My lunch club has been operating for nearly 20 years now. My wife calls it the ‘Old Guys’ but its formal name is the Monday Lunch Club that Meets on Wednesdays. We like to talk politics because it keeps us off duller subjects like our operations. After the virus struck, we tried a few Zoom lunches but that didn’t work so we lapsed into sporadic email conversations using ‘Reply All’ which is not a whole lot different than Twitter for twelve people. Not surprisingly, politics became a tricky subject. With Biden’s win in the American elections it became suddenly unpleasant.
My mother had a firm rule that politics and religion were not appropriate subjects for the dinner table. She enforced this and other rules of etiquette with a silver teaspoon that could leave a little welt on your head. My older brother turned his head at the wrong moment one time and got the teaspoon in the corner of his eye. He went to school with a shiner and when he explained to his teacher that his mother had struck him, things escalated. There was some discussion about involving the Children’s Aid but when the principal discovered that mother had attacked him with a teaspoon for tormenting his younger sister, the investigation was closed.
We have no teaspoon at the lunch club or any member with the authority to wield one. I thought we skewed conservative as a group but I was surprised to learn that we are equally divided between Democrat and Republican when it comes to American politics. I’m not sure if the lunch club is going to survive this grumpiness that now hangs over the group.
The English fought a civil war in the 1640s that left the country a smoking ruin. The King and Parliament could not come to agreement on several topics, including limitation of powers, religious freedom and freedom of speech, so everyone reached for their guns and armies marched around the country for ten years burning and pillaging. By the end of it, after the worst stretch of violence that has ever occurred on English soil, a quarter of a million people lay dead. Another decade of Puritan dictatorship followed under Oliver Cromwell. The first thing he did was order the ceremonial mace removed from the table of the Sergeant-at-arms, the moral equivalent of my mother’s silver teaspoon. “Take away this bauble!” he shouted and he gathered the symbolic power of the mace and the Crown to himself. The Puritans proceeded to cut down maypoles, smash all the stained glass windows in the churches and generally poop on all parties.
When Cromwell finally died, nothing had really changed. The country was still bitterly divided and factions were always ready to reach for their weapons. But there was a general exhaustion in the air and the glimmer of an idea emerged that perhaps it was better to talk, talk talk than fight, fight fight. Someone had the brilliant idea of erecting two barricades in the House of Commons, two and a half sword lengths apart so that opposing members could not stab each other during heated discussions. The ceremonial mace was returned to the table. Over the years, more and more elaborate rules were laid down for these discussions and gradually the structure of a parliamentary democracy took shape, one that we continue to use in Canada today. It’s not a perfect system by any means, but no one has yet invented anything better. No armies have squared off on English soil for more than 300 years now, which is a record that only Switzerland can beat.
So what to do about this lunch club? On the face of it, the differences we have are fairly small compared with those south of the border and even the American dilemma looks relatively calm compared to 17th century England. In this country we have all come to accept that universal health care, pensions and unemployment insurance may technically be socialist ideas but have become merely good ideas. Supporting these programs does not make us communists. There will always be the problem of how to pay for them and how to ride herd on these massive institutions we have built to deliver essential things like health care, hydro, highways and public education. But we have pounded out this system through a process of incremental change and only burned the Parliament buildings down a couple of times, which is a marvelous achievement.
My mother would say, “Just let it rest for a bit, dear. A Canadian winter always helps with these things. By February, I expect you will all be glad to see each other again.”
Dan Needles is a writer and the author of the Wingfield Farm stage plays. He lives on a small farm near Collingwood, Ont. His website is www.danneedles.ca