Opinion

Debranding America and Canada’s Place In a New World

The US isn’t what it was, and that is a challenge and opportunity.

By Crawford Kilian 25 Oct 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

In the early fifth century, Rome was definitely over the hill. It was no longer the capital of a unified empire, or even of the Western Empire; that honour went to Ravenna. But it was still Rome, whose 800,000 inhabitants made it the largest city in the world.

On Aug. 24, AD 410, the Visigoths under King Alaric invaded the Eternal City after a siege and for three days looted it of gold, silver and slaves. Wikipedia tells us that St. Jerome wrote: “If Rome can perish, what can be safe?”

Sixteen centuries later, we can say that Alaric effectively debranded Rome. Over almost a thousand years, it had expanded from a few hills in central Italy to a vast empire. Its language and laws set the standard for successor empires; the last Russian tsar and German kaiser (both words for Caesar) were removed from their thrones just a century ago. But Rome itself was lost forever.

With notably less violence, the United States of America has been similarly debranded in the past year. The Americans’ Alaric appears to be Vladimir Putin, who has used American-created technology to besiege the Americans and then to install Donald Trump as a parody-president. For the Soviet-reared Putin, it must be history’s greatest practical joke: revenge eaten pleasantly cold a quarter-century after the end of the U.S.S.R.

Consider all the ways the U.S. branded itself to the world during and after the Second World War. Domestically, it offered Americans the contradictory dream of equality plus upward social mobility — well, maybe not for everyone, just yet, but they were working on it.

Internationally, America was the defender of democracy, the greatest industrial nation in the world, the guarantor of its allies’ security and prosperity. America’s enemies were international pariahs; just as in ancient Rome no restless province could escape punishment, no modern maverick like Cuba could survive without harsh retribution. Others, like Chile and Indonesia, would endure horrifying U.S.-endorsed violence before being allowed back into the American sphere of influence.

Not pretty, but pretty rewarding

It wasn’t pretty, but for those within the American sphere, like Canada and western Europe, it was pretty rewarding. Canada in particular has prospered since 1945 as an ally and client of the U.S. We might roll our eyes about Vietnam, or complain about softwood lumber, but we knew what side our bread was buttered on. For most of the last century, a successful Canadian was defined as one who moved to the U.S. and succeeded there. When push came to shove, the Americans could count on us.

Now, according to Donald Trump, we’re just one of a bunch of foreign slicksters who tricked the U.S. into bad deals like NAFTA — not much different from the European deadbeats who conned the Americans into defending them through NATO without paying for the service.

As for defending democracy, Trump’s America endorses H.L. Mencken’s definition of the system: “The theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” Meanwhile Trump’s backers gerrymander Democrats and black voters out of power, call white supremacists “fine people,” and remain silent about Russia.

As a manufacturing power, Trump’s America is locked in about 1952. While running through his many bankruptcies, Trump failed to notice the evolution of the U.S. economy into a global colossus. Apple might design the iPhone in California, but the components are built in China out of materials gathered worldwide. Administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the American coal industry won’t change that. Corporate America may enjoy having its U.S. taxes lowered, but it will go on manufacturing stuff wherever it’s cheapest to do so.

A flatfoot on the take

As the world’s policeman, Trump’s America is a classic flatfoot on the take. He may talk a good nuclear war against North Korea, but when a U.S. soldier in Niger dies in an ambush, he can’t even console the soldier’s widow without looking like a jerk. Nor can he explain what his soldiers are doing in Niger in the first place.

Instead he turns it into yet another reminder that he can’t be trusted to support Americans — never mind foreigners — unless they’re very rich and very white and very generous donors.

Perhaps there’s a bright side to the debranding of America. We all reach a point in our lives when we realize that our parents are limited human beings like ourselves. It’s usually painful, and we often go through a spell of contempt for the mere humans who cared for us. If we’re wise, we get over that and become their partners, not their dependents.

Now the nations of the self-styled “free world” that have lived under pax Americana for over 70 years must realize that it’s time to cut the American apron strings — to live on their own two feet or become the clients of some rising power.

Or form new alliances, new friendships among America’s other ex-clients. For Canada, that could mean stronger ties with Europe, Latin America, South Korea, and even with individual American states. In an alliance of such equals, Canada would have a seat at the table and the respect of its partners.

We would also have the collective clout to withstand the heavy flirtation of China and the subtle subversion of Russia’s cybercommandos. By welcoming millions of smart people who no longer dream of success in America, we could foster their success here — and help to set the terms for the next couple of economic revolutions.

And we’d better. For all the reasons that Trump’s America denies, from climate change to public health to racial equality and technology, we are in for a turbulent century. Pax Americana is over. Perhaps, and not by the threat of violence, we might help to establish a pax Canadiana.  [Tyee]

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