First Nashville. Now New Hampshire. Is Canada next?

  • National Newswatch

Donald Trump. Bernie Sanders. John Scott. They matter for Canada.For those unfamiliar with the story, John Scott was an obscure point-deficient enforcer in the NHL. Then the league opened its all-star voting to fan-sourcing. An unexpected campaign emerged with the intention of sending Scott to the big show. And, voila, a couple weeks ago Mr. Scott Goes To Nashville as all-star captain.Importantly, as this participatory process unfolds, the league looks for a way to prevent Scott from accepting the nomination. But Scott stands strong. He plays and scores. He's named MVP. The hysteria of the hockey horde results in a joyful product. For a moment, the sport's highest-level is re-oriented around solidaristic values rather than expressions of elitism.Doubly important for political observers, it appears Scott's ascendancy was more than mere prank. It was an act of rebellion. Fans wanted to seize control of a hockey culture thought to be captured by sporting aristocrats like Gary Bettman— the NHL's version of Marie Antoinette. As an undrafted journeyman and grinding underdog, Scott was the perfect foil. So Scott's ascendancy was our ascendancy. He happened not because of his individual offering but because a movement was in search of embodiment— an accidental figurehead who could symbolize the rusticness of the cause.But what happens in Nashville doesn't stay in Nashville. It has made its way to Iowa and now New Hampshire, revealing a popular distaste of princely power. For some, the simultaneous rise of Donald Trump and Bernier Sanders will be seen as confusing, even dangerous. Trump's success, in particular, should create concern about racism in America. But once beyond a fixation on Donald and his buffoonish policy burps, it is much easier to make sense of what is happening.The key takeaway from Iowa and New Hampshire is that the American people refuse to be taken for granted. Increasingly, Democrats and Republicans so abhor actors who represent a cementing of established hierarchies (see Bush and Clinton dynasties) that backers on both sides are willing to elect almost anyone else. What we're witnessing is not primarily a desire for economic or cultural reform (though that's inevitably part of), but a social movement yearning for political mobility that places a check on stale and detached power structures. And just as the NHL's most recent episode was not about elevating a personality but aimed at grassroots empowerment, the current moment in American politics is about citizens not leaders.Imagine, for example, if Trump were removed entirely from the Republican contest. What would happen? Using Iowa and New Hampshire as guides, it seems unlikely that the dynamic would change fundamentally. In Iowa, establishment candidates Bush, Christie, and Kasich combined to garner a paltry 6% of the vote. Meanwhile, Cruz, Rubio, and Carson— each, in their own way, beacons of anti-elitism— combined to amass 60% of the caucus. Recent national polling on second-choice candidates suggests this pattern would persist in the event of a Trump collapse. So the Republican rebellion extends well beyond one figure.Similarly, ponder the implications of Sanders never entering the Democratic picture. Would we have seen a Clinton landslide? Well, in 2008 we had a plot somewhat like that and many of us expected a Clinton coronation. But, again, it didn't happen. Much of that was because of Obama's magnetism. Some of it was harboured resentment over Hillary Clinton's failures on Iraq. Now the anti-Clinton sentiment embeds itself in a Wall Street narrative. It's not difficult, however, to imagine other issues being used against Hillary and different torch bearers (e.g. Elizabeth Warren) taking up the cause of the progressive masses.It should come as no surprise, therefore, that only 27% of Democrats and 18% of Republicans are more likely to support a presidential candidate if the candidate has lengthy experience in Washington. Similarly, 65% of Republicans and 42% of Democrats  prefer a presidential candidate to have new ideas and a different approach as compared to experience and a proven record. A whopping 75% of Americans think corruption is widespread in government. And 55% of the US believes ordinary Americans would be better than elected officials at solving national problems. When viewed in this light, the events of New Hampshire look less dire and perhaps more celebratory. It is not an instance of Americans laying down to demagogues or crackpots but instead an example of standing up to a system perceived to be broken.The question for Canadians becomes: will this participatory fervour spillover to the north? Conservatives are contemplating a new leader. A spiralling loonie and low oil prices are bringing provinces back to policy drawing board. And Ottawa is undertaking significant democratic reforms. As such, we will be forced to regularly reevaluate our role as citizens, and part of that revaluation will involve an assessment of our appetite for power. We will need to decide how much our voice counts and what vehicles are the most effective means for transmitting popular will. Do posts usurp personalities? Can ideas overcome institutions? Do our politics need to change, or just the people in it? As we wrestle with these perennial democratic challenges, let us remember one thing: we must resist our inner Gary Bettman.Dylan is a PhD student at the University of Toronto and a former advisor in the Office of the Premier of Ontario.