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Why Quebec drives liberals bonkers

Most English Canadians find aspects of Quebec’s political culture to be tribalist. Here I would like to insinuate a subversive thought. Maybe Quebec is on its way to solving problems of identity and belonging in a way that is direct and effective. Moreover I think its policies are designed to establish a state based on values rather than ethnic identification. In a curious way, Quebec may be handling its problems of declining birthrate by telling people who wish to immigrate that democratic behaviour and attitudes is part of the deal.

Quebec’s decision to impose a values test on immigrants is a sign that intends to ensure that every immigrant is on notice that democratic and peaceful behaviour is expected. Sure, people can cheat on the test. They can fake attitudes they do not have. Any such test is open to guessing the right answer and giving what the immigrant thinks the government wants to hear. But what is so bad about that?

Denmark has tests for immigrants. The United States has tests for immigrants. Moreover, as states move way from unity through ethnic uniformity to unity through shared values, there is no way to escape the question of values. The United States is a country founded on shared values, not shared ethnicity. As other societies move from kinship to common values as the basis of adhesion, they too have to start talking about a language of values, rather than assume belonging through kinship.

And then the old Quebec rears its ugly head. “Bonjour- hi”, which is the practical response to serving the customer in his language, is condemned by politicians. Quebec is open and tolerant, as long as the issue is not about the use of English. The shared values are expected to include a measure of adhesion to the French language. This is the source of English Canada’s eternal disagreement with Quebec, because it does not respect Quebec’s pretensions to control the language of public discourse. Quebec has won every legal battle in its drive to suppress the use of English and, by inevitable consequence, the number of people living in Quebec who identify as English-speaking Quebecers. While Quebec is right to insist on a values test, the language conflict colours English Canada’s interpretation of what Quebec does.

Tariffs have just replaced Trump’s ‘Wall’

News this morning that the threat of tariffs was enough to cause the Mexicans to promise better performance in controlling their borders is the surest demonstration that tariffs – if imposed by the United States – have a persuasive effect on smaller actors.

I have watched Steve Bannon be hammered by an arrogant know it all editor of the Economist on this subject. I have watched so great a mind as George Will find that tariffs are the ultimate sin of Big Government.

I know all the arguments. Free trade is good. It reduces prices for consumers. It optimizes lines of production. It expands wealth. Getting rid of them is good.

So why is the middle of America west of the Appalachians becoming an economic desert? Why are entire towns composed of trailers, and why is Walmart the only game in town? Why is the opioid crisis lowering the age of death? Why is there economic despair west of the Mississippi River?

This was the question that voters had to ask themselves in 2016. Their answer, by the narrowest of margins, was Trump. It comes down to something that Tucker Carlson said a while back in an important speech: that the economy is for us, and not we for the economy. The American elites lost sight of the fate of the working class when the value of labour went to nearly zero. I heard language of such contempt for the American white working class coming from white Democrats that, if said about any other group, would be seen as racism. [I have been persuaded that deep snobbery (classism) is as evil as any serious racism.]

I am not persuaded that tariffs are ultimately benign for everyone, but they were used by the Republican Party for a century to help industrialize the United States. Why not now?

And while we are at it, what is the matter with controlling your borders? Even if the threat of tariffs has to be invoked? Much as I admire, and agree with, George Will, the preconditions for the society he wishes to preserve and foster have to be re-created. That would mean an American upper class that gave a damn for the people who inhabit their country. Trump is the visible evidence for that failure, and talking about James Madison’s vision of distributed government will not change that, much as I admire James Madison, and George Will, for that matter.

George Will