In a typical pre-coronavirus Canadian scene, supporters of public health care demonstrate in public to protect a fundamental Canadian value from neoliberal dogma (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Who would have thought a decade ago, or even six months back, that Canada’s chances of surviving as a unified country would be better than those of the United States?

The thought the mighty United States of America — e pluribus unum, and all that — could be on the cusp of an existential crisis is still unthinkable to most in those disunited states. Little commentary anywhere has suggested this is even a vague possibility, let alone an actual thing. Not, at least, until California Governor Gavin Newsom declared himself to be the leader of a “nation-state.”

Civil War American President Abraham Lincoln in 1858 (Photo: Abraham Byers, 1836-1920, Public Domain).

And yet, as the revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin famously observed, “There are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks when decades happen.” Now that we’ve lived through a few of those weeks, we might want to reassess our eternal verities.

The growing fault lines in American society are more obvious daily, even if no one is paying much attention.

The one most likely to be pointed out in online commentary is the sheer incompetence and malice of the Trump Presidency. And yet, as many mainstream commentators have pointed out, Donald J. Trump is merely a product of a party, an economy and a political system that are deeply dysfunctional. Nevertheless, the United States has survived presidents almost as bad as Mr. Trump, and could survive his administration too, all things being equal.

Russian revolutionary Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (Photo: Pavel Semyonovich Zhukov, 1870-1942, Public Domain).

Likewise, America has congenital flaws — its sclerotic, fundamentally undemocratic slaveholder constitution and its deeply ingrained racism, two striking examples each tied one to the other. Yet in 244 years since the Declaration of Independence that has not been enough to tear the United States apart either, although it was a near thing in the 1860s.

Americans assumed, as did the rest of us, that President Abraham Lincoln had settled that question forever — as indeed he did for the past 155 years. But that the father of waters will flow unvexed to the sea for another century and a half no longer seems a certainty.

Brett Crozier, former captain of the USS Roosevelt (Photo: United States Navy).

As Mr. Lincoln observed, drawing from Scripture, “a house divided against itself, cannot stand.” And the United States in the annus horribilis 2020 is a house divided against itself — the immediate cause the divisive intentions of the Trump Presidency and the global coronavirus plague, but the underlying malady is the ideological virus of neoliberal economics.

The refusal to plan, reliance on globalized supply lines for food and medicine, the treatment of any prudent act of planning or stockpiling materiel as mere inefficiencies have exacerbated the current crisis. But these are merely symptoms of neoliberalism.

The problem is its deadly ideology — as potentially fatal to states as individuals — best summarized by neoliberalism’s patron saint Margaret Thatcher in 1987: “You know, there’s no such thing as society. There are individual men and women and there are families.”

Margaret Thatcher, the patron saint of neoliberalism (Photo: Official portrait, artist unknown).

Thanks to this bogus doctrine, which serves both to mask and justify the power of certain families, the United States is now a house divided against itself, the fault lines made obvious by the dual catastrophes of Trumpism and COVID-19.

There is class war, of course, prosecuted not just by Mr. Trump and his administration, but by the whole United States Congress and its corporate funders. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who died 75 years ago yesterday, may have saved capitalism from itself for a few generations, but the dark spell cast by neoliberal dogma persuaded the American ruling class it could dispense with the New Deal altogether, and so it really seemed for a spell.

Russian dissident Andrei A. Amalrik in 1976 (Photo: Hans Peters, Creative Commons).

Now the only institution of the New Deal still mostly whole is the United States armed forces. This may not be England in 1819, but if you don’t think that’s a two-edged sword to all who wield, just watch the video of Capt. Brett Crozier departing the aircraft carrier named for the other President Roosevelt!

Beyond the continuing class war, the United States is almost literally two countries — or more, if you go as Mr. Newsom did by geography. One, a Third World backwater, bedevilled by ignorance and theocracy; the other, a modern social democratic state, educated and productive, being dragged kicking and screaming back into a darkening dystopia in which even the fiction of universal suffrage appears to be disappearing.

U.S. President Donald J. Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, may not yet have perished from the earth, but everywhere in the United States it is under assault or the battle has been lost.

That could have gone on, possibly until the nightmare end, without Trump, without COVID. Now, I’m not so sure. Given the president’s conduct, the support for it in flyover America, and the death it is bringing, can Calexit or Nyexit be far away? Or even Texit?

Remember, the world laughed in 1970 when Andrei Alekseevich Amalrik asked “Will the Soviet Union Survive until 1984?” Well, you can argue, he was wrong about the details. There was no war with China, and the USSR survived until 1991.

