Sunday, February 5, 2017
Unexpected benefits of the Trump Era #4: Canada in Glory
I wrote this last weekend, and it went up briefly in the wee hours of Monday morning. Then I woke up, heard about the slaughter at a Quebec City mosque, immediately feared it was in bad taste and took it down. Saturday, I saw Nicholas Kristof had declared Canada the leader of the free world, and figured it is safe to float this out there as well. Because even the attack is a reminder of their advantage over us: Canada has its haters too. It just doesn't put them in positions of executive power. Nor does it seize upon acts of terrorism to undermine their democracy.
On the positive side of all this. Consider our friends in Canada, who have always chafed in the shadow of the larger, more powerful and more significant nation to their south. Whatever they did or said, America always had done or said it first, louder, bigger, better, bolder.
Now that extends to soiling our nest in the fashion that Ernest Hemingway once used to describe bankruptcy—gradually then all at once. Twenty years of slowly undermining truth and degrading each other as traitors then, boom, we wake up one morning and we've elected a brittle and angry pathological liar and buffoon as our president.
In his first week in office, he was giving the finger to our Mexican allies with one hand while slamming the front door to 134 million Muslims with the other. America has gone full bore, balls flapping, off the rails and into the ditch, where it sits upside down in a shallow muddy creek, engine howling, wheels spinning uselessly.
Only 207 weeks left to go...
To their eternal credit, Canada didn't gloat, didn't rub our faces in it, not directly. Just kept on being the smart, decent human beings they have always been, which is in a sense an even worse reproach. Just the existence of Canada has become a wrenching indictment of the United States.
While our bold former ideals gaze scowling down at them from their marble plinths, our legislators are busily wiping the ass of an egomaniac. Lawmakers who were entrenched ideologues a few weeks ago tossing their core beliefs into the Bonfire of His Vanities, all out of terror of being the subject of a tweet.
While there you are, jaws set in determination not to be us, offering comfort at the world, saying "Hey all you good immigrant folk stranded across the world by America's insane, abrupt and bigoted lurch in customs law: come live in Canada! The safe and friendly home of refugees. We lift the Coleman lantern beside the frosty door. Oh, and by the way. All that stuff that American pretends to be? We actually are those things. Sure, we have our kooks too —Bonjour les séparatistes québécois!—but they aren't going to shoot you and frankly, since having their heads handed to them at the polls in 2014, they've been off somewhere licking their wounds. We didn't give them the reins of power, not like some nations do."
Well, maybe you ground it in a little. What with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, young, handsome, not at all orange, who waved in 39,000 Syrian refugees just after he was elected—about triple the number the U.S. could bring itself to tolerate—declaring Canada to be the haven of the world, welcoming the displaced families that Americans are just too pants-wetting terrified to allow into our once-mighty country, lest they try to fertilize their lawns with the ammonium nitrate that our own home-grown fundamentalist terrorists need to make bombs.
O Canada. You always wanted to be a greater, stronger, more respected nation than the United States. And now you are. We're still more populous, but give it time. If California secedes, out of pure embarrassment, we'll lose 40 million people right there. Plus the strain of living in a topsy-turvy funhouse mirror world where the idea of there being a verifiable truth is spat upon. Can a people die of shame? We'll see. Or maybe we won't have to. Maybe we'll end up in Steve Bannon's gulag, for the crime of attempting to exercise freedoms we thought we had but—presto chango!—have no longer.
Still, it must be a hollow victory. You sometimes feel the same trickle of cold dread, the same nauseous can-this-really-be-happening? disbelief that hits half of America every morning the second our eyes snap open. (The other half of Americans wake up thinking, "Mmmm, waffles!") In our defense, it's not just us. The world is going crazy—the Philippines elected a murderous madman who promised, once in office, to start killing people, and did just that, and they love him for it. Britain pulled the pin on Brexit in June and stands staring, stupidly, at the grenade, waiting for the "boom!" Prime Minister Theresa May was just here, holding Donald Trump's hand, literally, because, heck, they need to be somebody's steady girlfriend, and with all of Europe freshly jilted and plotting vengeance, there's slim pickings left. Over in France, the National Front might not come to power in May, Then again, it might.
Back to your good old Uncle Sam. The truth is, America always had its share of failures, of times when it fell short of our ideals. But never intentionally, never as an official matter of national policy designed to make regular American folks feel less scared about all the stuff they obviously feel scared about. And in such a ham-handed, pissing-in-the-wind fashion.
You can't grow avocados or distill tequila up there, can you? Because at the rate we're going, well, the usual sources of those and many other products just won't be rumbling to our stores the way we used to. Tim Horton's and Canadian Club, no offense, it just ain't the same.
Though who are we to poke fun at you, or at anybody? The old Soviet Union was such a figure of ridicule, hooted at and mocked for claiming to have invented the telephone, for believing all the bald lies their tyrants forced down their throats. And now we're on the receiving end having raised up the King of Lies and put him in the Oval Office. We'll be dealing with him for four or eight years or forever, depending on just much we let him get away with. On the plus side, we're protesting in huge numbers. On the minus, we have to.
It's like all the swagger we ever had was sucked out of our body and swallowed up into the grotesque human form of one bottle blond demagogue. A Japanese monster movie creature who rose dripping from New York Harbor, absorbed America's pride and used it as energy. Which might be yet another unexpected benefit of all this because, to be honest, looking at it in our new leader, swagger doesn't seem the positive value it used to be. In fact, it's downright repellent. No wonder you hate us so much. Or did, before we became an object of pity. I can't speak for the entire country as a whole—there's already one guy too many claiming to do that. But I promise you Canada, if we ever get out of this mess, if we ever crawl out of the noxious sewer of nationalism, lies and bumbling folly we fell into with a sickening splash on Nov. 8, we're going to be a whole lot better a friend, neighbor, country. You see it already forming, in the brave resistance to his crazy edicts. How this turns out, well, who can say? But your good example is a comfort to us. Sincerely. Thanks for you being you, and apologies for us being us. We're working on changing that.