Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Forgotten Common Good

The New York Times’ columnist Paul Krugman wrote recently that the Republican party, now governing the U.S., is not ready to govern.

I would add this: There are few, if any, political parties anywhere - Canada included - ready or fit to govern. Good governance is a scarcity in a consumer society that has lost its feel for the concept of common good.

Ours is a society of individuals that believes we all should be free to chase our individual desires and self interests without giving up much for the overall common good.

Our governments have become tightly focussed on the individual. It is important for them to protect our individual benefits. Not doing so would cost them support because fewer people are willing to accept sacrifices required for the common good.

As more individual voices – the voices of minorities once seldom heard - have gained prominence, it has become difficult for political parties to serve the common good, or even to determine what it is.

Working for the common good has mutated into the belief that you do whatever is needed for the political party to gain and retain power, thereby ensuring it can do good things. However, too often what the party needs to have and to hold power is not always what is best for the common good.

More simply put: Too often politicians push aside what they truly believe is right, and stand up for what is perceived best for the political party.

There was an example of this late last fall when Cuban leader Fidel Castro died. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who called Castro a “remarkable leader”, caved in to critics and decided not to attend the funeral.

Castro was a friend of the Trudeau family and an honorary pallbearer at Pierre Trudeau’s funeral. The elder Trudeau did not accept Castro’s Communist dictatorship methods but understood why the Cuban revolution occurred. He encouraged a special Canada-Cuba relationship based on helping the Cuban people.

Justin Trudeau decided not to attend the funeral because the Liberal party feared it would cost them votes. And, likely anger incoming U.S. President Donald ‘Forrest’ Trump who planned a harder line against the island nation.

It was another case of abandoning what you think is right in favour of what’s good for the party. Pierre Trudeau would have given the party operatives the finger and gone to the funeral.

Not standing firm for what you believe, not accepting sacrifice for the common good, has created a leadership crisis. Our leadership class is collapsing as people have lost trust in government, the news media, many of our institutions and systems.

We don’t have the strong leaders needed to guide us through some of the most serious problems faced by humankind. How to balance and protect our world in an era of rapidly changing climates? How to pay for and maintain our tremendous gains in health care? How to stop social disintegration caused by an ever-decreasing job market, especially for those without post-secondary education?

We have created  a society that encourages freedom of the individual more than the citizen working for the common good. Most of us agree that we must dramatically reduce pollution, change energy consumption, provide excellent health care while reigning in costs. Yet too few of us are willing to change our personal habits.

Our governments could move us to change our personal habits but won’t for fear of lost support. In the meantime, they continue to try to satisfy everyone.

They overcommit themselves despite knowing that all expectations can’t be satisfied. They continue to make promises they cannot meet, while racking up more and more deficits.

The American writer Robert J. Samuelson wrote in a 1992 Newsweek article that America cannot work unless citizens take more responsibility for their actions.

“We face a choice between a society where people accept modest sacrifices for a common goal or a more contentious society where groups selfishly protect their own benefits.”

That certainly applies to Ontario, and the rest of Canada. We need to change our thinking and the thinking of our politicians. If we can’t do the latter, we need a wholesale change of politicians of all parties.


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