Together we own almost all of a mighty continent. We are free trade partners. Until 9/11, we shared the world’s longest undefended border. We have remained friends through most thicks and thins, the War of 1812 stalemates and the daft 1866 Fenian raids long past us.
Our ‘peace, order and good government’ constitutional imperative made us a little more circumspect than America and its occasional recklessness rooted in ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. We were a touch less inclined to save the world one nation, one friendly dictator, or one undeclared war at a time. We were the best possible continental cultural counterbalance – we were better liked around the world mostly because we were just a little different. We were even officially bilingual. We could be smug, too – Canada as America, only better.
Those were the days, my friends. The rightward list of the Canadian ship of state in the past decade has displaced the moderately progressive keel that was our hallmark. Our balance of intellectual trade with the US has gone tilt, as our political outlooks now fracture along decidedly American-styled lines. Exhibit A is the emergence of the Sun Media empire, a key contributor to the present day meanness in our national conversations otherwise dismissed as reactionary, anti-intellectual, and simply un-Canadian not so long ago.
In its earlier print incarnations the Sun chain had a cheerful cheekiness that gave it zest. It was not conservative so much as populist, where the protection of archetypal Canadian ‘little guys’ was the clear editorial objective. Government waste, unfeeling bureaucrats, and continued Canadian ice hockey supremacy were its causes du jour. The Sun was provocative, its opinions not always entirely grounded in fact or logic, but its “like me or not, it’s OK because I am pretty sure other people do” ethic was Canadian to its bones.
The Sun morphed into Sun Media, a relentless national multi-platform news network where any perception of Canada as a bastion of even handed discourse takes a daily shit-kicking that rivals anything seen on Fox News. Sun Television now takes dead daily aim at ‘liberals’, ‘socialists’, ‘environmentalists’ and their foul fellow travelers, my single quote convention an attempt to stress that Sun Media language usage versus actual word meaning remains a stranger to the typical feckless Sun talking head. Issues are breathlessly discussed by a host and a gang of knee jerk sycophants, where these embittered souls make Karl Rove and Dick Cheney look like inclusive, big tent thinking pluralists.
Sun Television at least packs the potential for unintended comedy, with all the delightful visual surreal absurdity of Monty Python. It is the Sun print division that provides a frightening portal on contemporary American political views. There is no absurdist joy in reading Thomas Sowell, but at least his screeds are delivered with decent grammar and the thinnest whiff of respectability that wafts northwards from his Hoover Institute and Stanford U, where ‘American conservative think tank’ is not always an oxymoron. It is the repellent work of Washington syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin that confirms the Sun has tapped a mother lode of a largely suppressed Canadian capacity to pay attention to unabridged visceral American stupidity. In my cheerful late-1970s youth, no self-respecting Canuck publication would run anything warranted as ‘commentary’ under a by-line that boasted authorship of something titled Culture of Corruption: Obama and His Team of Tax Cheats, Crooks, and Cronies. Like her Tea Party soul mates, the 21st century’s longest running vaudeville act, Malkin apparently revels in intellectual incoherence. The pounding monotony of Democrats as plunderers, communists, and criminals delivered by the estimable Michelle would be laughable, except Sun ratings are up across our country, and not for the comedy. Canadians are reading Malkin and her ilk, and heads are nodding in agreement that we too need to be tougher, leaner, meaner, and righter – and I am frightened. I hope that I am not alone.