POSTED: November 1, 2020
This social distancing and self-imposed isolation protocol is driving me nuts. Ciara too. I like her a lot, she is a great captain and a wonderful person, but this huge boat is much too small at times. She feels the same way. Its not that either of us get on each other’s nerves its more that we are each getting on our own nerves and the other just happens to be living there too. UGGGGGG.
So sometimes we get it in our heads that we will go ashore and do something different. There are some things that we don’t want to put on the food orders that Gabrielle and Gerhardt pay for that are pharmacy and hardware related so we decided to take the little fold-up bikes and panniers and go to the pharmacy and a hardware store that has a lot of home improvement, household and gardening stuff. We checked in with Malcolm and Martha for their little pharmacy and hardware list, and with Gerhardt and Gabrielle and a few other people and off we went.
It felt good to be doing something “normal”.
After our grand shopping trip with both pairs of panniers filled and a couple of extra bags as well, we decided to have a take-away pain au chocolat and café au lait and sat down in the park at a picnic table.
Were we ever in for a treat. The table next to us had six university students who were having coffee and talking politics. One had a German accent (might be from Switzerland or Austria but we assumed German) one with a Scandinavian (difficult to tell if Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, or Finnish) accent, one Brit, one Dutch, and two Americans. They were well into a dialogue about the upcoming election in the United States.
At that point I didn’t know if these were theatre arts students cleverly placed by the cosmos to entertain us, during our rare trip off the boat, or just some very politically engaged young people but it was really interesting to hear. Ciara was totally into it as well so she did not find it strange when I asked her to help me move our table closer to theirs notionally to be “in the sun” but really so we could close enough to catch all the dialogue without being so close to catch the virus.
Eavesdropping I don’t really have an ethical problem with when people are out in public spaces talking about topics that are not personal to them. One of my high school friends, Linda was unbelievably political, even more than Jim, and like Jim and other young people with a “political core”, all worked on political campaigns for the parties they were supporting. Some of them were scrutineers at polling stations, but all worked on the door knocking, handing out literature and that kind of thing- very junior, but equally very necessary tasks.
But Linda, she was in a league of her own. She did all of those things but also rode the bus. I don’t mean the campaign bus, I mean the local bus. Living in Ottawa, which is the capital of Canada, most people were civil servants, in the tech industry or in services businesses dependent on the civil service so most people in that city had a keen eye on the issues, and the various candidates nuanced positions on things. The polls were one measure of how people would respond to questions but when Linda had heard Jim talk about his one and a half hour bus ride twice a week to go to his track and field club that happened at the military base next to the airport and related how much discussion there was on the bus about politics, she was all over it. Her starting point was just riding the routes that were longer express type routes as those had people who were captive for a longer period and would get into longer more complex conversations. At times she would just write things down but on other occasions she would ask the odd question or volunteer a comment to steer the direction of the conversation.
I think she turned this into a fine art when she started comparing the results from her trips in working class neighborhoods vs. the higher end. Her other big extension of this was riding the routes at the end of the work-day that originated at government buildings. Secretaries and assistants, analysts and researchers would at times casually say to a fellow worker how they were burning out from working on a particular project and various little nuggets would fall out. Occasionally she would take a friend and “seed” a conversation with a dialogue on a controversial political issue.
She shared the results but not the methodology of how she was collecting this information with the people she reported to in the campaign and looked like a wizard to them as the polls would often come out a week later reflecting what she had already surmised from her bus reconnaissance. Linda went on to a big career in advertising.
So back to our eavesdropping in the park yesterday. The topics ranged, some of the references to contemporary music and social media stuff neither Ciara or I got but here is what I have as a summary of our eavesdropping.
BLACK LIVES MATTER
Not exclusively an American thing, but largely an American thing. The difference is that while racial discrimination exists everywhere and is institutionalized in many more places than just the U.S. as most black people in other parts of the world are not the descendants of slaves, the depth of the impact of racist acts and comments is less in other places. Most other western democracies have also admitted the atrocities of the past, and are trying, with very mixed results, to move on, so racists are the outliers and not allowed to actually have as much political voice in the mainstream parties and are relegated to fringe political parties or hate groups.
