A Canadian’s view of the U.S. Presidential Election.
I’m an international student at Green Mountain College who grew up about thirty minutes away from the U.S. border in Ontario. Though I was a watching it all as a spectator, I can remember the election of 2008 very clearly. In the final weeks of the struggle between John McCain and Barack Obama there was this sense of optimism. Since the attacks of September 11th it seemed like Americans were sinking into a depression about the state of the country. By 2008, American lives were were being lost in far flung countries and the economy was in free fall. When John McCain failed to distance himself enough from the policies of his predecessor, Barack Obama quickly became the symbol of hope and change in America. Policies that promised recovery, plus the prospect of the first person of colour to hold high office, convinced the majority and history was made. The reaction from around the world was incredibly positive. North of the border in Ontario I can remember how everyone was talking about the new president. Some believed he would deliver on his promises, some thought that America was too deep in trouble to see any sort of immediate change.
You see, Canada is like your gossipy neighbor. We are polite when you interact with us, but we will inevitably judge everything you do when we start talking amongst ourselves. One of the biggest cliches about us is how reserved we are. That may be true for some, but most Canadians are pretty disdainful of our louder cousins. Stereotypes about manners, foreign policy, and hockey skills (we won’t mention how no Canadian teams made the playoffs this year) are usually thrown around when Americans are mentioned.
But Canadians are still fascinated by U.S. affairs, and with the exception of mystical talk about the great white north and our snow and maple syrup, that fascination can be a one-way street. As much as the majority of Canucks wouldn’t like to admit it, a great deal of the culture of Canada is tied to that of our southern cousins. Canada is the United States’ largest trading partner, Canadians watch American television (yes, if you were wondering, the Kardashians have infiltrated my country, too) and every major American sporting event has a loyal Canadian audience. This spring, reality TV for Canadians seems to be the ongoing American political saga, like Survivor, only the contestants are discussing universal healthcare, rebuilding the middle class and banning muslims from the island. Only this game show has the highest stakes of all, deciding who ends up in the White House come November.
American politics inevitably makes waves north of the border every election year simply because of how the direction of the U.S. will likely influence that of Canada. Over the past few months it has generally been the provocative headlines that most Canadians are interested in. Most of us do not actually know a great deal about the policies of any of the candidates but rather the most provocative sound bytes that have trickled northward via mass media. American politics this year is seen as a gaggle of politicians sparring in debates with the favourites (that’s right I spell it with a ‘u’ unlike you Yankees) being Hillary Clinton Donald Trump. These two dominate a great deal of Canadian coverage(as they do in the U.S.) which ultimately means that the whole story is often left out. Canadians do not get a sense of the wider scope of political choice posed by this year’s Candidates that ironically resembles their own more than any other U.S. election.
In fact the wider range of legitimate candidates this year means that for the first time in many years Americans may have a degree of the sort of political choice that Canadians have with a multiple party political system. You can almost envision Hillary in the Liberal party, Bernie Sanders in the New Democratic Party, and Ted Cruz and Donald Trump on the right side of the Conservatives (there is no parallel party in the United States for the Bloc Quebecois, or the French Canadians for that matter. It’s a stretch, but maybe Texas?).
Barack Obama correctly predicted how important social media campaigning would be when he spent ten times more money than his competitor Mitt Romney. That type of publicity has been at the heart of the last few months’ debates and it is almost seems like a battle of who can express their policies in under 140 characters. Quotes from each night’s debates are lit up with fancy graphics and shared exponentially over the internet to be read the next morning.
That is not to say that political celebrities only exist in America. In November of last year, Canada held an election (you’re forgiven if you didn’t know about this, Canadian elections are a little less publicized in the U.S.) to determine its prime minister, in which Liberal Justin Trudeau beat the incumbent Stephen Harper of the conservative party. Trudeau won a landslide victory that both displayed the dissatisfaction within the country for Harper’s social and environmental platform as well as Trudeau’s immense popularity. His father, the famous Pierre Trudeau, became incredibly popular with many Canadians for his charismatic personality and his progressive approach to issues such as sexual identity and abortion rights during the tumultuous 1960’s.
His son has channelled that sort of appeal himself. His good looks, picture perfect family and his liberal approach to 21st century issues has resulted in ‘Trudeaumania’ amongst Canadians and comparisons to the sort of stardom that John F. Kennedy enjoyed (I still suspect that some of Trudeau’s success is due to his impeccable hair. Canadians have a strange fascination with somewhat wavy medium length hair or ‘flow’).
It would seem that even Donald Trump has a Canadian parallel. Some people in the U.S. have drawn comparisons between the Republican frontrunner and the controversial late mayor of Toronto Rob Ford, who was implicated in a string of scandals in 2013. Now to be fair to Mr. Trump, he has not smoked crack cocaine or even said blatantly racist slurs on camera (liberals will disagree) but the similarity lies in the pair’s supporters. After Rob Ford’s scandals he defied all naysayers in the subsequent election. His popularity soared much as Mr.Trump’s has with each controversial comment.
The unfamiliar feeling of this election year has meant that there is a fascination with how open and unpredictable the future of the presidency is for Americans and people around the world. You only have to ask yourself how different the last fifteen years would have been had the election gone in the favour of Al Gore and not George Bush. Even if not directly, the politics of the United States affects the whole world and the decisions a president makes can be felt wherever you go. As much as many Americans seem to believe that they can simply move to Canada (you’re welcome to, just accept that Timmies beats Dunkin every time) to escape whatever is in store for their country. But I’m not sure it works like that. As much as Canada dictates its own policies (that’s right–do I hear universal healthcare and the possibility of guaranteed minimum income?) there are still so many things on the line when America decides on her head of state. Whether we like it or not, what happens this November really does matter for every country.