The Future Is Now
There’ll be the breaking of the ancient Western code
Your private life will suddenly explode
There’ll be phantoms
There’ll be fires on the road
And a white man dancing
-Leonard Cohen, The Future
On November 8, 2016, a mere 24% of the American electorate voted to replace the first black president with a boorish lout endorsed by the KKK. Only a day earlier, Leonard Cohen, the sultry and suave Canadian poet cantor, died in LA.
Cohen had throatily warned in the 1990s of a future that might not be pretty, and threatened that democracy was coming to the USA. One may assume, Cohen’s prescience notwithstanding, that democracy has yet to arrive, given that approximately 50 % of American voters chose to not exercise their franchise (26% voted for Hillary Clinton). Equally and arguably more important is the observation made by many that the media seemed as intent on capturing clicks as informing the electorate. If a free and unfettered media, and the open and honest sharing of facts, is a necessary condition for a functioning democracy, small wonder the party of Lincoln became the party of Trump, and small wonder too that this nearly illiterate and profoundly ignorant man became POTUS. Bellicose Trump bullied and lied, cast about racial epithets and sexist taunts, all the while promising to make America better, though offering only saccharine empty sound-bites as to how he would accomplish this.
“Things are gonna slide,” Cohen sang, “slide in all directions. Won’t be nothing, nothing we can measure anymore.” Though there was not nothing to measure, the measuring stick — truth — had been rendered relative, facts competing with alternative facts. And over 60 million Americans lapped it up and voted for Trump.
Though we arguably are too quick with labels such as racism, sexism, and others, it cannot be denied that there is a strong current of nationalism complemented with racism in America, a feeling that the American dream is under attack, and this certainly played a role in the election of this man unfit to lead a family let alone the most powerful country in the world (for now).
What about Canada? As Canadians return to the polls this fall, can we be smug? I suggest that any feigned or real confidence or complacency is whistling by the proverbial grave yard.
In 2015 Canadians resoundingly kicked to the curb Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservative Party, itself a shadow of our parents’ Conservative Party, the new gang an amalgamation, a congealing of libertarian impulses under zealous right-wing ideologues. Machiavellian Harper was replaced by Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party.
Mr. Trudeau is a more vigorous, vibrant, and decidedly more charismatic leader, a young man arguably at once burdened and propelled by his last name. But his “sunny ways” have not quite lived up to their promise; Mr. Trudeau is a flawed human, leading a team with feet of clay. “Promises” were broken, sacrifices made; politics is the art of compromise.
I struggle with the notion of political goals cum promises. I worry that the electorate has become so entitled and fickle that, like children giving parents wish-lists for Santa, we all but force politicians to promise the moon, as it were, and then call them liars when they can’t deliver. Electoral reform (so badly needed in America, where Trump lost the popular vote by millions of votes) was promised by Trudeau, but not delivered. This single issue has rendered him a now less palatable candidate for thousands of Canadians who voted liberal in 2015 only because of this promise.
Canada is fortunate in that we don’t exactly have a Trump hoping to take over the PM’s job in October. We do have a near-racist xenophobe, Maxime Bernier, who almost became the leader of the Conservative Party, only to lose to 40-year-old Andrew Scheer. Bernier consequently abandoned the party and formed a further right “People’s Party of Canada.” Why is that “people’s” parties seem invariably to be only for a homogenous well-defined subset of people? So far Bernier is just noise, but people said that about Trump, and Hitler.
Andrew Scheer has spent his adult life as a public servant, having only dabbled in the world of paid work prior to entering politics. This is certainly not to say that politics is not a valuable vocation, but only to point out a degree of disingenuousness when the stridently Catholic Scheer, who with his wife has 5 children, claims with a dimpled straight face to understand the struggles of people trying to make ends meet. He’s worth millions, and has lived in state-owned housing, with chefs and drivers and staff most of his adult life. Being devout, his children go to private religious schools. Small wonder that until very recently he advocated a tax break on up to $4k per year per child for parents who enroll their children in private schools.
Mr. Scheer’s policies, like the man himself, are mostly vague, ambiguous, and hard-to-pin-down. Even right leaning media criticized his vacuous environmental plan. Shortly after he became leader, a document outlining his leanings toward more lenient gun laws in Canada was removed from his website. Gone, but not forgotten.
Scheer was mentored by Harper, and many suggest Mr. Harper remains Scheer’s puppet master. Though perhaps not completely openly comfortable with Trumpism, Scheer and many of the party hopefuls vying to form the next government seem increasingly and shamefully reluctant to criticize the rabid nationalism, racism, and retrograde trickle-down economic theory espoused by Trump and his GOP lapdogs.
Mr. Scheer has not yet advocated building a border wall, but he and his colleagues talk tough on immigration, importing from south of our border the nonsense hyperbole that “illegal” immigration is threatening our economy, our very national identity. Not content to simply speak of “illegal” immigration, and “queue-jumping,” like the Americans whose incessant droning is inescapable, Scheer and his base suggest that even those seeking asylum are doing so simply so they can have a better life! As if that’s not a good reason to flee disintegrating countries, these people are denigrated as “economic migrants.” Not for us, supporting people who just want to come here and get jobs and enjoy the social benefits Canadians take for granted. Not when our own ancestors had to come here and “settle” the country in order to be so entitled, and we had the good sense to be born here.