The non- American students were somewhat dumbfounded at the idea of defunding the police, but the magnitude of the incarceration rates (particularly of the non-white males) in the U.S. and the enormity of the budgets for responding to the effects of the inequalities instead of just allocating the resources to reducing inequalities had most of them just shaking their heads and uttering insightful comments like “fucked up”.
POPULIST POLITICAL MOVE TO THE RIGHT
I had never heard the term “Time Warp in Reverse”. It is a reference of course to the songs lyrics from Rocky Horror Picture Show, íts just a jump to the left, and if played backward… well you get the idea. Ciara had to explain it to me. Unfortunately, some of the more contemporary references to music, film and culture were lost on both of us!
The whole movement to the right or extreme right perspectives in Europe, and in the U.S. has a terrible chill for many and certainly for this group of students. Whether its LGBTQ rights in various places in Europe, the big drive in many U.S. states to abolish a woman’s right to chose to have an abortion, or a bunch of old inward looking Brits choosing to piss away their children’s future with Brexit, there is a strong movement to the right. A different kind of Horror Show.
The discussion was also interesting because of the references to the range of political parties in Europe, with many places having a spectrum of parties from the extreme left to the extreme right and it usually being coalitions of these various political parties that form governments so those governments reflect the general mood of the population to the right of where they were previously or to the left, but the coalitions are such that those measures are not as binary as in some two party states, like the U.S. The general consensus among this group was the same as everyone else who does not live in America, the Democrats are way off on the right and the Republicans are further right. One of the students was wearing a “Feel the Bern” T Shirt and another had a Bernie button on her bag.
Kamala Harris was acknowledged as young, smart, black and a woman but dismissed as a disappointment for still being so damn right wing in her views and her inclusion on the ticket as a half step by the Democrats in actually trying to think about America moving forward.
UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE
I thought this was going to be a good topic when it came up but it hardly got any response. All but two of these young people were Europeans so the debate of whether universal health care is a good thing is a bit like trying to find someone to debate the merits of Cancer.
Some of Bernies thoughts on education for all was brought up but for these European students it got the same reaction as universal health care – something that is self evident in any civilized society.
Ciara had gone off to the washroom in the café and came back with a couple of really fine Swedish style cinnamon rolls. The pain au chocolat had been excellent and these looked just as good. I love the way various traditional cultural dishes have travelled around the world and can be so faithfully reproduced elsewhere. One taste of these little rolls could take you right back to sitting at a café in Stockholm. If you find yourself in Sweden one day, get a coffee and ask for a Kanelbullar.
It seems that I am off topic here, but Ciara reported when she came back that while waiting for the washroom she had a chat with one of the people from the group we were eavesdropping on. They were a group of students who were all studying at a university in the Netherlands in a masters program in Comparative Culture. The program was conducted in English so attracted lots of international students and like most graduate programs the assumption is that a participant will learn as much from their fellow students as from the coursework itself. So this bunch had been off for an inexpensive mid-term holiday to Malta in March when Covid hit and just stayed and were working from here online in their own little bubble and while living together in another culture were experiencing their own cross cultural experience.
WHO IS MORE DAMAGING THAN TRUMP?
Well this would appear to be a rhetorical question wouldn’t it? Ah but not for this insightful little panel of political aficionados. They were downing some beer at this point and we actually moved our table back to where it belonged as the volume had increased and the potential risks of contracting the plague had as well.
So who is more damaging than Trump? First up was the reference to Mitch McConnell and his band of self-interested Republicans in the Senate and in some ways this relates to George Floyd. The Dutch girl referenced that the officers who were standing by when Derek Chauvin had his knee on the neck of George Floyd are as guilty if not more guilty than he was. When in an intense situation like that she argued that we might imagine that the adrenaline gets flowing really well and can overpower good decision making. But if you are one of the ones who is not in the active fight for control its your responsibility to get your fellow officer off of the person they are trying to subdue. The accomplice in this context may be worse than the person committing the act.
