Category Archives: US Presidential Election

Can the United States be Fixed?

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Image by shawn1 from Pixabay

By Marvin Ross

The other day, we posted a blog by Susan Inman critiquing Bernie Sander’s mental health platform but there is a bigger picture when it comes to the US. So much is wrong with that country that I am not sure it can be fixed without some very drastic changes.

I’m just reading Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristoff and journalist Sheryl Wudunn.

They begin by pointing out that the US, compared to other countries, ranks at:

#40 for child mortality

#50 for personal safety

#61 for high school enrollment

#25 in the overall well-being of its citizens

The US is one of only a very few countries that has regressed based on the Social Progress Index. The US spends more on health care than any other country but its outcomes are comparable to that of Ecuador. The school system is on par with Uzbekistan. The US working class has collapsed into unemployment, broken families, drugs, obesity and early death. Not a pretty picture.

Kristoff looks at some of the kids he grew up with in rural Oregon who died early from chronic medical conditions whose illnesses he says would have been well managed in Europe and Canada where there is universal health care.

And yet, many of these people support Trump. A woman in Oklahoma he interviewed had been saved from a very abusive husband by a social agency. She became a kindergarten teacher and was living happily with her son and voted for Trump. She was not pleased when the funding to her social agency was slashed but felt that maybe Trump was right to save tax money and plans to vote for him again.

Another was an old friend who had endured seven bouts of homelessness, voted for Trump and will vote for him again. He is opposed to any social safety net as he feels that recipients are irresponsible. His main love of Trump, however, is guns. He goes nowhere without a revolver on his hip and will not give that up.

I just watched the episode on Netflix’s documentary Dirty Money on Jared Kushner. A working class family in Baltimore being squeezed for every penny by their landlord (a Kushner company) with escalating dubious late fees and court costs. revealed they had voted Trump. They did look a little sheepish when told their landlord was Kushner but will they vote Trump again in 2020?

One of the most compelling comparisons between the US and Canada mentioned in the book was a study done on the reaction to the layoffs in the auto industry in 2008-09 between Detroit and Windsor. The two cities are across the river from each other and have large auto plants. Detroit workers were worse off partly because of a lack of a social safety net such as that in Canada. But in Windsor the Canadian government jumped in within 24 hours to try to ameliorate the impact of layoffs.

An action centre was established to help with job searches, retraining and obtaining benefits. A number of laid off workers wanted to enroll in nursing training but the program at the local college was full. The government encouraged the college to add more spaces so workers could train.

The attitude in the US is that outcomes are a reflection of the persons personal responsibility. If you lose your job and become poor, destitute and/or homeless, its your fault. There is little that society can or should do to help.

Reversing what is happening in the US is a gargantuan task and I doubt we will see any changes in the near future. The only candidate of the two still standing who puts forth a true reformist policy (mental health aside) is Sanders. His policies are similar to that of the NDP in Canada or leftish social democrat parties in Europe but to many Americans, he is scary and a threat. From what I’ve read, he is most popular among the young who are not frightened by the concept of social democracy and who realize they have little future in the new America. Should Biden win the nomination which is likely, they may not even bother to vote thus assuring the world of 4 more years of Trump.

 

Guest Blog -US Democrat in Canada Opposes Sander’s Mental Health Platform

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Image by Dean Moriarty from Pixabay

By Susan Inman

American-Canadians like me can vote in American elections, and also in the primaries that select nominees. Now that Bernie Sanders has released his disability platform  I’m hoping he doesn’t end up being the Democrats’ choice to run against Trump.

As the mother of a daughter living with schizophrenia,  I’ve learned over the past twenty years how much Canada is influenced by American trends in mental health care. The controversial positions that Sanders has recently endorsed reflect beliefs that have become increasingly influential in Canada. These positions harm the people they are meant to help.

People new to thinking about the most responsible, socially just positions regarding mental health care might be very impressed by the language in Sanders’ platform. The platform teems with references to human rights and offers an array of services that would be available in a Sanders administration for people able to voluntarily make use of them. However, readers need to dig deeper into the controversial positions he’s adopted to understand why my American community of family caregivers are alarmed. Underlying these positions is minimization of the severity and nature of psychotic disorders like schizophrenia for most people who live with them.