California Governor Gavin Newsom (Photo: Gage Skidmore, Creative Commons).

Yet he laid bare many of the fissures in Soviet society. Of Russia under its sclerotic Communist Party leadership, he observed: “Many peasants find someone else’s success more painful than their own failure. In general, when the average Russian sees that he is living less well than his neighbour, he will concentrate not on trying to do better for himself but rather on trying to bring his neighbour down to his own level.” If this doesn’t sound like flyover America under Mr. Trump, seen through the lens of neoliberalism instead of communism, you haven’t been paying attention.

And consider this: If it had been the North that resolved in 1860 to leave the Union, the United States would undoubtedly be at least two disunited countries today. One would be of the Third World, the other of the First. The northern one would be a lot like Canada.

Our own domestic neoliberals are quick to cry “Canada is broken” whenever they aren’t getting their way. They scoff at the idea that our great system of national public health care, which began in Saskatchewan in only 1962 and quickly spread across the country, is a distinct part of our national character.

And yet, it is the popularity of our universal, national single-payer health care system that has been the rallying point of Canadian resistance to the worst depredations of neoliberal dogma, our vaccination against the virus of neoliberalism. It remains our hope.

As such, it is part of the glue that continues to hold our country together.

Canada is not broken, no matter how much the Conservative parties of the Prairies wish it were.

The U.S.A. is broken.

Join the Conversation


  1. Yes, the US is probably closer to the precipice than most imagine. Unlike Canada, they seem to take their unity for granted as if the civil war settled things forever. Of course the fault lines did not ever disappear and recently have been made wider by Trump, who amongst other things is the great divider.

    I suspect there is particularly now a lot of resentment in places like California and NY against those that put Trump in power. He seems to have a vendetta against them and even when not deliberately trying seems to generally make things worse for those states. Of course, an election is coming soon and if they get rid of the great divider, the country may be able to repair enough of the damage to keep together.

    Whatever the outcome for the US is, it is interesting that the virus crisis seems to have caused Federal/Provincial perenial sniping to virtually stop in Canada and various polticians of different parties have come together. It is not amazing that people can pull together like this in a crisis, but it is interesting that it has happened in Canada and not the US.

  2. Remarkable piece, as usual. I didn’t know how much of a patriot I was until the Wexiteers started to get excited about hijaking my land and selling it to another country.

    1. They’ve been quiet lately, haven’t they? Even Jason Kenney no longer appears to be fed-baiting as much as before. Kind of hard to maintain the charade when it’s so blindingly obvious that without the federal government, Alberta would be hooped.

      1. Monday April 13, 2020

        Did not prevent Jason Kenney from picking up fight with Theresa Tam, Chief Public Health Officer of Canada.
        Reminds me of the fight Stephen Harper picked with Beverly McLachlin, former Chief Justice of Canada in 2014. Is Jason Kenney still playing from that tired old book?

      2. Oh, they’re still all over Twitter, wailing like banshees about the depredations of other provinces on Alberta’s precious vital essence. The interesting thing is they don’t seem to have changed their arguments in the face of the complete collapse of the oil markets and their province’s economic downturn. We are all likely facing a nasty, dreadful and terrifying depression in the next five or more years, and they’re still convinced that an independent Alberta will be rich and prosperous loosed from the shackles of the Laurentian Leeches.

        They’re certifiable, and they’re still out there.

  3. Climenhaga is spot on about the U.S. being broken — it’s been broken for a very, very long time.

    America’s current state of political dysfunctionality didn’t just happen overnight. It had a lot of help from fervid right-wing bedfellows within the Republican Party who were raging neoliberal, libertarian types.

    Newt Gingrich, who political scientists have credited with playing a key role in undermining political decorum in the United States, and hastening political polarization and partisanship, brought a new abrasive demeanor to American politics. The GOP Tea Party Caucus later emerged with such political stalwarts (insert sarcasm here) as Rand Paul, Louie Gohmert and Steve Scalise presiding as poster boys. Add the anarchist-leaning Republican Freedom Caucus — featuring neoliberal fanboys Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Mick Mulvaney — to the mix and you begin to see the current devolution of political discourse in America and how the evolution of Donald Trump transpired. No way would the aforementioned political players ever support universal health care — it’s anathema to their bent and rigid ideology.

  4. It’s too bad this pandemic had to break out in the midst of an election year. Which means the virus and everything associated with it has become hyper-partisanized. You don’t know what to believe anymore. The only thing we do know Trump will be blamed for everything even though the problems with the American Way of Life existed long before he stumbled onto the scene.

