Most Americans used to smile when they heard the word “Canada”. Unless, that is, if your town or city had a sports rivalry with one of their ice hockey teams. The Chicago Blackhawks of my hometown had one with the mighty Toronto Maple Leafs.
Hockey, which someone once called a brawl with a game attached to it, was as rough as Canada got. My own childhood was filled with images of it as a land of snow and eager, barking huskies dragging sleds through the snow, and Mounties chasing bad guys through the snow, and maple syrup for pancakes, extracted from trees growing in the snow.
Most Americans have absolutely no idea that Canada is the second-largest country by total area in the world, that its border with the US is the longest bi-national border on earth, and that the republic’s dependence on trade with Canada in relation to electrical goods, car parts and the like is monumental.
Even in spite of the fact that, arguably, the richest guy who ever lived, Elon Musk, is Canadian and so are William Shatner, Margaret Atwood and Drake, Canada is still a blur. With snow.
So, as someone who grew up about 800 miles from Windsor, Ontario, where it is all happening – my first reaction to the chaotic scenes caused by a trucker protest is to say: “Canada? Really?”
Out of Canada has come Freedom Convoy 2022, a protest of angry truckers against the vaccine mandates that has exploded into a crusade against those enraged by the government.
Highlights include protesters urinating on the National War Memorial and partying on the Tomb Of the Unknown Soldier. It’s all there: the libertarians, the hipsters, folks just tired of being told what to do, all of them combined to wreak havoc on whatever and whomsoever.
The residents of the area in Ottawa where the honking went on all night finally got an injunction and, like proper Canadians, the truckers stopped the noise. Yet still supplies of petrol and food are being brought to them by sympathisers.
Meanwhile, the state of Michigan, which is losing millions because it relies on trade with Canada for machinery and auto parts to keep the state and its workers going, is begging the truckers to bring an end to all of this.
Uncivil and aggressive behaviour is escalating all over the world now, with agitators sharing tactics on social media.
There was that attempt to run a Joe Biden bus off the road during the 2020 election campaign, an action that was genuinely frightening in a country where violence is, shall we say, not uncommon. And there is the sacking of the Capitol on January 6, 2020, something that had not happened since the War of 1812, when the British attacked it.
There is the imagery: Confederate flags, mock-ups of the PM at the end of a noose, anti-vaxxers using the protest as a flag of convenience.
As Brexiteers are discovering the age-old axiom that you should always trade with your nearest neighbour, Americans are starting to see that Canada and what happens there matters. Really matters.
The US trade deficit is tied to how well the country works with Canada and its southern neighbour, Mexico. Which explains why the first trip that any new US president makes abroad is to Canada. It is Canada and Mexico that are the real “special relationship”. These three countries share the same continent and this is beginning to be realised by the man and the woman on the street.
Some facts: In addition to the state of Michigan: Alaska, Washington State, Montana, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York State, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine all share a border with Canada. Now all are scrambling to shore up border controls in fright at what might spill over. The US Homeland Security department has warned that a copycat truckers’ strike or worse could flare up. They see the signs and are worried.
And this is how and where it could all get really, really bad.
The annual State Of The Union address is coming up, the first for President Biden, and there is the prospect of a truckers’/antivaxx/Big Lie alliance rally in DC on the day. Right wing and far right media are stirring things up, part of their overall business plan.
The grievances are aided and abetted by wide-eyed Tucker Carlson, the prime-time evening host on Fox. Even Fox News said in open court that Carlson shouldn’t be taken seriously, but he is allowed to carry on anyway. Because, like the rival mob boss says in The Godfather about Don Corleone: “He makes money for his friends.”
Underneath it all, shoring it all up is a lethal combination of pandemic fatigue, ye olde anti-government activism, male rage and, on the part of some, a genuine attempt to thwart the rule of law in order to discredit democracy itself.
Living within the circles upon circles that we exist in now are those who have always wanted to see it all burn down, including the rule of law itself.
The truckers’ strike is not a “you can take this job and shove it” kind of thing. It is much more.
It is yet another sign begging the question of whether or not we can maintain civilisation as we have known it.
And if we have the stomach and the courage to want to.