Here are Sanders’ stances on three crucial issues:

1. Sanders believes that treatment must be voluntary.

Psychotic disorders at some points involve psychosis, which is an inability to distinguish between what is real and what isn’t. A common feature of psychosis is anosognosia,  a brain-based inability of many people in psychosis to understand that they are ill. This is the main reason these people refuse treatment.

Too many human rights advocates refuse to acknowledge the existence of this condition. Policies ignoring anosognosia have had catastrophic consequences for people with psychotic disorders; people with untreated mental illnesses have increasingly ended up homeless, victimized, and in jails and prisons.

Sanders’ disability plan does reference the fact that 1 in 5 inmates has a serious mental illness. However, he insists that just providing more voluntary services will fix the problem: “As president, Bernie will fight to end the criminalization of disability, while also defending the rights of people with disabilities to make their own choices about treatment.”

Sanders narrowly limited the kinds of advocacy groups he listened to. He hasn’t listened to the many people, like writer Julie Fast, who are living with psychotic illnesses and don’t want to be left untreated under the banner of protecting human rights. Fast writes, “The concept of individual rights doesn’t apply to someone who is not in his or her right mind. We are not in our right minds when we are sick.”

Canada has been influenced by the same kinds of advocacy groups that have advised Sanders. Currently, access to both inpatient and outpatient involuntary care, available through British Columbia’s strong Mental Health Act, is being legally challenged. The plaintiffs are the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Proponents of the court challenge argue that the use of involuntary treatment promotes the idea that people with mental illness lack capacity; it seems it is unacceptable to acknowledge that some people have illnesses that, at times, can interfere with capacity.

2. Sanders opposes reforms that would create desperately needed acute psychiatric beds.

The US has a statute, the Olmstead decision, which prohibits hospitals from accessing Medicaid funding if they have more than 16 psychiatric beds. Sanders supports the Olmstead restriction which has resulted in a massive shortage of acute psychiatric beds.

Canada also has too few psychiatric beds. Complaints from patients, family caregivers and mental health providers about the shortage of beds led the BC Psychiatric Association and the BC Schizophrenia Society to investigate the problem and issue a joint report  with recommendations to address the shortage.

3. Sanders will continue to block family caregivers’ access to crucial information.

Sanders opposes the reform of legislation (called HIPPAA) governing privacy of information. This legislation means that families can’t find out if their family member is in a hospital, what plans there may for discharge (even if the person lives with them) and what follow-up care is needed. Research  demonstrates that family involvement during inpatient care is key in helping patients access outpatient treatment.

Canadian families also struggle with privacy rules that hurt their family member. However, BC’s Mental Health Act  allows clinicians to share information when it’s necessary for families to provide continuity of care.

I am part of a group of American families working to bring about a mental health system that offers the best support for people living with psychotic disorders. These families are much more organized and outspoken than similar groups that I am involved with in Canada. They have repeatedly shown me that it’s essential to educate political leaders about policies that offer the best help.

Over the past year, the Democratic primaries have provided opportunities to help candidates learn essential information about psychotic disorders and the many changes that could improve outcomes for this marginalized population. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Kobuchar and other Democratic candidates have offered strong support for these sensible approaches. Members of our group found it impossible to engage Bernie Sanders who repeatedly ended conversations by proclaiming that a single payer medical system would solve the problems they tried to describe.

One member of our group is prominent writer Ron Powers whose memoirNo One Cares About Crazy People, describes the harrowing ordeals of both of his sons who developed schizophrenia. Ron lives in Vermont, Sanders’ home state, and wrote an open letter  trying to persuade him to reconsider the policies he’s supporting. So far, we aren’t seeing changes in his platform.

If Sanders becomes the nominee, I will vote for him. I’ll hope that family caregivers can eventually get him to see that just spending more money won’t provide the help that’s needed. At least we now have other Democratic leaders who are willing to support a more informed and complex view of human rights.

