Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Envy, at last

When I was a kid, it seemed there was a lot to admire about the United States. Living near the border, as most Canadians do, I was pumped full of someone else’s patriotic pride every weekend with Schoolhouse Rock. They had the bicentennial, they’d gone to the moon, they had Skylab. Jimmy Carter was president and he brokered the peace between Israel and Egypt. It said, ‘we are influential enough to do this’. He signed deals with the Soviet Union limiting arms. It said, ‘we are strong enough to undertake this’. I didn’t know much about my own country yet, but a lot about theirs, and what I knew of theirs made me want to join. It was an ignorant sentiment, but for what it was, it was sincere.

As I grew up, I learned more about Canada, the things we’ve accomplished that don’t get that kind of press and fanfare, but important, humane, and impressive achievements that should not be forgotten or disregarded, but preserved and celebrated. And I do. Now I know who we are, and I can appreciate and cherish it.

Lately, there has not been so much about the US to admire. I don’t need to go into detail, I’m sure. For some time now, I’ve been thankful there’s a border. It’s been a strange, but pleasant feeling for the world to take some notice of us, our progressive and peaceful ways, and for us to have acquired a kind of cache, the cooler place to be in North America, while the US has grown to seem stodgy and insular, paranoid and conservative. It was getting easy to think the US was just past it.

I think that finally changed last night. For the first time in a long time, I found myself admiring the US… its dedication to its ideals and their realization. The promise was made long ago, but let’s not mince words – fulfillment was a long time coming. Still, people who can still remember things like the murders of Emmet Till, Medgar Evers, and Martin Luther King also lived to see an African-American elected president. I think you’d have to have a pretty arid soul not to see some beauty, some poetry in that. I don’t care who you are or where in the world you live, that’s got to mean something to you. Something hopeful.

Yes, envy. I said it. Nothing noxious; just enough that it ought to make folks down there feel a little swell of pride. Yesterday saw the biggest voter turnout in a century in the United States. There was a wave of destiny there that must have been like electing Jack Kennedy, or Pierre Trudeau here. It was a sense of really grasping the brass ring again. Not just words and a required election, but a chance to grasp change and hope, just when the US really needs it.

Compare this with last month’s Canadian federal election. A snap election, called by the same government that, just a couple of years ago, gave us regulation to ensure “fixed term elections” every four years (parliaments have a five-year term limit as it is) which it then itself frivolously abrogated at the cost, to a nation on the brink of a recession, of $300 million dollars. A cynical attempt to secure a majority government and five years of power to ride out the coming economic crisis. The result? One of the lowest (if not the lowest) voter turnouts in Canadian history, and yet another minority government, albeit a slightly stronger one. A more lukewarm reception to a more lackluster political event is hard to imagine in a genuine democracy.

So yes, today – if only for today, perhaps – it is easy to envy the United States, just a little. They have big problems up ahead, and the luster may come off quickly, but still, there’s no denying the beauty of the transformation of a nation, moving forward and finally making rhetoric into reality last night. My congratulations to the United States, and welcome back – I hope – to the family of nations again at last.

1 comment:

laura k said...

You live in a beautiful dream world, my friend.