To engage or not to engage, that is the question. (With apologies to the Bard.) Is it nobler to suffer for your principals, or to be insufferable and only complain that your principals are being violated? This is one of the profound questions facing Canadians today, both in our relationships with each other and with other countries, particularly the United States. For the past several months I’ve been contemplating how I personally should answer that question as it pertains to Donald Trump.
When Donald Trump was elected I was in Shanghai staying at a hotel on the outskirts of The Bund, a tourist area fronting the Huangpu River. The Bund was the centre of business for colonial western powers in China during the early part of the last century. http://www.tourschina.com/travel-shanghai/the-bund.htm It’s now a 1.4 km tourist stroll along a row of refurbished European styled buildings. (Symbolically there are Chinese flags flying proudly from each formerly western building.)
I was only there a few days, and I’m in no way trying to pass myself off as a China expert, but for a student of politics even a short visit to Shanghai reinforces the idea that economic prosperity, or the lack of it, is the driver of politics and that political freedom isn’t always associated with economic success.
The Chinese marriage of authoritarian government with capitalism has turned Shanghai into a spectacular example of overwhelming economic growth. It’s a modern, vibrant city but with security cameras and surveillance vans everywhere – there is a depressing authoritarian pall hanging over Shanghai, almost as thick as the smog that covered the city throughout my stay.
I was forced to contemplate authoritarians and economics as I watched Donald Trump’s acceptance speech from the opulent lobby of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel on the Bund.
Escaping a rain shower I scurried into the hotel through the rear doors and found a plush wing back chair at the side of the atrium area on the main floor. Not only did the Waldorf provide free WiFi, it allowed web access to news services which Chinese censors don’t let their own people see.
Before Trump’s election I joked with my adult sons that if “The Donald” won, I’d sell my house and move north so our family had somewhere to flee to escape social insurrection or war. “It would have to be far enough away to be out of the blast zone in a nuclear exchange,” I’d say half joking, “For you can bet the chance of nuclear war will increase under Trump.”
(But it turns out the scientists who move the hands on the doomsday clock agree with me about the increasing chance of a nuclear exchange. http://thebulletin.org/sites/default/files/Final%202017%20Clock%20Statement.pdf )
As I sat in the comfy chair underneath, a huge dazzling chandelier in the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai, I began contemplating the logistics of actually setting up a northern sanctuary for my family. I don’t recall any election results producing a similar effect on me, and I lived through a good chunk of the cold war. I literally had an anxious lump in the pit of my stomach as I wondered what I was going to do.
Eventually it boiled down to: Fight or flight.
Back home over the past few months I’ve been silent as my friends rail against Trump and everything American, then eagerly swoon in anticipation of an upcoming American cultural event like the Super Bowl. (A game by the way where the winning team was owned by one of Trumps close friends.) I have relatives who vehemently stand against everything Trump, and will soon be on their way to Phoenix for a week in the sun. (Arizona voted for Trump.) A woman I know participated in the Woman’s March in Victoria, yet often drives past dozens of local retailers to shop at Walmart or Costco.
Economics drives politics. If you truly want to affect US politics (and China’s too for that matter) use your most powerful tool: Your money. Yes, that may also affect your lifestyle, but aren’t your principals worth some sacrifice? If you don’t like Trump don’t buy American, and don’t travel to the US. (At the very least avoid the states or counties that voted Trump and their products. Here’s a handy map to help you decide. http://www.nytimes.com/elections/results/president)
Don’t patronize US based multinationals, don’t buy a car or truck made in the US.
Canadians and Americans are culturally and economically integrated so economic protest won’t be easy. But, it’s about putting your money where your mouth is. A Facebook post or even attending a demonstration is easy, and almost useless. Action that effects your lifestyle is much more difficult, but it’s also more powerful.
If President Trump is half as dangerous as many commentators seem to think he is, protest by putting off that trip to Florida to see the Jays. Tell the Seahawks their “12th Man” will be staying in Canada for the next few years.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking Trump’s policies will necessarily end in his demise. Opinion polls suggest a significant majority of Americans who voted for Trump still believe he’s doing a good job. Once again, it’s all about the economy.
U.S. Republican David Frum is among the writers who have sketched out how Trump could win a second term and build an autocracy out of a dysfunctional American system and a good economy. https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/
The economy is key to any political stability, autocratic or democratic. It’s not equality, reconciliation, diversity, or any of the other feel good words Canadians use to define our country. Those ideals are aspirational yes, but I believe prosperity is the strength that promotes tolerance and political diversity. Even now in China authorities fear a slowing economy more than any kind of pro-democracy activism. History shows that many people willingly live under authoritarian rule if their prosperity is assured. Even the Canadian government is tightening it’s embrace of authoritarians in China because it’s to Canada’s short term economic advantage, apparently.
With spring comes the re-birth of creation, and if earth can be pulled out of a dull black winter into vibrant new beginning I think human interaction and governance can be too.
I haven’t sold my house and moved north. I will simply use the two most powerful tools I have: My money and my freedom of movement. Purchasing power is the most effective way to promote change at home and abroad. And I’ve decided engagement is more productive than disengagement.
“Ideas have consequences” said American philosopher Richard Weaver. To bastardize his thoughts (which were about absolutism vs relativism) I’d add that ideas have consequences when they prompt actions. It’s ironic that I have a significant amount of sympathy for the core ideas behind why Americans voted for change. But Donald Trump!?! Really!?!?