Susan Inman is a Bridgeross author of the best selling book After Her Brain Broke:Helping My Daughter Recover her Sanity. She lives in Vancouver, BC.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trump and the Women’s March

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Sitting in the lounge of the Vancouver airport waiting on a flight to Edmonton I can see the snowy peaks of the North Shore Mountains lit up by the late afternoon sun. With closed caption description the large television is showing the inauguration parade, the slowed and often paused procession of a large black limousine surrounded by dozens of secret service agents.

A young woman is pumping milk from her breasts to a bottle under her shirt. I wonder where her baby is. Perhaps with her parents in Edmonton. A tall black man walks by, ear buds, furry boots, and dreadlocks. The faces around me are varied. One I think is Japanese, another appears first nations, two more are Chinese, then Korean, and then an Hispanic couple. A Malaysian man is sleeping, a white woman eating a salad from a plastic container. Many are bent over phones and laptops. Two Asian boys speak Mandarin to their mother. Her legs are slightly bowed as an older woman’s might be from a  deficiency in Vitamin D experienced as a child. A plump white woman walks by in slightly ridiculous brilliant red spike heels.

Trump’s inauguration speech is isolationist, a warning to others. He talks of ending crime in the cities by expanding police forces, of wiping out ISIS once and for all. He speaks of desolation and destruction in America, of violence and death in the inner cities. He uses the word “carnage”. He speaks of building the armed forces and respecting the police. He talks of America first, of placing a high tariff on items built by American firms in other countries. He speaks of the American education system and suggests it is rich but wasteful, a failure. He paints a bleak picture of America and hints at a law and order solution.

Our flight is late. The plane has come from San Francisco where it was delayed.

Once we are in the plane and seated with baggage stowed the flight attendant tells us the crew can manage communication in English, French, Cantonese, Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean.

Trump’s speech is that of a strong man, an autocrat. He doesn’t name an enemy apart from ISIS and previous administrations but his code words hint at a few. He will dismantle industry regulation and Obama Care. He appeals to patriotism, power and domination.

When our plane arrives in Edmonton the attendant asks all passengers to remain seated so a man from the rear of the plane can disembark first to make a tight connection. A minute later a worried Asian man hurries down the aisle. A tall white woman gives him an encouraging smile.

It is still and cold this morning in Edmonton, the ground snow covered, the air dense with ice crystal fog. I see on the CBC news network that a similar fog has settled on Washington, though judging by the dress of the half million marchers it is warmer.

We watch the CBC coverage of the gatherings in many cities. We chuckle at the more clever protest signs: “We shall not overcomb”, and a uterus with fallopian tubes in the shape of a raised middle finger.

And then I experience a brief surge of optimism. Perhaps the election of Donald Trump is but a catalyst, a shock, a wake-up call that will energize a counter evolution propelling us along the better pathway of inclusiveness, women’s rights and equality, cooperation, kindness, good social programs….

The very fact there are marches taking place in many cities around the world is evidence that isolationism is impractical.

But I also see that Iran has already warned that it can easily restart it’s nuclear program, and Trump is already signing some regressive policies into law.

In Edmonton we are visiting our son and daughter-in-law and their three children, all girls. I pray for their sake my optimism holds.

A Christmas Blog For Our Readers

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The morning after the American presidential election my son sent me the following message:

“I awoke this morning to a strange new smell of brimstone and a rising temperature.”

That same morning a message from my daughter arrived from Australia: “What the f**k just happened?”

And then she sent me this message after my recent blog on Donald Trump and the possible demise of democracy:

“My dearest father. I appreciate your concern. However, what is done is done and a lone wolf in Canada cannot change the American election results. It is up to the American public to do what is right. Perhaps, as with Reagan many years ago, this new generation of Americans needs Trump to remind them what they had was not so bad and to suck it up and get on with it. We cannot change what has happened. We cannot control what is beyond our control. We can only control our response to it.”

I will have a discussion with her about the “lone wolf” metaphor upon her Christmas visit from Australia. That is, after I give her, her husband and her two children a hug.

Her salutation “My dearest father” must be taken with a grain of salt. Hidden in that phrase may be echoes of Charlotte Bronte, but more importantly, the glee of a daughter in the position of giving wise advice to her “know-it-all” father.

