by Dr David Laing Dawson
I have in my head an image of three generations of a family fleeing in an oxcart from the destruction of war. Today they may be boarding a bus leaving Aleppo.
We respond emotionally to the images of children, wide-eyed, dusty, confused. But it is the older generation I think about, frail, arthritic, failing. The children may live to see the fighting stop and the country rebuilt. At the very least they can hope for this. But the grandparents know they are unlikely to live to see another round of peace and prosperity. They are unlikely to live long enough to see what becomes of their homes, their lands, and their grandchildren.
I was a university student during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Oddly I remember it as spring, but it must have been a warm October in 1962. I should have been studying for mid-terms, but with Khrushchev pounding his shoe on the desk at the U.N., Kennedy not backing down, nuclear missiles deployed in Cuba, armed Soviet vessels steaming toward the American blockade, it looked like the end of the world was approaching quickly, and I decided that sitting in a library poring over books was no way to spend one’s last day on earth. Instead, I spent much of it sitting under a tree on the campus watching the leaves and the drifting clouds beyond.
We now know some of the strange details of those ten days of brinksmanship. Khrushchev overestimated Kennedy’s maneuvering latitude in a democracy. The Joint Chiefs wanted to invade Cuba. Kennedy knew the Soviets would have to take Berlin if the US took Cuba and killed some Russians in the process. And he knew where that would lead. Thank God Khrushchev knew as well, and he was not a madman, not an outrageous narcissist. Khrushchev blinked. And I went back to studying for my mid-terms.
I am no longer young, and like the grandparents on that oxcart, I wonder what is in store for the world and for my grandchildren. I am trying to gauge my anxiety about this. I have written about The Donald’s threat to democracy, but what do I know? I am neither historian nor political scientist. But many more qualified than I are seeing the same trend, the same threat to American democracy that I see, the same rise of an amoral international oligarchy, the chipping away at the fundamental tenets of democracy. And as it is for the crabs in a large pot of warm water on the stove, and for the subjects of a gradual desensitization program, each increase in temperature, each aberration becomes the new normal. The CNN pundits frequently say it has no “precedent”, (and in one of the best Freudian typos of all time, as we know, Mr. Trump wrote “unpresidented”), and that these are “new times, new realities”. Of course each of these erosions of American democracy does have a precedent. One need but look beyond our shores to the oligarchs of Russia, the nepotism of both Koreas, the mix of business and politics in China, the collapse of democracies in the past, and 1930’s Germany.
But let me get to my point before I dig too deep a hole. There are a few good democracies in this world, most notably Canada, capable of punching above their weight in international affairs. The next few years we must not succumb to the disease affecting much of Europe and America. We must instead shout loud and clear, we must participate, we must join whatever rational and sane leaders there are left in this world to get us through this. We must negotiate, mediate, and speak for morality.
So, Prime Minister Trudeau, it looks like we must try to survive four years of Mr. Trump and his cohort of oligarchs and plutocrats, impulsive tweets, regressive policies, a continuing increase in income disparity, further deterioration of the American public education and health system, along with Vladmir Putin baring his chest and flexing his pecs, Kim Jong Un playing lego with his nukes, Netanyahu digging in his right to the expansion of Israel, Brexit turmoil in Europe, Duterte unleashing the hounds of hell…
We need adults at the table. We need somebody to raise the flag of sanity and compassion. It will be okay by me if you and your team neglect the home front. By and large we Canadians are doing just fine. But we need to know our voices are being heard when Putin and Trump square off, or some idiot is about to trigger another mid east conflagration, or Putin and Trump team up and piss off China…..or…..
In a world of delicate balances, a world of compromise, a world in which we know that the written or spoken word, even if it is merely the public pronouncement of an obvious logic, truth, or morality, can trigger retaliation or war – in such a world the impulsive tweet, the school yard taunt, fake news, the inattention to detail, the folly of self-importance, the fragile ego, and a horrible combination of ignorance and grandiosity can spell doom for us all.
You have a job to do Mr. Trudeau, you and all the other sane voices on the international stage. I wish you God speed.