    For the record Joe Biden has already stated he will veto any single payer health care bill if he becomes President. So if anyone thinks going to the polls this November and voting Trump out of office will result a return to civilized normalcy sorry to disappoint. The neoliberal virus will live on.

    1. “For the record Joe Biden has already stated he will veto any single payer health care bill if he becomes President.”
      No need to think Mr. Befuddled would ever have to. Despite the horrors inflicted by Covid-19, bought and paid for Blue Dog Democrats and right wing Republicans in both Houses of Congress will ensure single payer never sees the light of day.

      Great post, David.

  5. “The real difficulty is with the vast wealth and power in the hands of the few and the unscrupulous who represent or control capital. Hundreds of laws of Congress and the state legislatures are in the interest of these men and against the interests of working people. These need to be exposed and repealed. All laws on corporations, on taxation, on trusts, wills, descent, and the like, need examination and extensive change. This is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people no longer. It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations. How is this?” Diary entry (March 11, 1888) – Rutherford B. Hayes – 19th President of the United States.
    Not that Canada is all that much different for the so-called elites with the off-shore tax evasion through trusts and whatever other ways they hide the $$$ (individuals and corporations).
    However, when will Canadians recognize that the old saying from the playground: ‘Possession is 90% of the law”, is really about the volumes of laws that rule our nations, and so many others. This is partly what needs to change so that we can really have a commons life for the many.

  6. Thanks, David.

    You’ve written some good pieces but this one is really good.

    All empires end and we are witnessing the end of the US as we know it. It’s been a long process as you say but when things start they can transpire in the blink of an eye.

  7. The US is broken. Capitalism, as it’s practiced today, is broken. The global environment is breaking, largely as a result of the first two.

    Our way out of this is for a great many of us to become familiar with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.
    Marx thought it the grand economic lie that “the interests of the capitalist and of the worker are … one and the same”. This is exactly what Kenney and harper ( and Thatcher et al) have been promoting for 40 years. This is what conservatives have become.

    A little Marxism will go a long ways to kicking these buggers to the curb.

  8. When exactly did “government of the people, by the people, for the people” exist in the US? During the period in which the indigenous population was deprived of sovereignty over the land, or would it have been when slavery was used to establish the US as an economic power? Perhaps the people were behind the wheel in the era of sharecropping or the period when the US had four or five times the rate of casualties in the mining industry of European countries? Was it the people’s government that created the Committee on Public Information, the first real high-tech psy-op conducted against the US population in order to get them on board to stop Kaiser Wilhelm from eating all the Belgian babies? Perhaps the government of, by and for the people was in charge when Generals Patton, Eisenhower and Macarthur’s forces attacked the Bonus Marchers? All bad guesses? Was it the “of, by and for (up with people?) government” that had J. Edgar Hoover as head of the state police for five decades? Perhaps it was the “people’s government” that looted the country to pay for the desolation of Vietnam?
    The US was created, like any state, as a mechanism for a tiny oligarchy to manage the masses that were requried to generate wealth. Like Canada. Canada just remained less developed, with a relatively tiny population, and thus less overtly unequal.

  9. I recall from my time hanging with young conservatives of various stripes years, the matter of universal public health care was a point of contention during many a pub/politics discussion.

    What do CONs think of universal public health care? They think it’s a bad thing, generally.

    The Red Tories argue that it’s a public resource that is available to anyone. Not an unreasonable position. Should it be fully funded? Well…that’s where things get messy. Options were tossed around, like mandated low-cost universal health care premiums to support public funding. Another option was the addition of a private tendered-bid health care insurance add-on, meant to provide coverage for elective treatments not covered in the public financed option.

    Based on this, Red Tories had a more thoughtful approach to preserving and managing public health care, but they operated from a position that it was essential for all citizens and businesses.

    As for the ReformCONs, which there were usually more of at these pub nights, they took an approach that would be called irresponsible in the extreme.

    From what I recall, considering that the ReformCONs prided themselves on being a pious lot, they drank like fish. It wasn’t social drinking; it was drinking as an extreme sport. I have no doubt that many of them now are likely functioning-alcoholics or dead.

    Anyway, as they chugged down their pints and shots, the ReformCONs waxed on about the perfection of Ayn Rand and an unfettered free-market economy. They denounced state-sponsored anything as creeping statism, Stalinism, Maoism, Communism, Sandinista-ism and a host of other isms. In their drunken minds, public health care was a means of toward abortion on demand, forced sterilization, gender-transition on demand…you name it. Public health care was a means to protect every conceivable perservion humanity was capable of.

