Being a Canadian is an odd thing. Well I suppose that's not really right, its simply my country, my citizenship, my National identity as one would say but if one were to declare "I'm a Canadian" in a packed bar room or a lonely bus depot or the line at Costco ( yes, we have them) or practically anywhere at all... those listening might simply shrug and attribute this sudden declaration to an excess of alcohol or mental illness or more likely to have no opinion at all on the information or the individual making the announcement. On the other hand, stand up and declare in a clear unwavering voice " I'm an American" and the worm turns in a whole other direction.
Uh oh. Trouble. Furtive glances to see who the " target" of this declaration might be, a quick analysis of the situation at hand, locate the exits perhaps or look for what may have prompted this individual to have to have invoked this declaration. "I am an American." Some injustice was suffered perhaps? An infringement of rights, territory or maybe the sales clerk over there brought him or her a size 10 when he asked for a size 11 and it is now discovered he doesn't speak English? Maybe some Muslim guy took two seats on the subway? Now now, hold on... We Canadians have our own prejudice as well and truth be told we don't much care for folks not speaking English but French, not in most of Canada anyway and we have all had to swallow somewhat ruefully the announcement on the airplane mumbled rapid-fire into the microphone En Francais and " Arrete" in fine print on our stop signs. It 'aint like we are the Swedish or something with great furniture socialized medicine and a tolerance for diversity though I hear even the Swedes aren't that way much anymore.... no... we are Canadians and guilty of plenty I'm sure but shout out in a crowded room "I'm a CANADIAN" and you are just not going to get what you get if you announce for all to hear "I'm an American" Why is that?
Nowadays - I know, I know - many will say the answer is simple. Trump. Immediate identification with the big bad boy himself whereas with that Canadian thing well whats the first association? Maple Syrup? Snow? Hockey? I don't know really and after 30 years or more living in the United States perhaps I'm a poor one to say. I admit I have deftly avoided a few knock down drag 'em out political imbroglios by declaring "I'm just an Observer, I can't vote, I'm Canadian" and that's pretty much the case in fact. Though your politics are a lot more fun than ours - your media and talk shows and punditry are state-of-the-art so there's many times it's just irresistible to not be drawn into it as if a 100% participant with something on the line. I guess I do have a vested interest, my work is here, my home, I pay taxes, buy healthcare and had a son who could have put on Army boots after 911. In fact he watched the towers come down from his math class windows on that terrible day. And yet I cannot say "I'm an American." I cannot quite feel the bite, the absurd almost unpalatable concept that my fearless leader is this odd blustering man Trump who tweets in the middle of the night for the world to awake and tremble or guffaw at his hubris.
Its hard to resit telling you Americans that you got what you deserved. Though its cruel to make it that simple its certainly true that this system ya'all work with in the United s States of two parties, pick only A or B from the menu was going to utterly polarize the country. A bad apple was inevitably going to be plucked from the barrel eventually. In Canada we have always had a whole lot of parties, kind of something for everybody whether you are the pro-labor quasi-communist or the most Reganesque conservative. The invocation of 'ole Ronnie Regan's name here is apt. After all, didn't you American folk see this coming? Not that long ago An ACTOR was elected President after all! I remember that night, I was at Yale ( just observing mind you) and my fellow students were stumbling around in shock in a manner reminiscent of the day John Lennon was killed. Glassy eyed and slack jawed in real pain and I think this was the first time I really understood as a Canadian just how separate I was from these Americans.... I mean this was end of the world stuff, the most horrible unbelievable circumstance both Lennon and now Regan... some horrible swapping of icons in a way that turned what people thought was a tank full of good will and sunny days ahead into the Dark Ages Redux. I saw that same effect the night "The Donald" rode through Paris in triumph. Okay okay, perhaps an unnecessary Hitlerian reference but wow...the way people went on and on election night like when Lennon was shot and Regan won.
Now doubtless I feel that way because I am Canadian and not an American. But you Americans you give yourselves an awful lot to live up to. That phrase "I'm an American " always conjures up the right to lead, the assumption that you represent an example of justice freedom and universal ideals that the rest of the world yearns to emulate. It didn't matter which side of the fence you fall on, the Vietnam war pulled the veil form every generation afterwards and the grand old ship that had sailed on since 1776 was found to have a few rotten planks in her hull after all. No vessel can ply those rough seas of Statehood forever and expect the same pristine ideals that accompanied its launch to hold fast forever. But the protests that brought about the end of the Vietnam war once again affirmed in a way that the American Ideal was in fact true..it still held that you folks know when its wrong...and when it right and how to put it right.
Its a different world now for sure, more complex and more fates intertwined than ever. A non-American regarding a character like Trump might jump on the chance to stand him up in effigy and fill his pockets with every damn thing America is and was supposed to stand for and voila! ( damn Canadian public school French class) declare the United States to have officially reached its expiration date like milk in the fridge. No doubt there's something rotten there even if its just Trumps prostate but I think most of us looking at the tribulations of the American and his leader Trump just kind of see it as another uniquely American phenomena that he exists at all like Regan or Lennon's assassin but not hardly the death knell. After all... what about Barack?.
