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Why the fascination with America?

By Daniel M. Ryan
web posted September 28, 2009

A lot of Canadians have become Americanized. This phenomenon stretches across the entire political spectrum: Canadian liberals often resemble northeastern American liberals, including in the-whole-world's-gotta-be-like-us department. Canadian NDPers bear a definite resemblance to American left-liberals and radicals, particularly in the bash-'America' department. Given the circumstances of Canada's founding, the traditional repository of anti-Americanism was conservatism. Canadian conservatives had a lot more reason to be anti-American than either liberals or radicals: a lot of Canadians became Canadians because they were either loyal to the Crown or thought the Crown offered a better deal than America. That latter category included African-Canadians, particularly escaped slaves, as well as Québecois. It included Chief Sitting Bull.

Given this heritage, which Canadian conservatives would have desired to conserve, it's no wonder that the wellspring of any Canadian anti-Americanism was typically small-c conservatism. To the extent to which liberals and radicals became anti-American, it was over strategic issues or vote-scooping.

That's why the recent outburst of pro-Americanism in Canadian conservative circles makes for such a sea change. Largely, it was prompted by Liberals dabbling in anti-Americanism in the 1960s to get more votes. Pro-Americanism took root in the Conservatives because of "you move into my yard, I'm moving into yours." This counter-movement cumulated in Brian Mulroney implementing one of the Liberals' old dreams, free trade with the U.S.; the Liberal leader John Turner squawked about it in the 1988 election. The Conservatives won, and the Canadian-American Free Trade Agreement became NAFTA in Mulroney's second term. The shift to pro-Americanism is the underlying reason why Brian Mulroney touched off, to use Peter C. Newman's title, The Canadian Revolution. A political economist would chalk it up to social dislocations caused by the dropping of Canadian protectionism. A culture-oriented historian would ascribe it to the disorientations caused by anti-American traditions becoming counter-productive.

There are, of course, the silent ranks of Canadians who have little interest in politics. They're becoming Americanized too, because most of the causes of such are not specifically political in nature. Here's a list of them:

  1. Canada and the U.S. are now allies, and the U.S. is now a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. The old-style anti-American Tory was thrown for a loop after World War 2. The high point of the British Empire meshed well with old-style Canadian anti-Americanism, when Canada was young. Until the Cold War began, America was largely isolationist. The U.K. was not, and Canadians were enthusiastic volunteers for Victoria's and George V's wars. Consequently, in the high days of Empire, Canadians conservatives could characterize all Americans in terms not dissimilar to the way American conservatives characterize all peace activists.

    Not since World War 2, though. Post-1945, America has been doing the bulk of the fighting for the free world. Those old brags started to melt away with the British Empire. Few Americans are impressed by the fact that Canadian soldiers were at war with Nazi Germany starting on September 3rd, 1939.

    In addition, Canada and the U.S. are now close allies and have been for decades – not only through NATO, but also through the still-active 1958 NORAD treaty. Diefenbaker's killing of the Avro Arrow the next year was likely a gesture of friendship to the newly dominant United States; he may well have thought of himself as a good NORAD man while ordering it. Granted that it was less constructive then Canadian troops being sent into Afghanistan, but the motive might well have been the same.

    Given that Canada's geopolitical role is now tied closely with the U.S., as an ally, it's no wonder that many Canadians have taken up America-watching.
  1. The United States export of culture. The secret to the U.S.'s success in exporting popular culture can be indirectly gleaned from U.S. conservatives' complaints about it. As a business matter, American filmmakers cannot be too obviously American because foreigners will lose interest in American films. This business practice evolved from early Hollywood's determination to not limit their receipts by being parochial. (The same model works for other pop culture industries like music and television.) Since liberalism places a higher value on abstractions, liberalism dominating Hollywood is about as unsurprising as country-club Republicanism (upscale RINOism) dominating General Electric. Abstractions can cover more people, so liberals in pop-culture have more reach. As an aside, I note that the cash-cow segment of a business model is often taken for granted.