Similarly, Donald Trump doesn’t know the intricacies of the geopolitical world, the interconnectivity of so many political and economic elements or the laws that govern the United States or even the conventions that govern human behaviour. Mitch McConnell does. So for the Senate Majority Leader to chose to ignore the terrible actions, tweets and policies of the tyrant in the White House simply because of the desire to cling to power is more unacceptable in a seasoned politician, the head of the senate majority and a trained lawyer.
Parenthetically one of the American students pointed out that he may be a trained lawyer but is not a house- trained senator. It was not clear to me if this was a joke regarding house trained as in a pets house training or an insight relating to the House of Representatives trained.
There was some clear agreement by the picnic table panel that this year could be identified as THE YEAR OF THE ACCOMPLICES.
The second response to the question of who is worse for America than Trump is the capitalists who fuel not only the Republican party but much of the Democratic party as well. Within sight of our little park there was a bit of graffiti on a building that got some discussion.
Here is the summary: Capitalism works when its on a small scale. I’m a plumber, you make furniture and someone else is a baker. We all work hard, and all of our kids swim in the same lake. So we don’t dump chemicals in the lake, and we respect our neighbors who work at our business. But if its big publicly traded multi-national capitalism however, our motivations are not with the people we live with in the town, or who work for us, or the customers who buy our bread or furniture or plumbing services but the shareholders. And the shareholders don’t care about the lake, don’t care about the workers and if we can’t deliver good investment returns for them they will find someone who can.
Covid has revealed that terrible truth in the United States of how if you don’t work you don’t have health care, and there is a bit of the idea in America that perhaps that’s the way it should be. The massive lobby and political financial support by big pharma and the insurance companies to keep the existing private health insurance arrangements in place are only outranked in their bad intent by the NRA in their control of the system to keep guns on the streets. Big funds go to both the parties to keep change from really occurring.
While the stones were being thrown at the Americans in this regard and their extreme disregard for environmental stewardship and sustainability, it was not aimed exclusively at them. It doesn’t matter if you are Canadian Mining company operating in Indonesia that hides behind a local governments week environmental policy or a U.K. company that hides behind very low worker rights standards in some developing countries, the issue is the same.
At this point there were lots of others standing around in the park listening to the debate and some had sat down on the grass and were enjoying it as well.
And that brings in the third response to who is more damaging than trump – anyone who votes for him. It is those people who are sufficiently self interested that they support him out of their own greed or personal goals. They want lower taxes instead of better health care, more freedom instead of more self control and less government instead of a fair society. These are the people who can’t wear a mask. Public health is not for your health – its for everyone else’s.
I am really with these students on this. My sense is that if most republicans and Democrats in the U.S. were surveyed and asked if they could choose between being better off personally or something that would benefit society (end disease, eliminate hunger, reduce inequalities, better health care or education or…..) that the majority of both groups would choose self interest. Yes there would be serious differences between the two parties, and yes some real variations depending on socio economic position, age, etc. But if you went back and did the survey thirty or forty years ago, I bet that the number who would choose self interest over the public good would be significantly lower. Kennedys inauguration speech in January 1961 about asking not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country was pretty self evident at the time, and not at all self evident today. This sadly seems to be the trend throughout the world today.
The exception to this rather self evident truth? I think its the millennials and other young people. The support for Bernie Sanders, and other presidential nominees on the left side of the Democratic party was fueled by their support and energy.
A RIGGED CONSTITUTION
For the most part the two Americans, a black young man, and and a white young woman, sporting an LGBTQ shirt and a Feel the Bern button on her satchel, had been among the quieter of the group, but came alive on this topic.
The gist of this was that while the United States has all of these problems they are all the secondary results of not having a constitution that was designed to protect and govern the people, but a set of arrangements to continue to perpetuate the control by the ruling class. When a constitution is written that way at a time when slavery was a fundamental part of the society, white women were only one step above that and when it was self evident to those drafting it that America was tied to trusting not its own political decision making but its one Christian God, the demand for equality that would come with the passage of time would quickly outdate this self interested set of rules.
