Yo, Canadians! Keep your traps shut, eh?

Shadows of Tyranny

A recent article in POLITICO carried the headline: “Canada’s Big Worry: A US Civil War.” Alexander Burns, head of news, wrote that as political events unfold south of the border, we Canadians should stand quietly aside and “just watch.” At the risk of sounding impolite, I have to say thanks but that’s a non-starter. To be honest, I would suggest that Canadians worry less about a civil war erupting than about the good guys losing. Numerous brilliant Americans – among them Anne Applebaum, Robert Kagan, Timothy Snyder, Miles Taylor, Liz Cheney, Rachel Maddow — have written books warning that Donald Trump is threatening to turn the US into a fascist state. I believe them.

Urged to mind my own Canadian business, I flash back to Europe in the 1930s. Should the French and British — not to mention the Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, and Dutch — have kept their mouths shut while in Germany, the Nazis methodically seized control of Deutschland? And began furiously rearming while insisting, “Nothing to see here, folks, go on about your daily doings.” Britons like Winston Churchill, Americans like Dorothy Thompson and William Shier, and Canadians like Matthew Halton sounded the alarm. Those in power declined to listen. Didn’t Neville Chamberlain produce a piece of paper guaranteeing Peace In Our Time?

Obviously, I am not the first Canadian to draw attention to the evolving crisis in the US. Last year, Stephen Marche published The Next Civil War: Dispatches from the American Future. And early in 2022, the public intellectual Thomas Homer-Dixon warned Canadians that a storm was coming our way out of the United States. Writing in the “Globe and Mail,” Homer-Dixon drew attention to a dire portent: the Weimar Republic that governed Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s, and then gave way to the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler.

About such events, Canadians have a long history of rightly worrying. Forty years ago—incredible to think—novelist Margaret Atwood began warning of the rising threat of totalitarianism. As it happens, I interviewed her in 1985, when she published The Handmaid’s Tale. In a not-too-distant future, religious fanatics have turned much of the US into a patriarchal theocracy where some women, the so-called handmaids, are made to serve as sex slaves and baby-makers.  “It’s an extrapolation of present trends set in the US,” Atwood told me. “There’s nothing in it that hasn’t actually happened somewhere. Polygamy? Check out the Mormon Church. Public hangings? They were standard in the 19th century.”

Peace in Our Time, eh?

Many have insisted that you can’t use the past to predict the future. Fair enough. But I think of that old saw attributed most often to Mark Twain: “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” In the 1920s and early 1930s, some people did see fascism rising. But too many remained blind until shamefully late in the day—among them Canadian prime minister William Lyon Mackenzie King. Others said yes to the  totalitarian juggernaut, took to searching out scapegoats, and fanned the embers of anti-Semitism into a global conflagration.

The French did not start seriously mobilizing for war until September 1, 1939, after Germany invaded Poland and launched the Second World War. Early in May 1940, the Nazis bombed Dutch and Belgian airfields. They circumvented the vaunted Maginot Line and rolled over the French army. On June 14, motorcyclists led the invaders into Paris, so beginning the occupation of France by its powerful next-door neighbor—a subjugation that lasted four years.

No, I don’t anticipate an American invasion any time soon – despite the ramblings of Trump apologist Tucker Carlson, who in January 2023 wondered on Fox News why the US was “not sending an armed force north to liberate Canada from Trudeau.” But given the present context, and Trump’s well-documented admiration for dictators, how can anyone suggest that Canadians should stand silently and “just watch.” Remember the elephant and the mouse? Every twitch and grunt? As a Canadian, I politely decline to remain silent when my world, too, is threatened. I can only oppose, and loudly, anything that encourages the return of Donald J. Trump to the White House.

(You will find more along these lines in Shadows of Tyranny, coming in August from Douglas & McIntyre).

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