Through this season we will all spend much time together, laughing, talking, arguing, eating, drinking, walking, playing cards. The Australian grandchildren will be introduced to a Canadian winter. I will be reminded poignantly, repeatedly, of what is important in life. I am sure the Ghost of Christmas past will visit occasionally, but we will ignore the ghost of Christmas yet to come.

We will also try to ignore the unfolding American drama. I hope my obsession with Donald Trump will go into remission, at least through Christmas. Though it may require CBT, mindfulness, prayer, alcohol, and the odd rebuke from my daughter.

One of the better contributions made by the major religions of this world is the setting aside of a few days, a few weeks of each year to focus on love, giving, forgiveness, kindness, and hope.

The messages from my son and daughter were about our current anxiety, our shared fear of what might happen over the next four years. But for the moment, for this holiday season, I will take great pleasure and comfort from the fact of those messages. My children are smart, healthy, engaged, and they talk to me.

A fine Christmas present. We will be back in 2017.

Why We Need the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation More than Ever

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Hungary is swinging to the right, on the verge of fascism. Far right parties are gaining in much of Europe. Trump is the next president of the USA. The pendulum has been prodded in the direction of tribalism by a wave of migrants and, I would venture to guess, the Internet.

I wondered how it would appear in Canada. And it seems to have arrived in the form of Kellie Leitch with her proposed test for “Canadian Values”, and now her wish to dismantle the CBC.

The CBC. What timing. We have suddenly arrived in an age some are calling “post-truth”. False news can be disseminated as quickly and widely as real news. The New York Times is competing with a kid in Moldavia on his I Mac. And his news is always more interesting, more sensational. To compete with this kid, the National Enquirer, Fox and Breitbart, CNN had to give prodigious air time to Donald Trump and his surrogates.

Today, more than ever we need a news service that is not beholden to advertising, corporate interests, or ratings. We need a news service not afraid to bore us with details and background. We need a news service willing to fact check our politicians. All of them. Rigorously and fearlessly. We need a media service that will tell us all our stories. We need this news and discussion service watched by a substantial number of Canadians from coast to coast to coast.

We have just been taught a lesson. We need to pay attention to it. Without rigorous and fearless fact checking, a politician can, by repetition and exaggeration, convince a large chunk of the public to believe the most outrageous fictions. And in this digital world, with targeted and automated advertising, a splashy story about Hillary having a secret love-child with Bruce Willis will earn more money than a story about her work with the Children’s Defense Fund.

Our only defense against this is a News service that does not depend on advertising or ratings. A news service that does not need to sensationalize, that does not need to give equal time to outrageous opinion. A news service that can broadcast a documentary about evolution without feeling the need to give equal time to creationists, a news service that actually checks facts before airing them. The CBC does this. They check stats and they interview experts after reporting the words coming from a politician’s mouth. They jump on every stated, implied, or suggested bit of sexism, racism, inanity and stupidity. They provide in depth and civilized discussion of serious matters. They also go to great lengths to be inclusive.

CBC stands between us and a Donald Trump, a Marie LePen, a Mussolini, a Boris Johnson. It is a true Fourth Estate.

Now I must admit I tire at times of the CBC being so precious and politically correct. And I tire of them making me feel guilty at least once per week, reminding me of the head tax I put on Chinese Immigrants, the time I rounded up Japanese Canadians, the quota I imposed on Jewish Immigrants, my refusal to accept them when they were fleeing Germany, my breaking of treaties with first nations people, the shoddy housing I provide for them, the terrible idea of forced residential schools, how little I am doing to help addicts, and children living in poverty, how I’m contributing to global warming, running a nasty prison system, not fixing the plumbing in subsidized housing, eating too much, drinking too much, and exercising too little……

Little Mosque on the Prairie was too precious for my taste but certainly provided better life lessons than Criminal Minds or Breaking Bad.

I will suffer the guilt CBC imposes on me. In fact, it may be good for the soul. It is certainly good to be reminded of our history, and to have a healthy Fourth Estate beholden only to truth and the welfare of all.

This is absolutely the wrong time to consider privatizing the CBC.

Predictions for the Trump Presidency

By Dr David Laing Dawson

The good news:

Donald Trump has neither the knowledge nor patience to figure out how to repeal parts of Obamacare, renegotiate NAFTA, build a great wall, prosecute Hillary, create the mechanisms to actually find and deport 3 million immigrants, or even change the tax system.

