From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Will Escaping Americans Test Canada’s Capacity for Sympathy?
Date October 18, 2020 12:05 AM
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[ We wait, helplessly, to see whether the forces opposed to
Trumpism inside the United States will succeed.]
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WILL ESCAPING AMERICANS TEST CANADA’S CAPACITY FOR SYMPATHY?  
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Leo Panitch
October 17, 2020
The Bullet
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_ We wait, helplessly, to see whether the forces opposed to Trumpism
inside the United States will succeed. _

,

 

When Donald Trump was elected in 2016, I started hearing from American
friends that they were thinking of migrating to Canada. Sensing that
most of them didn’t really mean it, I would joke in response that we
would “build a wall and make you pay for it.” And I sometimes
reminded them that Canada had more often been the refuge for those
escaping the overthrow of reactionary regimes. A good many white
people in Apartheid South African used to refer to Toronto as
“To-run-to.”

Especially since the already infamous first presidential debate of
2020, where Trump appeared to morph into sounding more like Benito
Mussolini than the shyster businessman of the P.T. Barnum “there’s
a sucker born every minute” variety, I have been getting more
declarations of intent to migrate to Canada. They seem more sincere
and credible this time.

Immediately after watching the debate myself, I was impelled to go
hunting for my battered old copy of It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair
Lewis’s Depression-era novel about the coming to power of a fascist
president. A passage toward the end, rather foreshadowing Margaret
Atwood’s ending to The Handmaid’s Tale, tells of a dissident
journalist who, after escaping a US concentration camp, arrives in
Canada supposing…

“that everyone would thrill to his tale of imprisonment, torture,
and escape. But he found that ten thousand spirited tellers of woe had
come before him, and that the Canadians, however attentive and
generous hosts they might be, were actively sick of pumping up new
sympathy. They felt that their quota of martyrs was completely filled,
and as to the exiles who came in penniless, and that was the majority
of them, the Canadians became distinctly wary of depriving their own
families on behalf of unknown refugees, and they couldn’t even keep
up forever a gratification in the presence of celebrated American
authors, politicians, scientists, when they became common as
mosquitoes.”

Safe Haven?

I was initially reluctant to share this with my American friends. In
any case, it has always seemed to me that Canada, rather than
providing safe haven were the US ever really to go fascist, was much
more likely to suffer the _Anschluss_ fate of Austria in the 1930s.

Indeed, the rest of world is transfixed watching the unfolding of this
US election precisely because of the continuing economic, military and
cultural power of the American informal empire, still standing at the
very epicentre of global capitalism. We wait, helplessly, to see
whether the forces opposed to Trumpism inside the United States will
succeed.

In that light, what was perhaps most disturbing to those of us abroad
who watched the so-called debate was what it revealed about the
current level of American political discourse. Whatever else may be
said about the disappointments of his presidency, Obama certainly
raised that level, not just in comparison with Bush but even with
Clinton.

By contrast, the degradation of political discourse under Trump brings
to mind Umberto Eco’s observation that the most telling
characteristic of the rise of fascism was how its “impoverished
vocabulary,” and “elementary syntax” increasingly limited
popular capacities for “complex and critical reasoning.”

Apart from looking so pale alongside Trump, rather like the ghost of
Christmas past, Joe Biden’s trademark “here’s the deal” did
little to offset this. And when he promised American workers that
federal government procurement would only go to goods and services
produced in the U.S., what registered for those us watching in Canada
was not Trump’s claim that Biden had done nothing in his long career
at the pinnacle of the Democratic political establishment, but rather
how much Biden had in fact done to get trade treaties passed that
prohibit other governments around the world from doing exactly this.

There may well be sufficient coherence among all the disparate reasons
for opposing Trumpism to secure an electoral majority for Biden. But
whether this coherence will hold in face of Trump and his supporters
refusing to recognize the outcome, which the bluster about voter fraud
during the debate was so clearly intended to presage, and even to
normalize, is another question.

The street protests that would ensue in the face of this would surely
make those of this summer look tame. In this respect Trump’s pledge
that what has taken place in Portland would all be over if he was only
given half an hour to deal with it could only mean one thing: the
unleashing of repression on a terrible scale. The measure of Canadians
capacity for sympathy may yet be tested sooner than we think. •

This article first published on the Toronto Star
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website.

Leo Panitch is emeritus professor of political science at York
University, co-editor (with Greg Albo) of the Socialist Register
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Making of Global Capitalism [[link removed]]
(Verso). His new book, co-authored with Colin Leys, Searching for
Socialism: The Project of the Labour New Left from Benn to Corbyn
[[link removed]] (Verso).

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