    That being said, the cultural Americanization of we Canadians can only go so far. There's a lot that goes unsaid in American films, TV programs and songs. It takes asking an American, moving to America, or spending a lot of time and effort America-watching to figure some of them out. The average beaver is likely to see movies such as Easy Rider and Deliverance as a disguised warning about the wild American outback.

    Thankfully, America-watching has taken the form of an apprenticeship by Canadian culture producers. This apprenticeship of sorts has borne most fruit in popular music. A long spell of watching American culture has led to some shows (most notably Trailer Park Boys) becoming hits in America as well as Canada. Which leads to…
  1. Canadians watching the American customer. A large part of Canadian America-watching comes from Americans wanting to buy Canadian products. Business runs on customer service. In order to serve the customer, one has to know the customer. A lot of Canadian America-watching flows from trying to figure out what'll get the American consumer to open his or her wallet. To be frank, it's often easier to sell to Americans than Canadians. This fact shouldn't be that much of a surprise, as the American market has long been seen as the "elephant market" all over the world. If there's any specific reason why we Canadians would get the idea that Americans are a softer touch, it's because of an old dog-in-the-manger tactic that casts a good Canadian businessperson as an 'American'. This custom is largely an overhang from the old protectionist days, and should fade as its obsolescence sinks in.

    More seriously, it can be said that protectionism is needed when the easy-to-tap customers are found in the dominant power of a trading region. It's an argument that goes easily into the military mind. Simply put, it claims that habituation to serving customers in the dominant power softens up citizens in the lesser power for a political takeover. The typical example proffered is the German customs union paving the way to the German empire. This argument gains additional credence in Canada's case when this fourth factor is considered:
  1. Canadian fascination with traditional American freedoms. For a nice Canadian boy, going to a forum Website like the Free Republic is the political analog of a nice American boy going to Paris. It's hard to resist when Americans treat their political leadership with so little respect – something that just isn't done in Canada. What conservative dared to call Brian Mulroney a "Conservative In Name Only" during the 1980s? A Canadian conservative who castigated Mulroney as a "sell-out" back then would have been quickly isolated. Libertarian-oriented Americans who did so to Ronald Reagan, found a wide audience. David Stockman, for example, was thrown off the deck but ended up floating.  We Canadians find it almost impossible to believe that the John Birch society, which won notoriety by its founder claiming that Eisenhower was a secret Communist, was widespread in its day. Any Canadian trying it with Diefenbaker would likely have been credibly called insane. We find it hard to take account for Americans' customary liking for that kind of gumption. Many an American had thrived on being called a "crank" or a "crackpot." In Canada, not unlike being called a "criminal," it's the kiss of death.

    Lack of deference to political (particularly party) leadership – in a phrase, "who's the voter here!?" – is a vital part of America's democratic-republican roots. In a republic, the people rule; the political class is at bottom hired hands. Consequently, the American threshold for what constitutes political-class "arrogance" is much lower than the Canadian one is. It's also much, much more bipartisan. A stout-hearted Canadian, I am sure, is baffled by the Congressional fractiousness over ObamaCare. In Canada, it would have been passed easily had the proposing party had majorities in both houses. "We won [the election]" is much more decisive in Canadian politics than in American politics.

    This American freedom is quite heady to many Canadians. Some of us consider it a threat, of course; in this aspect, there's a real overlap covering both the Canadian political class and Canadian monarchists.
  1. Canadian desire to emulate American success. There's little to be said about this one; it's the most understandable of them all. Just as the best place to look for gold is where it's been found before, the best way to learn how to be successful is to try what has worked for proven successes. There's no way to do so without studying them closely. Whether it be business or the Olympics, Americans have provided accessible role models.

These five reasons cover the bulk of we Canadians' fascination with America. As far as Canada becoming a "New America," it isn't likely unless Canada becomes a republic – a development highly unlikely in the foreseeable future. The U.S constitution all but mandates each state to have a "Republican form of Government." As long as Canada stays a constitutional monarchy, it's unassimilable into the American system. Irregardless of how 'American' we Canadians appear to be.

The same point applies to any Canadian who fears becoming too 'American'. It should suffice to become a monarchist. ESR

Daniel M. Ryan dances with the Grim Reaper.

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