As those of us either too complacent or too compromised by vested interests to act bury our heads in the increasingly hot earth, the planet warms, ice melts, and we see drought and deprivation in our beleaguered spaceship Earth’s most vulnerable regions. As climate change and political unrest exacerbate the struggles of subsistence farmers and others who eke out a meagre existence, people flee destruction and insecurity, as has been humanity’s historical way. As the planet heats up literally and politically, people do what they’ve done for thousands of years, they migrate.
On the weekend of August 4, 2019, there were 2 mass shootings in less than 24 hours in Trump’s America, one in El Paso, the second in Dayton Ohio. Both were perpetrated by homegrown white males using high-powered weapons good for killing humans quickly and easily, good for war that is, but good for nothing else. The kind Mr. Scheer might like to see more of in Canada, more readily accessible?
Though the Dayton shooter’s motivation remains unclear, and he is dead, the pale loser who survived and was arrested in El Paso (imagine if he’d been black) left an online document in which he claimed to be a fan of the recently notorious mass shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand, who himself left a written manifesto, parts of which were read into the record of a Canadian justice committee by regressive Conservative Michael Cooper. The El Paso shooter, whose name doesn’t deserve saying, wrote that he was deliberately out to kill immigrants, to stop the “invasion,” echoing the rabid Donald Trump.
It seems that these lonely white boys do not think so much as feel; they are dull, but not numb, and they feel rage, they feel threatened. And now, increasingly, complete with manifestos, they see themselves at war, amorously cradling their war machines (picture the vile Kaitlin Bennet, posing with her AK-style phallus strapped over her shoulder). They are not just trying to make America great again, per the rallying cry of their accidental leader, their orange and bloated cheerleader, but in the near ubiquitous Christo-fascism that clouds their immature brains, they imagine that it is their moral obligation to do so. They’re whipped to frothy frenzy by rallies, bizarre press interactions, and by petulant teenage style tweets.
The future is here. As we now can kill from increasing distances, no longer needing to look our victims in the eye, so now our slaves and indentured servants are remote from us. But where we used to be able to keep the slaves from the manor house, lest they steal, the miracle of the internet, and of social media, has invited them to have a look around. They know how we live, they see our lives of abundance.
So if humanity and altruism are not reason enough to welcome the destitute, the planet’s new lepers, think of the Somali pirates as a microcosm of what awaits, if we don’t redistribute the spoils; if we don’t deliberately, willingly, graciously balance our fragile space craft Earth. They are coming, and walls won’t stop them. To return to Mr. Cohen, they’re
…coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin’
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
To be clear, Cohen is here talking of democracy, it’s an angry democracy he says is coming. Having seen the future (it is murder), we’d better hope democracy is coming. Because people are coming, and they’re not all white Europeans like the ones who came before, who with rum and guns and smallpox and trinkets stole the North American continent from the old stock folks who arguably owned it. They’re brown, and they’re black; they’re Muslims and Jews and Hindus. Ironically, they’re being passively and actively rejected by millions who claim to follow the itinerant Jewish teacher now known as Christ, he who is reported to have suggested that it is the meek who will inherit the kingdom, he who allegedly suggested that in the event of personal affront, the other cheek is to be turned, he who challenged his followers to love their enemies, to love their neighbours as themselves, he who demonstrated rage but once, and that when the money changers defiled the temple.
There are those who have credibly suggested that North American democracy is threatened, even as some others say it already is nothing but a mirage, a chimeric veil (a shroud perhaps) protecting the billionaires who’ve bought our governments, and who say because we simply cannot pay more taxes, we need to cut social programs, and let people fend for themselves.
I fear America may be lost for a generation, may be in for civil war. Cohen:
It’s coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It’s here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it’s here they got the spiritual thirst.
It’s here the family’s broken
and it’s here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.
What of Canada? While children drown and wash ashore, and Canadians struggle to appreciate this immense global catastrophe, now is not the time for nationalism, if ever there was one. To be sure, let us be patriotic. We have an amazing country, and we should protect it, even as we daily work to improve it, but we need to recognize that our greatness, our riches, stolen as they were, demand that we offer a place to people in need, regardless of creed, colour, or nationality.
Can we live up to our promise, be a beacon of hope in a stormy planet? Or will we turn our backs on millions of unfortunates, at home and abroad, turn backward to demonstrably failed economic ideas and isolationist politics? Will we cut taxes even as we say we haven’t the money to help? Will we ignore the immense scientific consensus that our environment, our planet, is imperilled?
Or will we look forward, embrace all others, fulfill the promise of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and truly be the best country on Earth? The choice is clear. Cohen had asked, “when they said repent, I wonder what they meant.” May I suggest that we repent, dare I say redeem or save ourselves, by ensuring that a more vibrant and robust democracy does indeed come, not just to USA, but to Canada. We must hold our media and our leaders to better account. And may I further suggest that if we don’t want to lose it, we damn well better use it. We all must vote. And we must not think only of narrow self-interest when we do so.
*A previous version of this article had stated that the 2016 election was in 2015. It was corrected.