    Once that crazy got out of the way, the elephant in the room reared its head at last.

    Public health care assures that the stupid and the poor will live. Wow. Public health care prevents the inevitable tide of social Darwinism.

    Free political discussions are fine, but in the presence of alcohol makes things not only more fun, it also reveals the hidden truths on the gathered partisan interest.

    “In vino veritas.”

    In wine lies the truth. And also the stupid, as well.

  10. I can only say something much less profound. It is clear now from the images that Donald Trump bought his wig somewhere near 10 Downing Street. Likely he referred Boris Johnson to the same shop.

  11. Donald Trump is the designated snake oil salesman of this Republican administration.
    In whatever container it is dispensed in, Pence, Kudlow, Azar and others such as Bannon have a hand in what ingredients and their proportions make up this oh so tasty beverage.

  12. Meanwhile in BC, we’re awaiting the decision in the case that could wreck Medicare if the BC Supreme Court sides with the medical privateers:

    As we watch the corpses pile up south of the border, I hope this stiffens the spine of the province to fight this all the way to the SCOC if necessary, and invoke the notwithstanding clause if it comes to that.

  13. What’s mainly broke in The USA is what’s never been built, like a fair and effective healthcare system: where it’s fair, it ain’t very effective, where it’s effective, it ain’t fair ‘t all. Cue the thermometer and this pandemic looks to have changed this fact only by degrees, but all the PhDs of philosophy, economics, science, and strategy normally study at length only the shorter segments along the crisis spectrum, those near the desired freezing point where social nitro, for example , is most stable; when things come apart at the boiling end of the scale, where statuses and states go through a more scalding change of state, they really come apart. Secession of the Confederate States from the United States was just such a coming apart and not really a close thing: as it really happened, each side (now) printed its own tender specie for the first time in the near-century nearly squandered (nearly as it turned out) since all American citizens won Independence from their mother kingdom. Each side commissioned officers and quartermasters with its respective currency; a single fuselage ignited this usually liquor-fuelled tinder and the long, incision of common border exploded in conflagrations of banner, fife and drum which swept both countries with the worst war in American history, instead of receiving a paper-cut-healing poultice of diplomacy that might have existed between two neighbours in repectful sobriety.

    The North had no federal currency to bribe the reluctant recruits resultant; the South had no navy to counter the North’s naval blockade of commerce (among the newly-two Americas existed the largest bilateral trade in history up to that time) but with an ultra-patriotic mounted infantry of high morale and foolhardy bravery this signal unpreparedness could still not compensate by printing money, standard issue ammo, and uniforms. The North hurriedly conscripted newly arrived Irish refugees, men and boys, at the dock, impressing enduring hatred in burgeoning Irish ghettos of New York and Boston toward the black slaves whom their men and boys were ostensibly sent to die for as frontline fodder. The South depended on the toughness of rural recruits to pull off incredible flanking manoeuvres and marches through hundreds of miles hinterland, and on profiteering blockade runners and sympathetic, cotton- and turpentine-addicted British smugglers. Each side had strengths, but also deficiencies that soon became appallingly apparent. It would be trite to call it close thing: the Civil War could not have happened but that the USA had already torn apart completely.

    But it can be said that it was a not-so-near thing that, in all the unreadiness for war, post-war reconstruction reattached the vanquished to the victor: the sutures were rough as carpet-bag stitching, Southerners retaining, as a result, a shared nationalism as if Israelites legendarily enslaved in Ancient Egypt, and the ostensible subjects of the War remain, anywhere in the now much bigger country, relatively impoverished, racially oppressed and, still, virtually disenfranchised by the proffered rewards of emancipation. All mechanisms for any subsequent secession by any faction was made constitutionally impossible, policed by fear and reiteration still throbbing from the scar, 155 afterwards.

    Yet the USA remains, indeed bigger and more powerful than any nation but, except for four post-WW-II years of total nuclear supremacy (ending with the first Soviet nuclear test in 1951), still only hegemon. Perhaps it would be world boss by now had it not been for the “virus of neoliberalism.” It is most powerful, its only foreseeable rival being China—which, now trimmed by COVID19 human and American-market losses, appears a less likely rival for hegemony than American fear-mongers continue to make out in their own palpable fear of the COVID19-future.