I don't think there's any doubt that America had a correction coming. I mean wow, a Black President for 8 years what could possibly be said about that other than this was indeed the beach side resort of the Promised Land the luggage unpacked and the drinks flowing. A black guy, President? Damn! Those Americans really must have come a long long way after all there's no way that milk of human kindness has gone bad after all. It looked to Canadians like that country down south there really did get its shit together. "Truth, Justice and The American Way" has triumphed, a black man President. But now?
What pendulum was there ever that could tolerate an arc the size of this? I remember sitting in a drive-in movie with my Dad and brother watching about 6 hours of horror movies in an all-nighter of Vincent Price in a series of Edgar Allen Poe (American) works, In one of them the hugest damn pendulum you ever saw, razor sharp, began to swing back and forth back and forth in huge glistening arcs, the brass blade gleaming, The air displaced in a whoosh every time it passed over the helpless victim affixed to its table below coming ever closer in minute increments each time. Whoosh. Lennon. Whoosh Regan. Whoosh 911. It seemed for a long time America had sailed on flag flying. The America I knew was steeped in John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart the Allies vs the Axis, JFK, Nixon and the way he was rousted out... it was all so simple and direct and clear. When I was kid I never did understand why those mean old Indians were so determined to slaughter Sodbuster Joe and his whole wagon full of cute Engles girls in prairie dresses. Its hard to forget that kind of conditioning and how it still comes with you long past youth. This ethos of the American as he/she who does the right thing is a hard one to shake. Looking at the election of Trump it's apparent there's still a huge vein of traditional ore running thought the mantle of American society that feeds this belief of perpetual moral rectitude and he who smelts it may cast the ingots in his likeness like mighty Caesar on the coin of the realm.. Or you could say half the country is stupid. But that would be mean. But I'm just an observer.
And as an observer its quite a sight to behold. Going from 8 years of Barack Obama to Trump. I hear a lot of Americans say the rest of the world must be laughing. They must hate us or think this or that about America because Trump is President. This all ties to the belief that there's something to live up to when one says "I am an American", and as Trump is not " It " who the hell is an American anyway?. I don't have that burden when I say "I am a Canadian". I know it generally seems to make people think we are "nice" not too aggressive or bothersome, not likely to cause a fuss or try and bend anyone to our will. Our Canadian boys have quietly been fighting in Kandahar, the most deadly province in Afghanistan for years. No fanfare, just blood in the dust and a long ride home. World War I, World War II, Korea, we've been there every time and answered the call yet somehow we never had a place at the great table of leaders that seems to decide the worlds fate. When I was a kid I never heard a peep about Canada and its " place" in the world. I remember Khrushchev banging his shoe on the table and how nice Kennedy the movie star looked in his suit and how he wouldn't let this guy with the shoe wreck the world. These were the ones in charge. American kids are brought up with great tales of diplomacy and war and the certain knowledge that the global influence of the United States of America is a given. So its a lot. A lot to transfer on to Trump. All that honor and glory. All that Identity.
But don't blame him for it. Blame yourself. Its time, time to take a load off. Your binary political system made this inevitable. With a choice of A or B there really is no choice. You can get an Obama you can get a Trump. This bizarre swap should tell you something (I know I know half the country is stupid but that's too easy) Its time for a change indeed. More political parties, abolish the electoral college limit election cycles to a few months fix the amount of money that can be spent, term limits etc etc. My suggestion for what you can do right now? Try being a Canadian. No no of course (and we don't want you) don't abandon ship and move North. But just whisper to yourself "I'm just an observer". Get a maple leaf key chain or coffee mug. Observe Trump and his strange behavior. Enjoy the show. I think you'll find he is spectacularly ineffective as much as he is enormously embarrassing. He tweets. He lies. He has that Balkan model wife and likes gold furniture. Its a hell of a show and who would have thought that the elegance and intellect of Barack Obama would have been replaced by this great orange beast pursing his lips and shooting from the hip. He might come in handy if someone has to vaporize North Korea. This world has monsters. Winter is coming. He's your monster, hell I'll even pitch in and say hes my monster too. But he is not what makes you an American. He can never do that, unless you let him.
Contributing Editor: Jack Chinaski
Born on the Canadian Prairies and transplanted to NYC in early adulthood Jack has resided in the U.S. ( legally) for over 30 years. An avid gun owner, fisherman and outdoorsman he makes his living in the film industry when not driving a V-8 or collecting red wine. His ineligibility to cast a vote for the leadership of America has never dampened his love of politics in the lower 48 which he fell in love with at a tender age watching the Watergate Hearings on Canadian television thrilling to the tones of Barbara Jordan and transfixed by the down home precision of Sen Sam Ervin. Other favorites include Judge Judy and the shameless chicanery of Ernest Angley.