America is scaring the hell out of us Canadians!

I used to think America was just weird; now it's feeling a lot like 1932.

Published September 10, 2008 10:09AM (EDT)

Dear Reader,

One's ambitions occasionally exceed one's capacities. The result can be a boneheaded phrase. Such is the case with yesterday's assertion that "This is not a religious war. It is just politics."

I did not mean to minimize the extent to which primitive religious fervor is playing a dangerous part in our current political process. I think what I meant was that at least we're not burning people at the stake. (To which some might reasonably append: "Yet.")

So if I could retract that little statement I would. It was poorly fashioned and did not do justice to anyone.

However, I continue to be concerned about the deleterious effect of unrelieved political anger. It's the sort of thing that landed me in the hospital back in 2004, when I got too wrapped up in political angst and ended up having this panic attack and thinking I was having a coronary. (Speaking of which, I'm off all the meds, working out regularly, managing my stress and feeling a whole lot better.)

It might do us all good, now that I think about it, to get up from our computers and into the streets. As I recall, that's what we used to do. Meanwhile, in the immortal words of Pete Seeger, "Take it easy, but take it."

And now to today's letter from a concerned Canadian.

Dear Cary,

I've written to you once in the past, and you gave me great advice, so I'm hoping once again you'll share your valuable gift of a different perspective with me.

I'm a journalist and editor from Canada and I have a real problem that I'm struggling with these days -- my nascent anti-Americanism.

Allow me to explain. Like most Canadians I've always taken a bit of a sideways view of the U.S. Nice enough folks but sometimes a bit weird. Generally a force for good, but a bit much if they get too wound up. Just the usual uncertainty about the "other." Sort of like you guys not "getting" universal healthcare and hockey.

Well, for the past several years I've seen more and more evidence that America is a country to be avoided at all cost. You've all been wound up into a righteous rage. And the results haven't been pretty. You've turned your back on some of the wonderful things that made your country great and embraced some extremely ugly things -- imperialism, resource wars, torture, etc.

Our former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau once observed (I'm paraphrasing somewhat): "Living next to America is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, one is affected by every twitch and grunt."

That's all fine and well when the elephant is generally even-tempered. But when it's in a foul temper there is little to no protecting yourself from being trampled.

As resources become scarcer and I see us sitting on a pile of them and again and again I hear that "the American Way of Life is non-negotiable," I see a higher and higher likelihood that this is all going to play out badly.

There's a 1932 feeling to the whole thing, with the U.S. playing the role of Germany. Unfortunately that would make us Czechoslovakia and the Alberta tar sands the Sudetenland.

Bottom line, my old coping strategy -- which was something along the lines of "love the Americans, not that wild about their government" -- just isn't working anymore. America 2.0 scares the living crap out of me. And at what point in time do I have to accept that you're sincere and take you at your "brand promise," as marketing and P.R. types like to put it, that your government is truly representative of your people?

And if that's so, how can I possibly like and support your country? And make no mistake, if there ever was a natural friend and ally it's me and my ilk. I live right next door and we share many of the same values and a common history. We have coincident interests in many areas. But, increasingly, I see trying to do business with the U.S. is like trying to do business with the mafia. The rules are slanted against you right from the start. And if you don't believe me, do a little reading on the softwood lumber trade deal -- the one where you willfully ignored an established treaty and basically told us to like it or lump it.

You have every right to govern your country as you see fit. But unfortunately you aren't content to busy yourselves with market fundamentalism and spiritual excess at home. You're equally determined to remake the rest of the world in your image -- whether we want it or not. Your evangelicals mess in our domestic politics, our current government is a pale imitation of your neocons with expat U.S. academics as key advisors, and you insist on attempting to export your insane war-on-drugs mentality.

Additionally you're shocked and appalled when my country doesn't immediately toe the line to your every whim. Back in the schoolyard of my youth there was a word for that, of course: "bully." America presents itself as a nation of bullies.

If you don't believe me, ask a good friend of mine who was down in Grand Forks, N.D., on a day trip in 2003 during the run-up to the Iraq war. Our former prime minister had just announced that day that Canada would continue to contribute troops to the war in Afghanistan, but wouldn't be joining the Iraq war. He parked his car. He went into the mall for a bit of shopping. He came out. He found his car with Canadian license plates keyed. He heard later that several Canadian cars got similar treatment.

Help me, Cary (and readers). Tell me how I can put this aside. I fear that the flow of history is preordained. I fear that regardless of who wins (though I suspect McCain will in the end) none of it matters. Until you're able to accept that American exceptionalism is bunk and that Manifest Destiny is nothing more than a polite way to describe empire, the script for this movie promises heartbreak.

There remains a faint glimmer of hope in my heart. Again and again in the past America has reinvented itself when it has needed to. Perhaps, once again, you'll be able to pull it out of the ditch. But I've been hoping for that for many years now. And I'm beginning to get discouraged.

Afraid of Americans

Dear Afraid,

I wish I could say confidently that a U.S. invasion of Canada is not being contemplated, but these days one cannot be sure of much.

As you know, the Pentagon routinely prepares "contingency plans" for a wide range of global possibilities. So the mere existence of detailed Pentagon maps from Fort Bragg to Ottawa, clearly marked with the best places for haddock and chips, would not necessarily signal an imminent invasion. The last thing America wants to do is show its hand. You allude to the current popularity of "resource wars." As far as resources go, invading Canada does make sense. I hear the beer is quite good -- not that I, personally, would be interested in the beer. But I do like fish. And were the U.S. to invade Canada, you can be sure there would be no clear timetable for withdrawal. We would, at the very least, want to finish eating.

Of course, even to joke about such a thing is in bad taste. I hope you have managed to maintain a sense of humor throughout these grim years. It may be that conditions are grimmer than I can see. I have, after all, just apologized above for making one tasteless gaffe and fear I may be making another. So, frankly, to be straight with you, I cannot readily account for America's apparent turn toward the bellicose except to lay it at the feet of the trauma of 9/11, cynically manipulated by a right-wing coalition of business, military and religious interests. I do think that our current government represents only a small fraction of its people. Polls readily show our vast dissatisfaction. Perhaps things have gone more seriously awry than we know. But I believe Obama will win the upcoming election and things will take a turn for the better.

But even in venturing to say that I may be getting in further trouble. I should probably stay away from politics and stick to boyfriend-girlfriend stuff.

By the way, if things get really bad here, could we come up and stay at your place?

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