He won’t interfere much with climate change accords, because he doesn’t really care one way or the other and this is also a very complicated endeavor. He will continue to contradict himself from day to day, responding to his immediate impulses and his (I must admit) well honed intuitions about his public.

He can interfere with the TPP because all he has to say is, “Not gonna do it.” China can take the lead and a trade deal will be struck with all countries on the Pacific excluding the USA. I have no idea what that means for the USA or Canada.

Anything that requires a great deal of work, attention to detail, building a consensus, formulating a complex plan, he will not do.

The bad news:

Within a few weeks of his presidency Donald Trump will manage to mix his business dealings, his self-aggrandizement, and his petty peeves with his presidency, with his representation of the people of the United States, to such a degree that the democrats and a few republicans will start an impeachment process. In the ensuing hearings his business dealings around the world and at home will be exposed. He will respond with anger and outrageous accusations. This will convince others to support the impeachment.

As it becomes clear that Donald J. Trump will be successfully impeached he will become a raging bull. He will not simply announce, “I am not a crook.” and board the helicopter in disgrace. He will rage. He will suffer an extreme blow to his narcissism. He will rage and lash out.

This will fuel the racist fires at home and cause great anxiety abroad. He could well bring the temple down.

Sane American leaders need to be thinking about a contingency plan.

Perhaps the fully sane leaders of the rest of the world could form a club and plan a contingency of their own. What to do when King Donald goes mad.

Anxiety and the Trump Presidency

By Dr David Laing Dawson

I must admit that every time I experience a small surge of optimism following the Trump win, it is quickly dashed by news of how little he understands about the job he will soon have, his indifference to the suffering of others, (“They can go to another state for an abortion”), his choice of an alt-right racist, misogynist provocateur as his advisor, and the fact that by American rules he does not have to distance himself from Trump Enterprises. It is a tradition, it is a necessity of democracy, but not required by law. I had assumed he would have to keep arms length at the very least.

American democracy is even more fragile than I imagined.

Now we have news that there has been an immense and sudden increase in mental health crisis calls across the United States from people who feel threatened and vulnerable.

The other day a Jewish colleague smiled. He was more relaxed now about the Trump win, he told me. Trump’s son-in-law, he had heard through Jewish sources, would be playing an important role, perhaps even Chief of Staff, in Trump’s white house. And this man, Jared Kushner, is sane, educated, decent and a Jew. My colleague was optimistic in a conspiratorial manner.

And I wondered at the time, I must admit, if the anxiety of the Jews of Germany had been similarly assuaged in the early 1930’s.

Which leads me to three pieces of advice or caution:

All democracies are fragile. They are cultural artifacts, products of social, not biological, evolution. They can be dismantled quickly. Be vigilant. In Hitler’s Germany the Jews suffered 400 incremental restrictions of their rights between 1934 and 1939, each taking away a facet of their social and personal lives until all that was left was being. And we know what happened next.

We humans are not far from the jungle. Our instincts are not democratic. Nor are they primarily altruistic. We are easily led to act against our own real (long-term) interests. We absorb the fear and hate of the crowd. We can revert quickly to tribalism. We can be easily fooled. We are vulnerable to wishful thinking. Our religious books mislead us by suggesting that at the core of each and every man or woman there is a decent being. No. They also mislead us by telling us that there is a God looking after us, who has a plan. Don’t be ridiculous. Inclusiveness, caring beyond family and tribe, kindness to all, empathy for all, especially caring what happens to the entire planet – these are very recent value-added human traits. They are easily stripped from us by fear and loathing, both real or imagined and/or promoted by a demagogue. Each and every one of us is capable of sinking to a level of depravity that allows us to do unthinkable things. Perhaps 5 to 10 percent will resist this until death, but another 5 to 10 percent, I’m afraid, will revel in it. The rest will continue the water boarding if ordered to do so. You know in which of these groups Donald Trump resides.