    “America is strong,” says the VP often of the presiduncy which has merely magnified modern day unreadiness and revealed how much the candy-floss-topped, corn-dog-hued presidunce has weakened the giant of history. But symptoms of strain— of barely-fettered capitalism, it’s pollution, of endemic unfairness and, now, through the pandemic of domestic inheritance tax— have been piling up to cloud-level, now more clearly visible without the usual smog of industry and jetset lifestyle due to COVID19. Most noteworthy is the more recent occasions of individual states flipping the presiduncy the eagle-bird—as distinct from the manifest Confederacy and Lone Star State, the aspirational Mormon State of Deseret or “Bloody Kansas” (the Civil War preview). This would include overt, single-state flouting of federal Cannabis prohibition after long overdue, easy and profitable dismissal of anachronistic policy that Big Business and Moral Majority evangelism will not allow the federal Congress or at-large-elected presidency to get done—easily the strongest flexing of state-policy independence for a long, long time. Now, with the pandemic embarrassing the world hegemon —even mortifying its strategic readiness as a military insubordinate tried to protect troops by effectively decommissioning an aircraft carrier —states are this time ignoring the spray-tan word-saladeer by forming their own epidemiological-response blocs, more or less as cogent as contiguity would expect: a West Coast bloc of the three Lower-48 Pacific states, an East Coast bloc of New England states, maybe some groupings (the former newish—although the trans-border Cascadia concept has been around for decades—and the latter, encompassing the oldest colonial provinces, which have united a number of times before against the War of 1812 , and the Mexican and Civil Wars, for example. These are Alliances of pandemic contingency that will probably disband in the aftermath.

    However, the Redoubt movement aspiring to a white, religious-right ‘homeland’ of an amalgamation centred on the entirety of Idaho and Montana, flanked by parts of three adjacent states, should not be overlooked, even though no one would liken it to the COVID19 crisis except, perhaps, its very intolerant proponents.

    I wonder how many border states have contemplated developing their own public healthcare programs since the pandemic has shut down opportunities their citizens have been availing for years in order to buy relatively cheap pharmaceuticals on cross-border guided shopping tours to Canadian pharmacies.

    The forming of these state contingency groupings now, during the pandemic, remind that maybe American states were too finely confederated in the 18th and 19th centuries. Certainly the fifty-member neo-Byzantium encourages parochialism and discourages cooperation in a way that conserves advantage for private business. The contingent amalgamations remain, nonetheless, the weakest possible adventure towards universal healthcare, even within each grouping. IMHO, the opioid epidemic is characteristically worse in the USA than Canada because the hundreds of thousands of private health insurance plans and five times as many states as provinces present vastly more opportunity to corrupt legal distribution of pharmaceutical opioids; whereas, in Canada, counterfeit prescription opioids instead dominate the illicit street opioid market because our integrated, public healthcare system precludes such corruption.

    If Canada hadn’t already been confederated, or it consisted of many small provinces instead of just ten, they would probably now be considering larger amalgamations to more feasibly address this COVID19 situation and the other pandemics forecast to follow with increasing frequency and virility—just like the contingency blocs are doing in the USA today. In this sense the pandemic is causing a reforming of American federation into more viable medical jurisdictions, not a fragmentation of something no state has ever had. Still, This is only in contingency and I think the likes of Big Pharma and other Bigs have had a strangle-hold on DC for too long for the obviously needed, all-federate cooperation required to implement an incorruptible national, universal healthcare system. It has to come from the states and, to some extent, they have to break a few eggs.

    The most remarkable thing about states flouting federal Cannabis laws Is that the feds haven’t made much more than a whimper (Fed AG Sessions lobbed a few threats, proving completely impotent). Perhaps because of Confederate Secession and Civil War, the. US is afraid of this new kind of jurisdictional factionalism. There’s a huge difference, naturally (the Confederacy espoused the evil of slavery and was probably worth the carnage to cow, even if real freedom and rights are still denied African-Americans), but of course the stye-eyed glow-mop isn’t likely to notice in the rampant virality of his own sin and ignorance (hell, he can’t even do neoliberalism right even though his phenomenon is much like contagion).

    PS: Canada’s “glue”—our universal healthcare system—would warrant the catholicism is it finally extended to street-opioid users, the homeless, indigenous communities, and the millions of Canadians who have no doctor. Maybe the pandemic will afford the opportunity to hop over the heads of traditional naysayers and establish real health fairness and effectiveness. Just like we might be seeing it happen, nascently, reluctantly, tremendously in the states—like nobody’s ever seen before.

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