Canada celebrates 150 years as a country today, marked by the year it freed itself of the rump and remnants of the British Empire. The question now is: Will Canada now free itself of the rump and remnants of the American empire?
One of the most influential college professors I’ve had was a cultural geographer from China. The year was 1970, and it was the middle of the “Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution” as it is still known in the Middle Kingdom.
Having been raised an hour-plus from the Canadian border, and with Canadian ancestry (a grandfather from Quebec I never knew), I always felt an affinity for Canada. My fondest family memory is a train trip to Montreal for Expo ’67 when I was a freshman in high school.
So I listened attentively as a freshman at Central Michigan University when this strange Chinese cultural geographer spoke about “culture hearths.” Early on he said something that has stuck with me for nearly 50 years.
“I’ve taught at universities in both Canada and the United States,” he said, “and both from a cultural geographer’s perspective, there is no discernible cultural difference between the United States and Canada…you both belong to what cultural geographer’s call the ‘North American culture hearth.’”
I don’t recall him saying anything about the vicious Cultural Revolution still going on in his country, during which Mao incited young people to brutalize the country’s entire educated class, beating and sending untold numbers of teachers, writers and artists to “re-education camps.”
Even parents were turned on and turned in by their children for “wrong thinking.” Along with previous purges and the Great Chinese Famine, the Cultural Revolution put Mao in the same league with Stalin and Hitler as the worst tyrants of the 20th century.
A nation that fails to come to terms with the truth of its history is destined to wander in the deserts of desiccated mythology. Whether this applies more to America’s whitewash of the Bush years, or China’s whitewash of Mao’s reign, I don’t know.
Canadians like to think they are fundamentally different than Americans, but so far, they have been weak sisters when it comes to standing up to Trump’s despotism. I’ve talked with many since the election, and they seem to be caught in the same illusions and wishful thinking as Democrats, believing that Donald Trump is an anomaly.
Like most high school boys, I believed in the United States when I graduated, and if I had been drafted then I would have willingly gone to Vietnam. That war was fought by the poor and by minorities in the main however, and I took my deferment like a million other guys my age, and went to college.
College deferments ended after my first year, and everyone was thrown into the draft pool. You drew a number, which determined the destiny of your life. If you drew a low number, you had three options: Vietnam, jail, or Canada.
I drew a high number and continued with my life. A few years ago I talked with a fellow my age, also in college at the time, who drew a low number. He promptly drove to the Canadian border, and when he reached it, the Canadian border agent asked him, “Why are you entering Canada?”
I’m not seeing much sign of such Canadian character these days, and so far I feel like I’m talking with a politer version of Americans. There’s an undue deference, a fear of offending their louder, ruder and more violent neighbors to the south.
Living briefly in Mexico, I encountered the same trepidation of American power, but with sarcastic passion. Teaching English at a high school in Puerto Vallarta one year in the ‘90’s, the students acerbically voiced the view, “We all know that if we go too far, Uncle Sam will invade.”
The chair of a political science department at a major Canadian university and I recently compared the populations of Canada and California. He correctly said 35 million for his entire country; I incorrectly said that was about the population of California. (It’s actually 39.3 million.)
Canadians used to say, “You’re the elephant; we’re the mouse.” That said a lot about their self-image as a geographically huge country with a small population bordering a superpower.
Now that a draft dodger demagogue is President of the United States, will Canadians welcome Americans fleeing tyranny as they once did? Or have they become just a nicer version of Americans?
If the spirit of Pierre Trudeau still animates Canadians, the revolution in consciousness essential to change the disastrous course of man will ignite there. It sure can’t in laid back (read complacent) California.