Anxiety is a response to threat, or perceived threat. It is contained or dissipates when we feel we have some control. So take whatever control you can. Join groups, join protests, write, speak, vote, participate. Be vigilant. Do not allow the first of those 400 incremental steps to the unthinkable.

p.s I wrote the above before Mike Pence attended “Hamilton”.  There are times in our lives when even the most self-centered and ego-threatened of us can be generous of spirit. It is easier, as we writers know, to congratulate a fellow writer on the publication of her novel if ours has been published as well. It is easier for the winner of a race to hug his opponents. If there were any time in the life of Donald J. Trump when he could afford to be generous of spirit it is now, while the triumph rings in his ears and the hard work is yet to begin. No matter how fragile his ego, this should be a time he can listen. But no. He tweets out demands for apologies and petty remarks.

Beneath that mop of blonde narcissism lies the mind of an insecure teenager.

My friends, your anxiety is justified.

 

Racism – A Tale of Two Nations

By Marvin Ross

My intention is not to come across as smug which many Canadians can be when talking about the US. I am hoping to point out some fundamental differences between Canada and the US that, I think, deserve some analysis – and that is racism.

Despite the great similarities between the two countries, racism has evolved differently. I am not so naive as to suggest that racism is not a problem in Canada but it is much less so than in the US and certainly,  first Nations still have a long way to go. However, numerous people have commented that the support for Trump was motivated by racism given what he emphasized in the campaign and I totally agree. Actually, the great American satirist and commentator, H.L. Mencken, predicted the Trump win. He said:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

And so, maybe the inner soul of many Americans is in agreement with what Trump said.

One study that is being quoted to explain what appears to be a racist backlash is research suggesting that having demonstrated that they are not prejudiced by electing a Black president, people feel they have license to demonstrate their discriminatory views.

I’ve attended numerous medical conferences in the US and was stunned to see the divide between Black and White. The first conference I attended was the American College of Cardiology in Atlanta in the late 1990s. There was a parallel meeting of the Black Cardiology Association within it. There is also a Black psychiatry association founded in 1969 in part to address the barriers that Black psychiatrists encountered.. Then there is a Black caucus of the American Library Association to help recruit African American Librarians. In one hotel I was at in Houston, there was a meeting of the Hispanic MBA Association which was developed to open doors for Hispanics with MBAs.

I have American friends who tell me that a deep seated racism still exists but that it is (or has been till now) kept in check. Trump has let the genie out of the bottle as demonstrated by the reports of racist incidents all over the US since the election. And while this review of a book that I publish on the trauma of growing up as the child of Holocaust survivors denying the existence of the Holocaust was posted on Amazon just before the election, I suspect Trump’s rhetoric gave the reviewer license to come out of the woodwork.  When confronted with these racist incidents  in his interview on 60 Minutes, Trump thought much of it was generated by the media but did tell his followers to stop. What was disappointing was that the interviewer did not ask him what he expected when he inflamed his followers with anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Toronto is one of the most racially diverse cities in the world and home to 230 different nationalities. It is home to a large annual Caribbean Festival, Greek and Italian Festivals, a number of China Towns, Korea Town, East Indian areas, and people who, for the most part, get along well as this example of multi-ethnic co-operation demonstrates. It was not always like that. Growing up in the 1950’s, Toronto was white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant run by the Loyal Orange Order. The big event was the July 12 Orange Parade which celebrated the Protestant defeat of the Catholics at the River Boyne by King William in 1690.

In 1875, Orangemen rioted because they took offense at a Catholic procession and thousands rocked the core of the city. Well into the 20th Century, Orangemen were the centre of partisan politics in Toronto. In 1933, Toronto, experienced the Christie Pits riot when a gang of youths unfurled Nazi flags after a predominantly Jewish baseball team won a semi final game. Jews, assisted by Italians, battled the flag bearers and their followers for hours all over the downtown in what was called the worst riot in Toronto history. Years later, that was the park where I played baseball and went swimming.

In my school days, there were very few Blacks other than the small numbers who mostly came via the underground railway, few South Asians, Chinese, and others. The main ethnics were Jews and Italians and we Jews new enough that certain parts of the city were dangerous for us to go to. The Danforth was one area (now Greektown) and the Beaches where the Nazi group allegedly came from. We also knew that there were quota systems in universities, bans against hiring Jews by hospitals, law firms, banks, etc,  neighbourhoods that would not sell to Jews, resorts that would not rent to them, and the list went on.

