by andrew potter

it hasn't been a good year for Canada-U.S. relations. Last November, the Canadian prime minister's communications director was forced to resign after a journalist overheard her referring to President Bush as a "moron." Then a member of Parliament expressed her dissatisfaction with the attack on Iraq by remarking, "Damn Americans. I hate those bastards." From America, Pat Buchanan weighed in when he got tired of the whining over U.S. border controls from up in "Soviet Canuckistan."

Buchanan probably thought he was lobbing the ultimate dis, but there is something Americans need to know about Canada: Hardly anyone here was offended, and many Canadians took it as a supreme compliment. Within days, T-shirts emblazoned with a hammer and sickle and a maple leaf appeared on the streets of Toronto, and there is now a website selling Soviet Canuckistan merchandise. Does that make us a bunch of northern commies? Not exactly. Buchanan's redbaiting may slide off our backs like water off a Canada goose, but perhaps a bit of cross-border understanding is in order.

The United States is a one-myth culture. The Federalist Papers read like John Locke having a conversation with himself, and your history is just an extended working out of the philosopher's ideas about individualism, private property, and the state. In the United States, the capitalists have acquired a monopoly on patriotism, and your response to other ideologies alternates between xenophobic isolationism and messianic internationalism. (See the recent resumé of George W. Bush for achievement on both alternatives.) The upshot is a country where the political ideology of market populism masquerades as nationalism, and where there is a free market in everything except good ideas.

Meanwhile, Canadian political culture has never congealed into a one true faith. There is legitimate ideological diversity here, which means that we can consider various social policy alternatives and forms of collective action without having to worry about being seen as "un-Canadian." We can hardly say those words, unlike in the United States, where the term "un-American" trips off the tongue, as light as Saudi crude.

What this means for Canadians is that the governing party can steal and implement good ideas no matter where it finds them, without having to worry about ideological taint. For example, our system of publicly funded health insurance was developed by the Canadian Commonwealth Federation, a socialist party in Saskatchewan, but it was eventually adopted by governments in every province regardless of their political alignment. You might say that Canadians are progressive conservatives by inclination; we try to keep what's valuable from the past, while remaining open to the new.

The American version of progressive conservatism would be "compassionate conservatism," but this is a slogan born of pure cynicism. It is not remotely surprising to see that, once it gained power, the Bush administration proved itself to be neither compassionate nor conservative. The tax cut packages at home, and the unabashed imperialism abroad, make a mockery of the notion of America as a republican commonwealth, with government by the people, for the people.

Yet it would be misleading to blame it all on Bush, since he is just leading Americans down a path you have been on for a while. For the past 10 years, the pollster Michael Adams has been tracking changes in social values in both Canada and the United States. Social values are the various beliefs and preferences people have of what constitutes the good life, such as community involvement, tolerance, and religiosity, and Adams' results are interesting.

In a recent book called Fire and Ice, he argues that since 1992, social values between our two countries have diverged in significant ways, and that the long-term trend points to increasing divergence. Both countries are trending away from traditional values, are becoming less deferential to authority and more individualistic. But while Canadians are moving toward values associated with idealism and personal self-fulfillment (e.g., creativity, tolerance, and cultural sampling), Americans are moving away en masse from the trends associated with civic engagement and social and ecological concern. You are becoming paranoid and isolated, more likely to see society as a war of all against all. America is becoming a nation of survivalists.

The failure of socialism to get any grip in your country is usually referred to as "American exceptionalism." But when you consider American values in light of the determined openness and internationalism emerging in Canada, Europe, and elsewhere, this "exception" is starting to look more like an aberration. Take a look around, America. Soviet Canuckistan is the new world order.