It’s been a helluva 231 years for the United States of America. After establishing the world’s first modern democracy, fighting a brutal civil war over who should be included in it, seizing control of most of the temperate part of North America from native Americans and Mexicans, and then rising to global superpower status through two world wars and a nuclear who-blinks-first contest with the Soviet Union, the US today stands at a crossroads. Or is it a precipice? Viewed through the prism of countless newspapers, news sites and twenty-four-hour news channels, the mood on Main Street USA this Fourth of July appears to be little short of rebellious. Support for the Bush administration, wavering already for several years, dropped to new lows over its controversial plan to grant amnesty to many of the country’s 12 million illegal immigrants and Vice-President Dick Cheney’s absurd declaration that he is not accountable under presidential decrees because he is not actually a part of the executive branch of government. Meanwhile, frustration over lack of progress in Iraq is beginning to leak into all areas of public debate. President George W. Bush’s decision on Monday to commute the sentence of Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, is, for many commentators, the final nail in the coffin of a presidency likely to be remembered as the most unpopular and damaging since that of Richard M. Nixon’s. Witness, for example, last night’s tirade by MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann against the administration, in which the prime-time news host calls for the resignation of both Bush and Cheney. “I accuse you, Mr. Bush, of lying this country into war,” Olbermann said. “I accuse you of subverting the Constitution, not in some misguided but sincerely-motivated struggle to combat terrorists, but to stifle dissent … I accuse you of fomenting fear among your own people, of creating the very terror you claim to have fought.”
Here in Canada, the view of America these days is a mixed bag. Writing in the Globe (subscription required), John Ibbitson reflects on what he sees as a betrayal of the US’s secular values, as enshrined by the Founding Fathers in the US Constitution, in favour of a more religious polity. “America has become steadily more, rather than less, religious over time,” he writes. “In recent debates, both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have been compelled to describe what God means to them when a sharp ‘my faith is a personal matter’ is the proper response to such an impertinent question.” The Citizen, meanwhile, runs the results of a poll that shows 72 percent of Canadians feeling “very” or “somewhat” optimistic that the US and Canada will be on good terms a decade from now—a refreshing change from just a few years ago, when tensions over Iraq, cross-border trade and other issues meant that the words “that sinking feeling” best described Canadians’ sentiment about their southern neighbours. “There are decisions the US has made that we don’t like,” the Citizen quotes Jack Jedwab, head of the Association for Canadian Studies, as saying. “But people in this country think this era is coming to an end. There’s a feeling that we will overcome this in time.” It’s heartening to see Canadians finally distinguishing between the questionable policies of George W. Bush and the American people themselves, who, on this Fourth of July, are declaring independence from a failed administration.
July 4, 2007