On November 30, at Oxford High School near Detroit, Michigan, the United States suffered its 29th school shooting since the beginning of 2021. The deadly shooting also marked the 651st mass shooting in the US this year.
As the Washington Post reported in 2018, “there are more than 393 million civilian-owned firearms in the United States, or enough for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over.”
A recent poll showed that 52 percent of Americans want stricter gun laws (down from 67 percent in 2018), but there is no indication that the US Congress, despite being under Democratic control, will enact meaningful gun control legislation in the foreseeable future.
In the United States, gun control is but one of many pressing issues with respect to which there is a yawning divide between the majority’s desire for progressive change and the political establishment’s right-wing inertia.
Of the 25 wealthiest countries in the world, the United States remains the only one that does not provide universal healthcare.
A 2019 study found that 66.5 percent of all US bankruptcies were tied to medical issues—either because of high costs for care or time out of work. An estimated 530,000 American families turn to bankruptcy each year because of medical issues and bills.
Unsurprisingly, polls have shown repeatedly that a large majority of Americans believe the government has a responsibility to provide healthcare coverage for all.
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 87 million Americans were uninsured or underinsured. If ever there was a crisis that called for the implementation of a universal healthcare system, this pandemic is it. Yet, despite Democratic control of Congress, and despite Joe Biden having campaigned on a public health insurance option, both the Biden administration and Congress have failed to pursue either “Medicare for All” or the public option.
Similarly, another recent poll found that 62 percent of Americans support raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour from the current, paltry level of $7.25 an hour.
Notably, $15 an hour is significantly below the average “livable wage” in the United States, which was estimated by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to be $16.54 in 2019. In some major cities, such as New York and San Francisco, the livable wage is much higher.
Yet, despite Democratic control of Congress, and despite President Biden having campaigned on a $15 minimum wage, there is no indication Congress will enact such a wage any time soon. In March of this year, as ordinary Americans continued to suffer from the economic impacts of the pandemic, an amendment to add an increase in the federal minimum wage to the Biden administration’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill failed to pass in the Senate, with eight right-wing Democratic Senators joining 50 Republicans in opposing the pay bump.
In the United States, with bipartisan support, military spending has risen inexorably for decades. As a result, the United States is, and has been for many years, the world’s largest military spender by far. In 2021, Congress raised the Pentagon’s budget to US$778 billion—nearly four times higher than China’s current military budget of US$209 billion.
In America, there’s always more money for merchants of death, but when it comes to social spending, deficit hawkery reigns supreme.
The American political establishment’s obsession with austerity cannot be reconciled with voter preferences. Polls consistently show little public support for reductions in federal spending and majority support for increased spending on education, infrastructure, the environment and healthcare.
Of course, America’s problems go far beyond gun violence, healthcare, the minimum wage and military spending. Its festering social, economic and environmental wounds include systemic racism, an epidemic of police brutality, the dystopian and inhumane treatment of migrants at US borders, extreme inequality, a deeply politicized judiciary, a captured regulatory system and an abject failure to address the climate emergency.
In a true democracy, government policy generally reflects the will of the people and prioritizes the interests of the most vulnerable citizens. By that standard, the United States is no democracy at all. Indeed, we Canadians should stop describing and thinking of America as a “democracy.” Instead, we should acknowledge the reality of what our neighbour to the south has become, and we should strive to avoid the grievous mistakes that are destroying the last vestiges of democracy in the United States.
A 2014 study by Princeton University Professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern University Professor Benjamin Page concluded, in essence, that the United States is now an oligarchy. Specifically, the authors found that “A proposed policy change with low support among economically elite Americans (one-out-of-five in favour) is adopted only about 18 percent of the time, while a proposed change with high support (four-out-of-five in favour) is adopted about 45 percent of the time.” They also found that “When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organised interests, they generally lose.”
Persistent, dramatic and growing disparities between voter preferences and government policy are radically unsustainable. Sooner or later, a social explosion is liable to occur. In a nation drowning in guns, a mass rebellion against a government beholden to the billionaire class could prove particularly violent and destructive.
Rather than pursue real democratic reforms that reflect the will of the American people, the Biden administration has elected to engage in theatre by convening a “democracy summit.” Tellingly, the summit excludes some of the worst tyrannies which the United States arms and supports, including the dictatorship of Egypt and the Saudi autocracy. As stated by Ajamu Baraka, former board member of Amnesty International and the US Green Party’s former Vice-Presidential nominee:
Obscene is only word that describes Biden's summit on democracy. There is no nation on the planet more responsible for human misery, death & destruction than the U.S. There are two terms that officials from the U.S. should never be allowed to utter - Democracy & Human Rights.— Ajamu Baraka (@ajamubaraka) December 9, 2021
Despite its rapidly deteriorating political and socio-economic conditions, the United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but we have ample cause to question how much longer its vast power can endure. Even more pressing is the question of how America’s disintegration could negatively impact our own country. We are, after all, America’s largest trading partner.
In the current circumstances, deeper integration with the United States is profoundly contrary to Canada’s long-term interests. Our interests would best be served by reducing our reliance on the American economy and ending our deference to the United States government. We can do this both by pursuing an independent and non-aligned foreign policy, enhancing our trade relations with other stable, functioning democracies and, most importantly, by investing massively in our capacity to produce domestically the goods and services upon which the well-being of Canadians depends.
It is high time that Canada reclaimed its sovereignty, diversified its trade relationships and strengthened its self-sufficiency.
This, however, would entail a sea-change in Ottawa, where political elites continue to advocate reflexively for deeper political and economic integration with the United States. By hitching Canada’s boat to the American Titanic, they are jeopardizing our future.
Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer, human rights activist and former candidate for the leadership of the Green Party of Canada. He is based in Montréal.