Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Reflections on US Canada Relations in the Space Between our Birthdays

Canadians had reasons to be unhappy on their nation's 151st birthday. Canada Day takes place on July 1, just a few days before our neighbors to the south celebrate their independence on the fourth of July. Although I feel truly blessed to be born in Canada, the Trump administration's march towards authoritarianism makes me skeptical of even the mildest forms of nationalism.  In no way am I trying to suggest that Canada is beyond the reach of  destructive politicians. Canada has also fallen prey to political leaders who preach fear and eschew climate action. The election of Doug Ford in Ontario is but the most recent example.

Populism is on the rise and Canada is also at risk. Unscrupulous populist leaders like Donald Trump exaggerate the threat from immigration. They preach xenophobia precisely because it enables them to manipulate people. This message is as old as it gets, it triggers tribalism and propels us to mistrust and ultimately vilify others. This may be a remnant of our social-evolutionary heritage, it may even be rooted in our biology, but we have been endowed with a cerebral cortex capable of attenuating and even overcoming our base biological predispositions.

The America First policy that purports to promote the interests of America at the expense of their allies is a willfully destructive form of governance designed to enfeeble multilateralism and erode a global order that has served us since the end of the WW ll.

Populism also undermines climate action and environmental protections. After the great success of COP21, and the signing of the Paris Climate Agreement we are backsliding. Governments are weakening or abandoning their commitments to reign in greenhouse gases.

Canada has a lot to be proud of, however, we also have reason to be ashamed. It is far too easy to feel comfortable by comparing ourselves to places in Europe where populism is on the rise. It is even easier to laud ourselves by saying that we are better than the despicable political leadership of our southern neighbors.

Canada enjoys health care and common sense gun laws, but our leaders also support dirty energy. The ruling Liberal party under Justin Trudeau wants to have it both ways.  They have promised responsible environmental leadership while promoting fossil fuels.This is an oxymoron.

However, populism is far worse, it completely rejects environmental protections and climate action. Trump was elected on such a platform. A year and a half later Doug Ford was elected by adopting some of the central tenets of the Trump campaign. Trump has abandoned government support for a sustainable future and Ford is living up to his promise to eradicate government action on climate change in Ontario. 

The Trump administration has launched scathing and unwarranted tirades against Canada. While they bully their friends they coddle tyrants. They have levied tariffs against Canada as a national security threat.  On the first of July Canada levied retaliatory tariffs of its own. A trade war is breweing and the future of NAFTA is in doubt.

So the celebrations this Canada Day were tempered by well warranted concern. Both for the health of the world's greatest democracy and our own future. Trump will be pleased to know that thinking people are fearful of the rising tide of populist authoritarianism.

We are witnessing a multi-tiered assault on western democracy. In the US and elsewhere the values and institutions of liberalism are under siege, this includes the basic freedoms that we take for granted (eg civil rights, civil liberties and human rights). We are seeing the demise of the separation of powers and we have reason to question the future of an independent judiciary and the system of checks and balances.  Democracy itself is under threat. We cannot even say for sure what will become of universal suffrage and constitutions that limit the powers of government.

Rather than follow the principle of law authoritarian governments make themselves the law. Canada shares the world's largest undefended border with its southern neighbor and we have the globe's biggest bilateral trading relationship. The seemingly daily litany of destructive policies and cruel actions coming from the Trump administration has implications for the world and Canada is far from immune.

We are witnessing the emergence of a powerful dystopia and Canada should not be so naive as to believe that our liberal democracy will emerge unscathed.

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