Blog: Reporting Live

Opportunity for the G6

7 June 2018

 Elaine MartinLa Malbaie: scene of the G7 meeting. Photo credit: Elaine Martin

Will the G7 collapse in Quebec?  Then what, in a world has had it with an American President who is out of control—personally and politically—as well as with a Congress that lacks the decency to stop him. Shall we all just wait, heads in sand, for this to pass, so that noble America can once again replace nasty America?

We would do better to face the reality. A great many Americans not only voted for Donald Trump, but continue to support him. When he goes, how can trust in America be restored when we know full well that next time, or the time after, back could come the likes of him, or worse?

 Elaine MartinLa Malbaie: scene of the G7 meeting. Photo credit: Elaine Martin

Will the G7 collapse in Quebec?  Then what, in a world has had it with an American President who is out of control—personally and politically—as well as with a Congress that lacks the decency to stop him. Shall we all just wait, heads in sand, for this to pass, so that noble America can once again replace nasty America?

We would do better to face the reality. A great many Americans not only voted for Donald Trump, but continue to support him. When he goes, how can trust in America be restored when we know full well that next time, or the time after, back could come the likes of him, or worse?

This tells us that the problem goes deeper than Donald Trump, far deeper: American society is dangerously out of balance, ironically in much the same way that the communist regimes of Eastern Europe were out of balance, just on the other side of the political spectrum. The public sector dominated those regimes; the private sector dominates America.

This problem has been festering since Thomas Jefferson expressed the “hope [that] we…shall crush in it’s birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength...”(sic). Unfortunately, the founding fathers addressed another problem, the one that provoked their revolution: excessive power in government. Hence, they imposed checks and balances on the public sector, with no comparable checks that might have limited the power of any other sector in society.

Half a century later, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized corporations as “persons” in the eyes of the law, and took that over the edge with a decision in 2010 that extended the rights of these and real persons to fund political campaigns to their hearts’ content. In effect, the Supreme Court of America legalized bribery in the United States, and the country has not been the same since.

Who is to blame? Hillary Clinton blamed the “deplorables” who supported Donald Trump. Were they more deplorable than the established people who drove so many of them to support him: not only Hillary Clinton and the people of Goldman Sacks, but everyone else who benefits from tax advantages, union busting, meagre wages for workers, and the rest. If I want to see this kind of deplorable, even here in Canada, I look in the mirror.

Into this swamp came Donald Trump, ostensibly to drain it. Instead, he has been wallowing in it, providing the U.S. with more of the same business as usual, not least his own. Thank you Donald Trump for putting the handwriting on the wall.

A healthy society balances the collective power of governments in the public sector with the commercial interests of businesses in the private sector and the communal concerns of citizens in the plural sector (or “civil society,” if you prefer). In such a society, the three sectors hold each other in check while cooperating for constructive change. Canada maintains a better balance than does the U.S., as does Germany, France, and Japan, all members of the G7, as well as the Scandinavia countries, New Zealand, Uruguay, Costa Rica, perhaps South Korea, and maybe Brazil when it gets its act together again. The G8 lost Russia; this G7 will likely lose America, in one way or another. That’s not crisis; it’s opportunity.

Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. Gangs would roam the streets and battle with each other, or else carve up the place for their own convenience. This is our “global village”, dominated by three superpowers. A G6 has the opportunity to begin countering this, perhaps joined later by other democratic nations that have no aspirations for superpower status or recent histories of belligerence. Is this impossible? Hardly: we see the budding of it in the Trans-Pacific [Trade] Partnership that proceeds without the United States. We need solutions that seem impossible until they become obvious.

© Henry Mintzberg 2018. See Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Happy Birthday Canada!

1 July 2017

Quintessentially Canadian sculpture, by Castor Canadensis; from the author’s collection

Canada is 150 years old this Saturday—as a political entity, at least. The land has been here forever, the Europeans for hundreds of years, and the aboriginals for thousands. So the number 150 is somewhat arbitrary. But this is certainly a good time to celebrate Canada: looking around the globe, including due south, where we are so inclined to look, we are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

Quintessentially Canadian sculpture, by Castor Canadensis; from the author’s collection

Canada is 150 years old this Saturday—as a political entity, at least. The land has been here forever, the Europeans for hundreds of years, and the aboriginals for thousands. So the number 150 is somewhat arbitrary. But this is certainly a good time to celebrate Canada: looking around the globe, including due south, where we are so inclined to look, we are an island of sanity in a sea of turmoil.

True, we have been suffering from no Stanley Cup for our cherished hockey teams since 1993. But there is one thing even more sacred here than hockey, namely our state-funded Medicare, and that, mercifully, remains intact. Maybe this is what enables us to get on with sanity. And with democracy too, which has likewise remained intact, perhaps never better. Most of us really do strive to be tolerant in this country, and, you know what, it feels good to aim for the highest common denominator.

French culture in Quebec has long been vibrant, more recently, English-Canadian culture has become so. The multi-culturalism promoted by Prime Minister Trudeau (the elder) has been a major factor. Turn on CBC in English, or Radio Canada in French—jewels in our cultural crown—and marvel at the variety of people and faces and origins and opinions that make up this country today. In Canada, even the beavers do art, as you can see above, and more.

