deal with the complexities of governing in today’s world. The steps that need to be taken to reform the system in any meaningful way are very intimidating and filled with political mine fields, and this makes it even less likely that there will be any reform.

Next, voter manipulation is another cancer eating away at America’s democratic values. This is largely a structural issue. Voter suppression which involves manipulating the eligibility criteria governing the right to vote for the purpose of disenfranchising certain voters is becoming more widespread. Gerrymandering, which is the practice of manipulating the electoral boundaries of ridings to favour the party in power, is another technique being widely used to stack the deck. There have been some attempts by the courts to better level the playing field but these efforts have been sporadic and not particularly effective.

The problem is that, for the most part, voters’ rights by virtue of the Constitution are under the jurisdiction of each State. As a result, the status of voters’ rights varies widely from State to State and each State guards this right zealously. Under the circumstances, it’s highly unlikely that all 50 States would ever agree to a common set of rules which would apply nationally and in all the States.

Finally, spending on political campaigning has reached scandalous proportions. Ever since the Supreme Court of the United States decreed there could be no limit on political spending if done outside the constraints of a formal campaign ¸ the sky has become the new limit. The explosion in Political Action Committees, particularly those created by spectacularly wealthy individuals such as the Koch Brothers is extremely worrisome. Nobody in their right mind buys into the fairy tale that these millionaires are contributing mega dollars to these PACs for altruistic reasons and do not expect to be able to wield significant political clout in return. Nor, does anybody believe the politicians who protest that they are in no way beholden to these benefactors. And, let’s face it, the imprint of special interest groups on the affairs of government is very plain to see.

For many politicians, the primary business of a politician today is not necessarily to do what’s best for his country. Rather, his primary business objective is to get re-elected. Financial support and lots of it, is key to this objective and this unfettered greasing of the palms is making this much easier for many politicians and, moreover, is mostly to the benefit of the incumbents and this perpetuates the old guard syndrome.

There is another downside to this lavish spending on political campaigns. In today’s environment the cost of conducting even a minimal campaign is very expensive. When virtually unlimited funds are available, candidates will naturally spend more money e.g. more television advertising, more and bigger rallies, bigger campaign buses, more use of aircraft to travel the constituencies, etc., etc. Therefore, the costs of campaigning overall will rise and it becomes a vicious circle.

Costs are already so prohibitive that many highly qualified candidates cannot afford to run especially if they cannot tap into the pools of money more readily available to candidates who already hold office and have an inside track to these funds. Those politicians often have a track record of supporting their benefactors’ interests.

In my opinion, the bottom line to all this is that the political environment, both culturally and structurally, is desperately in need of substantial reform otherwise the United States will continue to decline as a properly functioning nation and as a world power. The trouble is that most of the needed reforms require constitutional amendments. The campaign spending reforms require finding a way around the reasoning of the Supreme Court. Neither solution is likely to happen.

As a Canadian, I would like to close this essay with another concern. I see many of the problems I have discussed finding their way across the border into our country and this is very disconcerting. I very much wish to see us retain our unique Canadian values and our moral compass. This being said, I think we all need to keep in mind the words of our national anthem. Canada, we stand on guard for thee.