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City on a hill, tarnished beyond recognition

By Jim Creskey      

Canada’s leaders must know that the resentments that led to the Trump victory are also present here. How we deal with them will be a test for the Trudeau government, a test we can’t afford to fail.

Buttons emblazoned with the Republican Party's iconic elephant symbol at an election night party in Ottawa, hosted by U.S. Ambassador Bruce Heyman. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright

President-elect Donald Trump awaits the traditional high-noon inauguration date on January 20, a divisive master of scapegoating, while a Republican Congress, former fortress of obstruction, is about to lurch into dangerous uncertainty.

The political stress level of Americans, reported to be 52 per cent before the election, now enters the red zone. For that matter, what about the stress of Canadians and citizens of other countries who were convinced that the most powerful nation in history was becoming unhinged? Now we are watching it happen.

As the vote was counted, a collective and premature sigh of relief that followed early polls soon became a dull sense of disbelief. Trump’s statement a day before that, “If I don’t win I will consider it a tremendous waste of time, energy, and money,” had people believing that his bid to become president was a lark, akin to nothing more than another failed casino project.

Now it begins to sink in that a crazed impossibility has come to fruition.

The election campaign that the country and the world was forced to endure was a kind of torture of racism, misogyny, and xenophobia soon to be followed by collective PTSD.

During the campaign, Americans were pandered to, milked as victims, and treated to choking doses of fear and loathing worthy of any second-rate tabloid news site. At the very least they were treated like bilked consumers instead of citizens.

Trump supporters, said to be longing for a return to the social (and possibly religious) fundamentalism of the 1950s, may soon inherit a whirlwind of resentment and something far worse than the 50s and 60s ever saw.

The Eisenhower 50s and the Kennedy 60s were not like this; they were struggling with the spectre of Cold War, imbedded racism, and gender discrimination, but they carried hope.

“Ask not what your country can do for you,” said John F. Kennedy in his inaugural address in 1961, “ask what you can do for your country.”

Kennedy wasn’t doing anything exceptional by asking citizens to make a sacrifice for the common good. Past American presidents, even jurists, had asked the same—many of them taking the lead from Gospel quote: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded…”

Americans and their federal government had in the past expected much of those citizens who were given much.

In the year JFK was elected, the nation was happy to accept a top-bracket income tax rate over 90 per cent which, contrary to today’s popular opinions about taxes, managed to keep the economy, the middle-class, and even the stock market growing and the government out of debt.

But America and the world can’t go back to 1950 and start over again. For African Americans, Islamic peoples, immigrants and refugees, for women and the LGBT community, this is a chilling result.

For America’s neighbours—especially Canada—this is like having a close friend who is a recovering alcoholic fall off the wagon and get into serious trouble as a result.

When the Trump campaign singled out Canada’s healthcare system for derision, it was a reminder that, seen from Canada, Barack Obama’s courageous attempt to take on the powerful insurance and corporate health lobbies amounted to only a tepid (and now we know only temporary) response to a pressing need.

Never claiming their healthcare system to be a model of perfection, Canadians—and for that matter, the rest of the developed world—understand that a 21st century country without universal healthcare is a country rushing to destroy its middle class.  Serious medical procedures become second mortgages, ongoing procedures become home evictions. For the working poor, there is simply a lower life expectancy and infant mortality rate.

Canadians wondered, how could working-class Trump supporters not see this?

At the same time, it does Canada no good being smug about the fallout from this unsavory campaign.

Canada is not Russia or any other country that sees the U.S. as an adversary.

Foreign Policy magazine’s Julia Ioffe wrote that it is a gift to Vladimir Putin to now discover, “a deeply fractured American system, once held up as a shining alternative to Moscow’s style of power, now tarnished beyond recognition.”

I am certain that the last thing Canadians want is a fractured, tarnished America. Canada wants a good neighbour.

But Canada’s leaders must know that the resentments that led to the Trump victory are also present here. How we deal with them will be a test for the Trudeau government, a test we can’t afford to fail.

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