“You who are on the road must have a code that you can live by”: Graham Nash
“I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder”: Leonard Cohen
Is it too extreme to say that the future has changed since the US election? I don’t think so. Even here in our communities in Eastern Ontario, we’re going to feel the effects of what the Electoral College delivered last week. Not the American people, of course, because Clinton actually won more of their votes than Trump did. In fact, he received fewer votes than Mitt Romney or John McCain did in the previous elections. But the result remains the same, regardless.
Why is this so important? Think of all our socio-economic society has been built up on over the past decades. International trade agreements, concern for the environment, tolerance and equality for religious, ethnic and gender minorities, respect for political opponents, all of this has been undermined by the Trump campaign rhetoric. Even the truth is a casualty: when the President-elect of the United States can lie, openly and unashamedly, saying things that he and everyone else knows are untrue, how can he ever be trusted again?
Perhaps, it may even be worse than that: perhaps he doesn’t know he’s lying, doesn’t realise he’s telling complete lies? Perhaps he doesn’t know enough to know when he’s lying? Isn’t that even more worrying? If he keeps his campaign promises, he will try and prosecute Clinton and put her in jail. He will send out police squads to track down and deport undocumented workers, some of whom may have been born in the US.
And what do we tell our children? Is this the role model we will point to as the best and the brightest we can produce in leadership? Harder, of course, for Americans; but Canadian children also are asking questions. Is the Trump approach really the way to success? Does he really reflect the views that we, as a society, should have about immigrants, the disabled, other religions, the environment. Is this how we should properly view women? Is that the kind of attitude that you need to have in order to succeed in business and politics? What else are they to think?
Trump threatens to cancel trade agreements with Canada and other countries. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to renegotiate deals, where new conditions are needed. But Trump seems to be threatening to return to an economic isolationism, a walled camp, where America First is the Prime Directive. That may be fine for Americans, though I doubt it will be as much of a paradise for American workers as they seem to think, but the effect on Canadian employment could be severe, especially as our two economies are now so intricately linked that any attempt to separate them could be traumatic indeed.
Apparently, Climate Change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese Government for some nefarious reason. Trump says he will cancel his country’s part in the recent Paris Accords, and get those coal-fired plants working again. Pipelines will be encouraged, fracking too, no doubt. But, given that Canada, and Ontario specifically, is investing in policies such as cap and trade, limiting carbon emissions, etc., the Trump approach will throw our economy into even more turmoil than our Government’s plans may.
But, behind all of this concern lies a deeper issue, one that is far more fundamental to us all as human beings. Trump has let loose demons that society had managed to suppress after great and costly struggles. The vicious and personal attacks he has made, and encouraged his supporters to make, on opponents, on “the other”, has crossed a line that cannot easily be re-established. How many other wanna-be demagogues are going to look at his hate-filled, ignorant, misogynist, bigoted, racist, lying campaign and decide that, if it worked to get Trump elected, it’s ok for them to use the same approach too.
The fact is that the election results are not an isolated phenomenon. The British voted to leave the European Union, much against the predictions of the pollsters and politicos. (Though, to be fair, the Scots and the people of Northern Ireland voted to remain, and the Welsh seem to have changed their opinion recently). There is a groundswell of anger coming to the surface around the globe, and it is heading in the direction taken in the 1920’s and 30’s. We can’t know yet what the results of Trump’s election will mean for civil and human rights. But we do know that the Russian Government hacked computers of the Democratic Party, among others, to steer the election Trump’s way. With a friend of Putin the White House, I would be very fearful if I lived in the Ukraine, or the Baltic States. And I cannot imagine what a Russia and Syria, freed from pressure from the West, will do in Syria, Iran and Iraq, beyond even the barbaric savagery they have indulged in already.
The world has changed, and Trump’s election is only the most obvious sign of the direction it is taking. We in Canada have to hold on to “a code you can live by”. It is ironic that the man who saw the future, described it as “murder”, should choose this week to leave the stage. We will miss Leonard Cohen. We will also miss standards of decency, honour and integrity in public life. We thought it was bad before: what can we expect in the future?