Losing the struggle for values

Dr Zack Cooper a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and Laura Rosenberger, a Senior Fellow at and Director of the Alliance for Securing Democracy in Washington, DC, say, in an article in Foreign Affairs that in “today’s competition between democracies and authoritarian powers is more than a power struggle: values lie at its heart. For democracies to succeed, they need not only to act in accordance with their values but also to understand that those values are their principal competitive advantage, and to use them as the source of strength that they are.

The current contest between democracies and autocracies,” they posit, “is not primarily a military one. Rather,” they say, “it takes place in the political, economic, technological, and information spaces, where authoritarian challengers—especially China and Russia—have seized the initiative. These states have strengthened their hands at home while undermining democratic institutions and alliances abroad. Around the world, democratic leadership and values appear to be in retreat.

Too many countries, Canada included, seem, to me, to be afraid to stand up to China. Australia is a notable and welcome exception. America seems to be pushing back but for the past few years we have been unsure if it is standing up for democracy or merely practicing transactional power politics, trying to seek redress for numerous trade grievances. The United Kingdom, the European Union and India are also taking steps to try to contain China. In the case of Russia, Canada seems a little more “on side,” but it is, for the moment, the American administration that is “off side.”

Fortunately,” Dr Cooper and Ms Rosenberger write, “well-functioning democracies have essential advantages in each domain of competition. They are more politically responsive than autocracies, both because they adhere to the rule of law and because civil societies help governments maintain the consent of their people. Economically, democratic governments with properly governed markets tend to promote healthy competition and to direct resources efficiently and equitably. That economic dynamism, coupled with personal freedoms, attracts global talent, which spurs innovation in the field of technology; and the competition of ideas fosters creative and productive public debates in the domain of information. Democracies that are properly governed and thoughtful about how to leverage these assets will find them to be of lasting strategic value.

This ~ “Democracies that are properly governed and thoughtful about how to leverage these assets” ~ is where I worry about Canada and its current government. I worry that Canada, since 2015, has not been properly governed, and I worry that the Trudeau Liberals are thoughtless about the value of our liberal institutions.

Part of my concern is the extraordinary and frequently dishonest polarization of opinion that we see in some Canadian media. Some news organizations, some of which function as little more than the propaganda arms of some political parties have no regard for the truth. They see themselves as being in the service of a higher cause: most often preventing the triumph of conservatism. This is not unique to Canada; it is, I suspect, even more pronounced in the USA but I am dismayed at how many people believe it.

Democracies,” Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger, say “need to be resilient in the face of information manipulation and data exploitation, but they cannot compromise on free expression or the open flow of information online.” But this, it seems to me is exactly the opposite of the direction in which Propaganda Heritage Minister Steven Guilbeault and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau …

… are trying to push Canada. They seem to want the Canada of tomorrow to be more and more like autocracies, more like China and Russia, with carefully regulated information flows, rather than like Australia, Britain and New Zealand and Canada, today.

Dr Cooper and Ms Rosenbereger say that “Offsetting autocratic advances will require democracies to seize on the advantages inherent to their open systems. They must build resilience into democratic institutions by increasing political and financial transparency, protecting voting rights, addressing systemic racism and inequality, bolstering independent media, and strengthening civil society. At the same time, they can exploit the brittleness of authoritarian systems by harnessing truthful information and exposing corruption. A values-based strategy to counter authoritarianism may require democratic policymakers to think and organize themselves in new ways in order to compete in a contest that blurs distinctions between offense and defense and among domestic, economic, and foreign policies.” I believe that the Trudeau regime must, in any fair-minded analysis, get a failing grade in “increasing political and financial transparency.” The regime’s reaction to the WE Charity Scandal ~ redacted documents, proroguing parliament and filibustering committees ~ suggests very strongly, that the government ~ the prime minister, personally and his staff and most ministers and many MPs ~ is using our institution to cover up serious, even criminal wrongdoing.

Canada was a country of strong values …

… leaders, of all parties, may have disagreed, vehemently, with one another on matters if policy but for more than a century there was little question of honesty ~ alcohol consumption, maybe, but not personal honesty.

One of the longest standing attributes of Canadian social and political culture is knee-jerk anti-Americanism … but it is coupled with a quite shameless envy of the ‘American dream,’ including America’s wealth and way of life. In the early 1960s Canada’s political leadership alternated between two First World War veterans, John Diefenbaker and Lester Pearson …

.. while in the USA the young, charismatic John F Kennedy presided over a new Camelot. He was a war veteran, too, and he served in the same war as about 1 Million Canadian voters who were between the ages 35 and 60. He connected with the ‘greatest generation,’ and so no one noticed that John Diefenbaker, not John Kennedy, stood up for the whole West against apartheid, and no one noticed that Mike Pearson, not John Kennedy made the United Nations work for peace. But, everyone noticed the style … it was the television age and I remember that, in 1960, Richard M Nixon was the better debater, clearly better informed than then Senator Kennedy, but his image, even his ‘five o’clock shadow,’ didn’t work on TV. Many experts agree that John F Kennedy was a “made for TV” president, elected despite being, compared to Richard Nixon, something akin to an expensively educated lightweight.

Canada, as we so often do, opposed America’s actions, especially the Vietnam War which was, in truth, John F Kennedy’s war, but we admired what America had, in this case a young, energetic media star for a leader. We wanted one, too; and we found him, waiting in the political wings, in the person of Pierre Elliot Trudeau. I have described, before, how he, a man of quite limited vision, changed our country, but he, too, was a made for TV leader. And the media was made for him. It, largely, ignored policy and made fun of the fumbling of a decent man of considerable accomplishment even gravitas …

Top five gaffes from previous Canadian elections
Lord Durham's report on the affairs of British North America; : Durham,  John George Lambton, Earl of, 1792-1840 : Free Download, Borrow, and  Streaming : Internet Archive

… because the media, was, even then, being led around by a cruelly adept public relations team which said “ignore Canada’s increasing isolationism and the rapidly rising national debt look at him, instead: he dropped the ball.” Our values took a big hit in the 1970s, they took, very much, second place to a mix of image and identity politics. Canadians have wrestled with national unity since before Lord Durham made it a hot topic in the 1830s. In the 1960s and ’70s it rose to the surface, again. The Liberal Party‘s campaign team convinced Canadians that only a French speaking Québécois could lead us out of the morass. In fact, of course, Pierre Trudeau suspended civil liberties and, almost single handedly, provoked the rise of René Lévesque and the Parti Québécois and, thereby, almost destroyed Canada. But the media said we needed a Québécois to hold Québéc in Canada (identity mattered more than policy) and the media loved Pierre Trudeau and that was all that mattered.

And so we come full circle. Fifty years ago the US-led West faced an implacable foe in the form of communist ideology and ambitions of the USSR; Canada went ‘offside‘ when Pierre Trudeau tried to abandon NATO and cosy up to China, Cuba and Russia. Today, as the US-led West prepares to face renewed threats from Russia and an equally implacable foe in China, Justin Trudeau appears to be ‘offside,’ too.

I think that Zack Cooper and Laura Rosenberger are right. I believe that our liberal values are our great strength. It’s a pity that, yet again, Canada is led by another illiberal Trudeau: one who has scant regard for real liberalism or the values inherent in it.

By Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

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