A Riff on Changing Countries

Canadians—not amused by the election of Trump—are nonetheless amused by the assumption that their neighbours may be contemplating a mass migration north. Canada and New Zealand are apparently the most likely recipients of this horde of liberals, and I for one would be delighted to inoculate Canada’s political landscape with a healthy injection of committed liberals! But, as a Facebook friend noted two days ago, these countries, too, have complex immigration policies and laws which make it a little more complicated than packing a bag and crossing the border.

Humour aside, though, that’s pretty much what we did in 1968. We, and a lot of others. Canada was surely the net beneficiary of the anti-war protests in the 1960s as thousands of young idealists flocked into the country. We’re often reminded of the contributions they’ve made to the political, intellectual, and cultural life of this country. We don’t often hear about what they might have done if they’d stayed.

As I listen to and read about people eager to leave the U.S. right now, I’m thinking back to my own twenty-something self and the decision to change countries if not quite on a whim (the war and the draft were very real, so were the riots and assassinations), at least without much awareness of the implications. And I’m wondering what I’d do now.

Am I sorry? No. I have never for a moment regretted that decision. I feel a greater affection for this country—which is far less perfect than many disaffected Americans seem to think—than I ever felt for the United States. I was twenty-three. Not quite rootless, but impulsive as young people are, and without the sense of belonging that comes with a longer and settled life. And I didn’t want my young husband, father of my soon-to-be-born child, drafted to serve in an unjustifiable war. It was both a principled and a self-interested decision.

Of course, there were those who challenged us, accused us of putting self-interest ahead of principle. How could we justify jumping ship when so many others were staying to make a more powerful statement than we could ever make by leaving? They marched and protested. They risked arrest and served jail time rather than go to war. They wept at the loss of lives and the assassinations, but they stayed. And when that horror ended, they stuck around to become the voice of liberalism in the U.S. for the next half century and to protest new horrors.

Okay, I’m romanticizing a bit. Some of them became corporate moguls and climate deniers, and some of them probably voted for Trump.

Here’s what I’m asking myself today: If the past fifty years had been spent in, say, New Hampshire (which was the job option Jack turned down in favour of the Sault, after the risk of the draft had abated), would my sense of belonging be as great as it is here, now? Probably. Would the magnitude of this disaster be enough to rip me from a comfortable life to start a new life elsewhere? At twenty-something, maybe; at seventy-something, probably not. And, upon reflection, would leaving really protect me from the threat—as it surely did protect young men from the draft in 1968? Because from where I’m perched, not far from the imaginary line that separates us, the border doesn’t seem much of an impediment to the kind of economic and social upheaval that may well be in the offing.

So, what would I do? Would I try to carry on as though everything were normal? It would be tempting, wouldn’t it? I could do it, being white, heterosexual, essentially invisible. Would I have the energy and the commitment to protest and resist? Would I point to younger people and say this torch is yours to carry? I’m asking these hypothetical questions to my hypothetical self. But if the imaginary line doesn’t hold, it may not remain hypothetical.

Good luck to all who are struggling to come up with the right response to this threat to democracy, their country, and the planet. Good luck to all of us.



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3 Responses to A Riff on Changing Countries

  1. I agree that Canada benefitted tremendously by the influx of draft dodgers.

    Say, I told our kids the U.S. election was between an old grump and a nice lady. Just like I told them the Canadian election was between an old grump and a nice man with kids like them. Thank goodness only one old grump got in. Can you imagine if we had both Trump + Harper in at the same time?

  2. Carl says:

    Thank you for blogging on this topic, Paul. At my age, I think it is too late to leave; I just feel let down. I just listened to a “This American Life” report that did a detective job on the Clinton Email issue; it turns out to be about people with very little understanding of computers, in a government agency that was just entering the email/electronic revolution, with little understanding of the technology, and essential no useful computer support people. The story ended with the unfortunate release of knowledge by the FBI director that new emails were found, which eventually turned out to be unimportant. If that release had not been made, the resolution of the election might have been changed. The biggest problem is that it will be a long time before the Supreme Court turns back to more liberal decisions.

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