In my early teens, our Jewish family doctor referred me to a medical specialist for a problem. When my mother asked if he was any good, the doctor said, he is one of us at the Toronto General so he must be very good to be on staff. I later read that that specialist was specifically hired to break the ban of Jews at the hospital. My dentist of many years back then once told me that the only way he could get into dentistry was because he played on a national championship teen basketball team. He went to the director of recreation for the City of Toronto and told him of his desire to study dentistry but he couldn’t because he was Jewish. “Leave it to me” the official who was probably an Orangeman told him. He was accepted.

Similar problems existed for the few Blacks at the time and I have no doubt they still experience problems today but it is improving (I hope). Historian, Irving Abella, gave a very good history and reasons for change in an address in 2000 called Jews, Human Rights, and the Making of a New Canada.  Abella’s wife, a refugee who was born in a displaced persons camp post Holocaust, sits on the Supreme Court of Canada. Abella mentions that Bora Laskin could not get a job in law when he returned to Canada from Harvard Law School. His wife, a trained cosmetician, could not get hired at Eatons (the large department store). Laskin eventually became the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. In 1961 when Louis Rasminski (who graduated from the high school that I went to) was named Governor of the Bank of Canada, Ottawa ceased being what former British High Commissioner Joe Garner called the most “anti-Jewish capital city” he had ever encountered.

How people actually managed to accept a less racist society in Canada is a mystery. Bringing in anti-discrimination legislation cannot change attitudes but it did. We may still have a long way to go but we have come very far in my lifetime.

The problem of licensing as mentioned by psychologists in the US has not happened here either. We have had a female Chinese Governor General, a Black Haitian female Francophone Governor General and a Black Lieutenant Governor in Ontario. As representatives of the Queen, they are really only ceremonial but they were out there for all to see. And the Lieutenant Governor, Lincoln Alexander, was voted in 2006 as the greatest Hamiltonian of all time by readers of the Hamilton Spectator. Steel City Hamilton is often referred to as a rust belt city. Alexander was the first Black Member of the House of Commons elected four times and has a highway named after him.

After all this, my question remains, how did Canada evolve into a more tolerant society willing to take in thousands of Syrian refugees when the US refuses most refugees and does not seem to have evolved much? Someone suggested that the violence of slavery and the violence of its ending in the Civil War marked the American psyche forever. I don’t know but I do think it is worth exploring the reasons for the difference between our two countries.

Meanwhile, let us hope that the Donald has enough sense to put a halt to the activities of his followers.

On the Death of Leonard Cohen and the Election of the Donald

By Dr David Laing Dawson

My son and my stepdaughter sent me condolences on the loss of Leonard Cohen. I had not realized that my life-long affection for his songs and poetry had been so obvious.

Perhaps they noticed that his lyrics were the only ones I could sing beyond the first line. Perhaps they noticed he was always playing in my studio. Perhaps they noticed I listened to little else but Leonard.

I was just recovering, somewhat, from the Donald Trump win when Google told me Leonard had died. I did not want it darker. But darker it became.

It is hard to imagine a greater contrast.

Leonard examined, struggled with, wrote songs about, all that makes us human. When he experienced desire he worried it, examined it, thought about it, considered it. His struggle to find meaning was fodder for his lyrics. His yearning and the consequences of yearning were examined with a poet’s heart. He considered his fame and fortune, his loves and his losses. He considered his relationship to a possible God, or a meaningful universe. He struggled with depression and he told us about it. Through his poetry he found ways to tell us of truths, paradoxes, and of social fictions.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

“Democracy is coming to the U. S. A.”

“Old black Joe’s still picking cotton. For your ribbons and bows.”

He was earth bound but reached for the stars. “But you don’t really care for music, do ya?”

His was a life examined and shared. His lyrics often surprise and they d0 let the light in. Like many songwriters he started with first love, but then he examined the rest of his life as he lived it, all the way to impending death. He created fresh poetic images that linger in the mind. “Suzanne takes you down to her place by the river.” “Like a bird on a wire…” “So long, Marianne..”

His voice got better with age, deeper, richer, more resonant.

