The only recent Canadian election that I can recall that was as dramatic as last week's US one, was the federal election in 1993. Canada, as most of you will know, uses the British Parliamentary system where the leader of the party with the largest number of seats becomes the Prime Minister. Elections are not set, but are called by the Prime Minister (with the approval of the Queen's representative, the Governor General) at his discretion, but must be called before five years are up. One consequence of this is that Canadian elections are not the long, drawn-out torture that US elections can sometimes be. The last Canadian federal election was held last year and the whole campaign, from start to finish, was over in a few weeks.
Going back to that '93 election, which I recall quite well as I was resident in Canada at the time, at dissolution of Parliament, the Progressive Conservatives had a majority of 156 seats out of 295 in the House of Commons. (The Canadian Senate is rather less important than the US one. It consists of appointed members and has little power other than to veto legislation coming from the House of Commons.) Due to a number of factors (the popular Prime Minister resigned and the election was called by a new and inexperienced one, the Progressive Conservatives had been in power since 1984 and the voters were tired of them, plus, any party named the "Progressive Conservatives" obviously has issues) over half of their supporters ended up voting for someone else, including some new political parties.
The results were beyond astonishing: from a majority of 156 seats out of 295, the Progressive Conservatives were reduced to two, TWO, seats! The Liberal Party returned to power with 177 seats. There were no Progressive Conservative members in the whole Western half of the country. The husband of one of the remaining members, holding a seat in Nova Scotia, joked that he was sleeping with half the Progressive Conservative caucus. Yes, they retained their sense of humor, at least.
Canadians sometimes lose patience with provincial parties as well and consign them to the dustbin. The Progressive Conservatives never recovered from this disaster and disappeared entirely a few years later. The current Conservative party is an alliance between the remnants of the Progressive Conservatives, the Canadian Alliance and the Reform Party. They did return to power, but it took four federal elections.
I have often wondered at the remarkable stability (or is it stasis?) of the US system where senators can be re-elected over and over and over for thirty or forty years and where elections are finely balanced with only a couple of percentage points between the popular vote. Third parties are few and far between. I wonder if anyone has done a really detailed comparison of the Canadian and American systems? Maybe we should swap for a couple of decades and see how that goes?
This American election has been, given the differences, as earth-shaking as the '93 Canadian one. Remarkably nine out of the eleven most prominent polls had it wrong as did nearly all the mass media. Just days before the election the New York Times, among others, was giving Hillary Clinton an 86% chance of willing. Election night, from nine o'clock on, things started looking very different. Donald Trump, who always said he was going to win, turned out to be right. Ann Coulter suffered a gale of laughter from her fellow panelists and the studio audience when she predicted he was going to win many months ago. Everyone said that Donald Trump would never be president.
Why was that? I guess the post-mortem analyses will be going on for a while. I can't figure out what, if any, difference it is going to make for classical music or culture generally. It is said that politics is downstream from culture, but I can't see that this election substantiates that.
The point I want to make is that people that supposedly know what they are doing, pundits, political marketers and campaigners, media, academics, and so on, sometimes haven't got a clue, sometimes are wildly wrong! I think we should all learn one lesson from this election: don't put trust or faith in those folks that are always telling you what to do and think. They are frequently wrong. For years they treated Donald Trump as a distasteful clown and now they are paying the price.
Thinking that you know what you are doing is often just self-deception. The wisest people I know rarely act that self-assured. They treat life as an exploration, full of surprises. One interesting example I just ran across is Leonard Cohen talking about religion:
As a composer, I know mostly that I don't know what I am doing. Every new piece is an exploration of the unknown. How can you possibly know what you are doing? Perhaps we can all just be a tiny bit humbler about all those things that we think we know. After all, Socrates' real claim to fame was that he was the only one in Athens who knew that he knew nothing.