A big discussion point on this was the ongoing challenges of a Supreme Court appointment of someone who answers to her god first, and believes that her country needs to answer that way as well because that is what was drafted at the time the “rule book” was written up. Even the tools to amend the constitution are unworkable. It has resulted in where the United States is today on social welfare, gun control, a woman’s right to choose and even democracy itself. And the limits of the Supreme court to “interpret” the constitution cant turn a game of checkers into a game of chess.
I had not realized until that eavesdropping session yesterday that in some U.S. States black women only got the unfettered right to vote in the mid 1960’s.
While others participated in this constitutional and senate appointment segment, these two young Americans had come alive and I had visions of one of them re-enacting Delacroix’s Liberty Leading The People right there on the picnic table!
It had been a full day for us. We were stimulated, and bit drained and rode our little bikes that were bulging with our shopping, back to the marina in time to work on dinner. That night Ciara and I related all of this over a dinner with Malcolm, Martha, Gerhardt and Gabrielle on the dock. I was still trying to process the day and did not have the time or energy to prepare a multi course meal so just made pasta with super colossal sized grilled shrimp, and a baguette we had bought that day.
Over dinner, as Ciara and I related it to the others, many of the ideas presented gelled for me, mainly because of the thoughts that the others brought to the discussion that night.
Martha was commenting that democracy in application comes in many different forms, ranging from a true reflection of what people think and want, to a rather contrived version as in Russia. Her take on it as an American, is that for all of the United States sense that democracy is a notion they are the great example of, their version is a very limited vision where the two electoral machines that the two parties have become are somewhat separate from the people. She also was reflecting on how for all the promise that democracy suggests, it is also the opportunity for the public at times to elect true demons.
It was at this point that Gerhardt weighted in. Gerhardt is usually quiet or very jovial. I think that is just his nature but I think at least part of his upbeat spirit is to keep Gabrielle on a positive note. So when he rarely comments on serious matters the words take on an aura of gravitas. His comment, which took on more significance at least for me with his heavy German accent, was: “Both Hitler and Trump were duly elected.”
We had all been enjoying the wine that Malcolm and Martha had brought and some of the discussion and these last comments had the real possibility of taking us into a serious downward spiral. I find myself having to work at not spiraling down many days since Covid became part of our lives, so as I topped up his wine glass, I posed a question to Malcolm: “ tell me something good that will come from this election”.
Now this guy thinks a lot. Has been a professor at some of the top U.S. universities and being on the wrong side of eighty he has seen many things come and go. He had little hesitation and some very clear thoughts I will try to convey as accurately as possible.
First, the conclusions of the students we had eavesdropped on yesterday were correct in their conclusion of the “winner” of the upcoming election – America lost.
Second, in the application of the classic pendulum theory of politics if the Democrats are elected and then make it to a second term that will start to rebalance both policy and the courts and redefine their positive role in international affairs.
But third and most importantly, with the election of so right wing and uninspired a Democrat to the White House there is a real possibility of a new split in each of the two parties. The progressive Democrats will vote as a block and force the rest to embrace some positive changes in social welfare, taxation and human rights. If the party as a whole does not change a new more progressive party will splinter off or at least a group of independents with similar views will leave the party and vote as an independent block.
Similarly, the Republicans being defeated in the election will each blame the Democrats publicly, but privately will blame the other portion of their own party that was too liberal or too conservative. The Tea Party will re-emerge on the right which will free the more progressive of the Republicans to get their party back and potentially even move to a more enlightened place in the political spectrum.
Malcolm and Martha both went into many examples in Europe of how this very process occurred, and how the party differentiations continue to evolve.
So for the election in the U.S. in 2024 we may see four parties or at least more very credible, respected independents. Of course all of this change is also happening in the United States at a time when a revolution is going on in race relations, and the world is in the midst of a pandemic.
The day had been a big one and as I settled in to bed that night I had a much more positive take on the world that is in conflict, and under siege from a virus, but that has had a long history of learning and relearning how to grow. And just to put things in perspective I had a nice day out with Ciara, and dinner with friends, exercised my mind, and had a couple of nice coffees that are better than I can make, a very nice pain au chocolate and a fabulous kanelbullar.