The Oscars this week were a welcome diversion from the flood of American primary politics that have monopolized the media over the past few weeks. The spectre of a very politically incorrect Donald Trump sweeping the Republican nomination from the populist right has conjured up worrisome aspects of American politics from the perspective of Canadian liberal and social democratic pragmatism. Trump has positioned himself as an outspoken opponent of free trade and globalism in favour of American isolationism and narrow assertion of American power. A United States repositioned in this way will pose serious dilemmas for Canada and NAFTA. On the Democratic side the race between Sanders and Clinton is a fascinating one in terms of the choices being posed between radical progressivism on the populist left and a more traditional institutionally rooted pragmatic politics of the Democratic centre and centre left.For the moment Clinton has a substantial lead but this may change in the weeks to come. Even on Super Tuesday while Hilary Clinton swept six southern states by large margins Senator Sanders managed to win 4 states Colorado, Minnesota, Vermont and Oklahoma and come very close in Massachusetts.In addition, Clinton opposes the TPP as does Sanders. Politics is always rooted in both the economy and in popular culture.It is important to understand that every action in a liberal progressive direction will elicit a counter force, a reaction that pushes back from conservative interests.
The broad coalition of the progressive left that includes the feminist movement, the GLBT communities,the trade unions, the democratic socialists and the environmentalists have made considerable progress in both politics and popular culture. This was clear at the Oscars where a number of feature films and shorter documentaries and Oscar winners and nominees from all over the world including Mexico,Canada,Brazil, Italy, Sweden,Ireland, Australia and Pakistan advanced the values and views of this progressive coalition. The push back however has been prominent and sustained on the populist evangelical side to which Trump and his fellow republicans has been appealing. Every since Weimar gave political birth to fascism western societies have to be sensitive to the processes by which extremist views can gain currency in mass democratic societies. So the US race bears watching.
As for the Oscars the fact that Spotlight the film which tells the story of the Boston Globe journalists’ courageous campaign to tell the true story of the abuse by some priests in the Catholic church won the award for best picture was an example of how the liberal coalition was leading the way forward. The fact that it was chosen over the favorite The Revenant,a film which has grossed more than six times the 63 million that Spotlight has and is a story of the wild west much more in the American tradition of the new frontier was also significant. The other also ran nominees included films which also made clear their liberal values like The Big Short and Brooklyn and Bridge of Spies. The theme of liberal tolerance and the inherent goodness of globalism was celebrated by a number of winners. But the Republican race in particular shows us that there are large numbers of people who oppose these values and see the world in a markedly different way.We shall see in the coming months how this all turns out but the rise of Trumpism is a development we must not ignore.