I think the Americans will soon be coming around to their neighbours, asking if they can borrow a cup of common sense.
As I write this, the American government is being coaxed back into life like a rusted-out 1974 Buick, one that will only keep going if you press down on the gas just so, and get your buddies to give it a push start.
And off it goes in a cloud of blue smoke to its next inevitable breakdown. Judging by the timelines on the debt ceiling that were being tossed around last Wednesday, that should be around February.
We should not be too smug about this state of affairs. Our own government has nearly come unglued several times in our history, as during the King-Byng affair, and a book about our various constitutional crises and attempted secession attempts would be thick enough to use as a cudgel.
We should remember that the problem with the American government isn't Americans. Sure, they have a lot of idiots down there, but no more than any other country. Their problems are structural.
The worst problem the Americans have is the debt ceiling, which is entirely stupid and self-imposed.
Like the ability to shut down the bureaucracy, this is a self-destruct system that American politicians in days gone by deliberately installed. And like big red buttons everywhere, their leaders can barely stop themselves from jamming it down just to see what happens.
Secondly, there's the ability to shut down the government. The United States is probably not the only country in which lawmakers have to approve wages or they just flat-out don't get paid, but I'm not aware of any others.
This means that any time lawmakers get testy (because the president, Senate, or House of Representatives can all trigger a shutdown) they can take their ball and go home.
I have read some of the reasons why the Americans set up their government this way, and it seems to have been due to a series of kludges, one fix piled on another, in a way that created a worse problem than they had to begin with.
Compare this to Belgium, which in 2010 and 2011 went 549 days without a government. Their parliamentary elections produced a weird setup in which a separatist party won more seats than anyone else, and linguistic and regional differences were tearing the country apart. (Canadians are among the only people on the planet who can both sympathize and understand.) Yet the country's bureaucracy continued to function. Obviously, it wasn't ideal, but it wasn't catastrophic, either.
The Americans' final problem is one we're more familiar with - gerry mandering. We've mostly gotten away from it by appointing independent committees of retired judges to draw our electoral boundaries. In the U.S., the lawmakers draw them, with blatant partisan interest. This means they have created a vast number of safe Democrat or Republican seats, which means that the real choice is not between two parties, but between the sane wing and crazy wing of each party. A lot of congressional districts have been picking the crazy option for some time, increasing distrust, polarization, and extremism, especially on the Republican side of the aisle.
There's a lot to fix, and we'd better hope they can repair at least some of these problems. If they can't, then eventually someone will push that big red button, and that will do bad things to the world's economy. Not just recession bad, but potentially Mad Max, wearing hockey padding as armour, eating dog food, and scouring the wasteland for gasoline bad.
I'd like to think the Americans won't let that happen, but that big red button is looking pretty shiny ...
Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance, a sister paper of the Burnaby NOW and Record newspapers.
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