The election for President of the United States of America is upon us. Across Canadian airwaves, around dinner tables, and throughout our newspapers, the U.S. election has received not only wide coverage but often in-depth analysis. This reoccurring phenomena begs a simple but elusive question – why do we care? Why, with so many pressing issues of our own, do we consistently turn so much of our attention to a political process that has next to nothing to do with us?
You could say that since the U.S. is our largest trading partner that the American election has significant economic consequences for Canada. You could say that since Canada relies on the United States as an ally on the international stage and in foreign policy decisions that the choice of their leader is important to us as a nation.
But that’s not really why we care. Whoever is president, Democrat or Republican, will not substantially change American economic or foreign policy towards Canada; and most major decisions must go through their Congress and thus are not directly in the hands of the President.
So what is the reason for our fascination with their electoral process? Why do our newspapers run opinion pieces on their candidates, why do our political discussions often focus on their issues rather than our own, and why did I get so excited that I threw a “debate party” at my place on the night of the first presidential debate?
The answer is both obvious and abstract. The U.S., despite all that they do wrong, all their divisiveness, and war-mongering, and extreme thinking – is still the center of the Western world. Their sheer size makes them a force we must pay attention to. Their hyper-capitalist mentality pushes everything they do, from Hollywood to their politics, across the globe and into our consciousness. We are caught in their wake, pulled in by their gravity.
As a major force in almost every field, from the arts to the environment, from the military to big business, the United States is the de facto global cultural leader. And this makes what they do relevant. Not because a new President will directly affect our safety or our pocket books, but because the directions that they take matter. Because of the U.S.’s central place in our general culture, the paths they follow will affect the ones available to us. They set the pace. They can stall progress on global warming, or push the world along to new paradigms. They can feed extremism’s fire, or elect an African-American as President and set a new cultural norm for us all.
And what they do is not only responsible for tangible changes in the directions we take, but is also symbolic of where we are as a society. They are that big fat lab experiment there for us all to see. That dysfunctional reality show broadcast on worldwide television. And this is why we care, why we cannot look away. Because they are a measuring stick. A mirror. Onto all that we wish we were and all that we do not want to be.
So I will stay up late on Nov. 6th and watch. Not only because of the specific consequences it may have for our society, but for that bigger view of where we are as a culture. What they do shows me what we are doing.
I won’t tell you who I’m rooting for, but let’s just say I hope that we are moving forward.