It was not so long ago that my uncle could not get into medical school because my own university, McGill, had a quota on Jewish applicants. Now the last three deans of medicine have been Jewish. The Conservative Party of Canada had a leadership race this year, and one of the candidates campaigned on screening immigrants for “Canadian values”. This may seem innocuous enough, but to many of us it sounded racist, a throwback to the old days of white Anglo-Saxon dominance. At the convention, in ballot after ballot, this “ideal leadership candidate” (in the words of our main newsmagazine) never made it to 8%. And this was the Conservative Party.

Twenty universities around the world have granted me honorary degrees. Yet no award do I wear as proudly as my Order of Canada. The pin we recipients wear is small—Canadian-size—yet it means so much to us, perhaps because we try not to confuse pride with patriotism in this country.

Canada is another America. It expresses another perspective by which people everywhere can see the major issues of our time, in terms of a just and tolerant world based on balance and reconciliation. We may look much like our powerful neighbor to the south, but in significant if sometimes subtle ways, we are quite different. The world at this juncture desperately needs another perspective, and quiet Canada, hidden up here in the north country, might just be providing it.¹

So happy birthday Canada! After 150 years of striving to get it right, to paraphrase from Quebec’s own Happy Birthday song, it is time to let you speak of love.

© Henry Mintzberg 1 July 2017.

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¹Three of us—a quintessentially Canadian trio, French, English, and Rumanian-born Canadians (Yvan Allaire and Mihaela Firsirotu)—have been working on a book entitled Another America: A Canadian Perspectives on World Issues. It is a collection of writings from prominent Canadians who for many years have been expressing themselves on a variety of important subjects in a remarkable cohesive way.

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Draining the Reservoir?

22 June 2017

When the results of the British election came in on June 8, I posted a blog that I had written when the election was first announced, on April 18. I can't say that I called the surprising result, but I felt that my earlier comments were close enough to take them public. So, confidence intact, here come some early comments about the future of the Trump presidency.

I am a pattern recognizer, who defines strategy as pattern in action. Watch what people in power do, and don’t do, not just what they say. The pattern in the actions and inactions of Donald Trump since his election seems evident to me. Consider this:

When the results of the British election came in on June 8, I posted a blog that I had written when the election was first announced, on April 18. I can't say that I called the surprising result, but I felt that my earlier comments were close enough to take them public. So, confidence intact, here come some early comments about the future of the Trump presidency.

I am a pattern recognizer, who defines strategy as pattern in action. Watch what people in power do, and don’t do, not just what they say. The pattern in the actions and inactions of Donald Trump since his election seems evident to me. Consider this:

  • Massive cuts proposed in the budgets of some key American departments, including State
  • Many significant government posts left unfilled, some after firing the incumbents
  • Certain cabinet secretaries appointed who are diametrically opposed to the mission of their department.
  • Fights picked with many of America’s most trusted allies—including Angela Merkel, of all people—plus the badmouthing of NATO and the EU, while cozying up to the likes of Putin and Erdogan
  • Proposed tax breaks that would squeeze the government while exacerbating income inequalities, a major grievance of the very people who elected him
  • Despite all the promises, surprisingly little enacted legislation

All of this cannot be explained by a normal neoliberal agenda. (And surely Donald Trump cannot be so totally under the influence of Steve Bannon’s abnormal one.) The pattern—namely strategy—seems evident: Donald Trump is determined to dismantle the American government. He is not just draining the swamp; he is emptying the reservoir. I am not particularly paranoid, nor do I tend to fantasize, but I do know a pattern when I see one.

What could Donald Trump possibly have to gain from going this far? Surely, we can rule out simple greed, and even his narcissism, to rule in what seems more obvious: He looks to be under the influence of some powerful force that does have something to gain from the dismantling of the American government. What can it be other than Putin’s Russia? If this seems excessive, then find me a more plausible explanation for Trump’s steady stream of actions that have themselves been excessive.

What might the Russians have on Donald Trump?  Take your pick: money owed to them, knowledge of some dubious business or personal deal, manipulation of the election in those four states. Whatever it might be, the Russians could well be using something to get him to do their bidding. Why else would he be so concertedly pro-Russian? Aside from admiring bullies, why the great love affair with the Kremlin?

If this is true, then Donald Trump will not be able to resign. But since the true truth has a habit of getting out, he may well be impeached, and removed from office. And from there, he may well go broke, since he has not proved himself to be a particularly adept businessman, short of depending on his brand. The problem with brands is that they are double-edged swords. They can cut back a lot faster than they have been developed to cut forward. But, more significantly, he could end up being charged with treason, namely “giving [to the country’s enemies] Aid and Comfort.” If Russia has been doing this, they are the enemy.

An American friend of mine who read a draft of this blog wrote back that, with so much uncertainty, “for now it feels like a fool’s errand to place particular bets.” Maybe so, but we do need to speculate beyond the usual banalities. Besides, patterns discerned in early signals can sometimes be necessary to avoid later crises.

© Henry Mintzberg June 2017

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