Donald Trump examines little but his own image in the mirror. He recognizes no complexity to human life. He confuses love and hate. His desires go unchecked and unexamined. He pursues his yearnings without thought for the effects they might have on others.

His speech and manner are the antithesis of poetry.

I will continue to listen to Leonard. Thank you, Leonard, for all you have given us.

Unfortunately I will have to pay attention to Donald over the next four years. But when he becomes too much to bear, I will listen to Leonard.

President Donald Trump

By Dr David Laing Dawson

Is the election of Donald Trump a sign of the human race once again slipping into a very dark and destructive period?

History tells us it is. We humans have an uncanny ability to set in motion a series of unstoppable events that lead to mass extinction and common misery on a regular basis. And then we emerge and flourish once again, and for a while we tell ourselves that this must never happen again. And then many of us forget and focus on our immediate needs, and wishes, and desires, our disappointments, our hurt and outrage.

Old instincts kick in, the ones that served us well when we lived in small villages and tribes competing for limited hunting grounds. And then it happens all over again, a series of events that leads to a mass destruction, each time a little differently, but each time unleashing immense misery upon ourselves. As human history goes, we are at the tail end of a long period of relative peace.

Is this one of those moments? A chain of events without a definitive starting point, but including the invasion of Iraq, Egypt, Turkey, ISIS, Syria, Brexit, the rise of far-right leaders and dictators and would-be dictators in Europe and Russia, and then America.

I see on my Google news today the smiling face of Kellie Leitch espousing Trumpisms, and then that of the ridiculous Don Cherry telling us those pinko left-leaning weirdo Americans are not welcome in Canada.

Here is what I hope:

I hope we can keep this regressive craziness out of Canada. Don Cherry has evolved into a buffoon entertainer. Let us leave him in that role. Kellie Leitch is a more serious threat and she has been energized by Trump’s victory, so we need to be vigilant.

I think at least much of the success of Donald Trump is a backlash, or “Whitelash”. A reaction by a certain white demographic that has, for 8 years, seethed under the leadership of an African American. They were not ready for a black president, especially one so thoughtful, articulate, so obviously popular, calm, even-handed and fair. For eight years he has been an affront to their congenital views of the other race. That part is specifically, I hope, an American development, and this Trump win might energize the sane, non-racist, inclusive elements of America.

And then we have Donald. Many of the narcissistic, sociopathic charismatic leaders who have seized power in other historical moments had the same psychological profile as Donald J. Trump, but they did not grow up with his degree of luxury, and for years they harbored and nursed specific ideological and xenophobic beliefs. Donald, as far as we can tell, never served any idea beyond his own self-aggrandizement. He has really found himself in that office without any ideological baggage, nothing he fervently believes in anyway.

Perhaps his narcissism will be satiated with people, every day throughout the day, deferentially calling him Mr. President, with his photo in every public office, with sufficient moments on television and on the front page of newspapers, magazines, and being the number one search on Google – perhaps his narcissism will be sufficiently satiated so that he can quietly let other people (who may actually understand the complexities of the world and have some empathy) govern while he primps for the next photo op, and gives good speeches someone else wrote for him. He wants to be loved after all.

That is what I hope.

But I know better. A healthy narcissism is satisfied with a few positive comments about one’s blog, a partner who says she loves you, the improvement in the health of one’s patients,  children who tell you that they want their children to know you, and a smattering of applause for a job well done.

But Donald’s narcissism is not a healthy level of self-regard. Nor is it scrutinized, considered, or judged by Donald’s brain.

It will not be so easily satiated. For this level of narcissism there is no endpoint, no level of stasis and balance. It requires larger and larger doses of adulation. And for this he needs to face a crisis, walk across a battlefield of dismembered bodies, make life and death decisions, stand atop the pile of misery, face increasing threat (even if of his own making) and conquer it and be rewarded with unflinching adulation and adoration.

Such hunger could lead, eventually, to his destruction, and a great deal of suffering for the rest of us.

I hope I am wrong. Perhaps having achieved far more than his father, Donald can now rest on his laurels, cocooned from his critics by White House staff, and let competent others make sensible decisions. Perhaps his pragmatism may be a bulwark against the ideologues of the Republican party. Perhaps.