First off, full disclosure. I’m Canadian. I’m not a historian, beyond the undergraduate level anyway. However, I’m certainly a lifelong student of history, particularly of the past hundred years. With that in mind, hopefully you’ll forgive my presumption in voicing my views.
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on September 18, 2020 at the age of 87. I’ll put aside hagiography and observe simply that, whatever flawed decisions she may have made in her time on the bench, she did much to advance the rights of women in the United States. That’s a legacy that cannot be ignored and should be recognized and remembered. But there are bigger fish to fry.
With her passing, only fifty-odd days before the most consequential presidential election in postwar American history, the future of America and – no exaggeration – the world is even more uncertain than it was only a day earlier.
With Justice Ginsburg’s passing, Republicans have made it clear that they are ditching the “principled” stance they took not quite four years ago when they refused to even grant a hearing to President Obama’s very middle-of-the-road Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland. (If there was one moment during his presidency that probably caused the calm, cool, collected Barrack Obama to shout “those [expletive deleted]s” behind closed doors, it was probably that one.) They will swiftly appoint a replacement who is all but guaranteed to resolve any disputes over the inevitably contested results of the upcoming presidential election in the Republicans’ favour.
If that happens, Donald Trump will probably be president for another four years. And if the Republicans manage to keep the Presidency and their Senate majority, they will use the next four years to cement their control over the United States. Which means that the brand of authoritarian nationalism taking root in America will probably continue long after Trump leaves (?) the Presidency in 2025.
Trump and the Republicans are going to do nothing to combat climate change, and they will probably make it worse. We know this because Trump has told us as much, through his statements and actions. Nor will his spawn, if one of them succeeds him. The rest of us, living through (according to the best scientific understanding we have right now) this most critical decade in the history of human civilization, that decade in which we either have to turn back the clock or hope that we figure out a bunch of amazing science stuff really quickly, well…. we just plain straight up don’t have time for that crap. But with another four years of Trump, that crap is what we’ll get.
The gulf between rich and poor in America will grow, caused in sizeable measure by the steadier and steadier erosion of America’s farmland as climate change worsens and results in another dust bowl across much of the American Midwest, only permanent this time – this ain’t your great-granddaddy’s dust bowl of the Thirties, kids. Such deleterious effects are always visited disproportionately on the poor, in this case in the form of massive job loss and probably creeping starvation in America.* A permanent Republican authoritarian government won’t readily send food aid to the starving or chronically underfed, because that’s socialism or a disincentive to work or some other Ayn Rand-derived rubbish.
Whichever particular authoritarian nationalists happen to be occupying the Oval Office over the next few decades under this scenario, they’re probably going to be progressively more authoritarian and nationalist than the present wannabe authoritarian nationalist in the Oval Office, because authoritarian nationalists don’t tend to cede control (except on rare occasions when left with no other choice). And authoritarian nationalists will always need enemies, and will always find them. So an authoritarian nationalist American government will first suppress its enemies at home, because they can’t exactly exert power credibly on the world stage if their own house is a mess, can they?
Well, they probably can’t.
I mean, they could probably still threaten a significantly smaller, much less powerful neighbour while in that condition. Like, say….
Oh. Oh Canada.… hoo boy. Okay. Canada.
Second largest land mass on earth. Almost every strategic resource there is, especially as escalating climate change melts our Arctic permafrost (causing it to start spewing out its trapped methane, which is a far more potent greenhouse gas than boring old CO2). Not to mention that while all that is happening, there’s going to be even more arable farmland and accessible strategic resources in Canada due to said melting permafrost. In big, sprawling Canada. With our puny population of 37 million people just across the world’s longest undefended border from a nation of 328 million people led by an authoritarian nationalist government in need of farmland, strategic resources, and a foreign enemy to triumph over.
“Nations have no permanent friends or enemies. Only interests.” — Henry John Temple, UK Prime Minister, 1855-1858, 1859-1865
Any professional or amateur student of history, or even any vaguely informed observer of it, has probably noticed a clear pattern: authoritarian nationalist governments get tired rather quickly of asking nicely for things they need or want.
It’s also worth pointing out that, in addition to increasingly nationalist authoritarian America and her 328 million people, there’s also nationalist authoritarian China (1.37 billion people, massive military) just across the Pacific from us, and nationalist authoritarian Russia (146 million people, historically pretty good at war) just over the North Pole from us. All three have nuclear weapons. Yep…. Canada is surrounded by actual or soon-to-be nationalist authoritarian superpowers. That fact is inescapable. A quick glance at a map of eastern Europe circa August 31, 1939 indicates what a rotten position that is to be in. And based on the above map of the world in 2050 after a measly four degrees of warming, we have what two of the three are going to lack, want and need.
It seems like no exaggeration to suggest that Canada faces a looming crisis, not only of security, but of existence. But the solution to this crisis is, in my humble view, simply stated:
Canada needs to start campaigning to join the EU. Immediately.
(Yes, yes, I know, Canada’s not in Europe. But neither is EU member Cyprus. Greenland has been suggested as a possible future member (admittedly, they’re already part of Denmark, though autonomous), and they’re not technically in Europe either. So it’s largely a spurious objection, and quickly overcome. It can be renamed the North Atlantic Union or something. Or not. Labels aren’t important. Let’s stay focused here.)
The EU is a superpower in its own right. It already has 447 million people – almost as many as America and Russia combined. It has massive multinational industries and banks with global influence. It has 1.4 million active military personnel and 2.3 million reserve personnel. It has large domestic armaments industries. It has a nuclear deterrent and SLBMs to deliver it. And their people hold a lot of the same views as we Canadians in terms of how a healthy and just society should function. We have far more in common with them than we do with America. (Common language? Well, to a large extent no, but most European kids learn English nowadays anyway. And we can learn their languages.)
Canada is imperfect, absolutely. And we’re too self-righteous for our own good, or anybody else’s. But notwithstanding, these are the facts: we have 37 million people, more than all but the largest 5-6 EU nations. We have a GDP larger than all but four of them. That’s a lot of potential money from Canada in EU contributions. We’re an industrialized democracy with existing infrastructure, a remarkably stable system of government, and a non-politicized judiciary. We have decent schools and excellent universities. We have vast rich farmland and strategic resources that Europe will need. Europe is experiencing a steady stream of immigration from the less advantaged parts of the world, and Canada has room for more people – many more people. (And we’re going to need those people, too.) In short, we have a lot to bring to the table.
Not to mention that, by all indications, the Trump administration now views the UK-less Europe as a rival. (This is a moment at which it’s okay to feel a tiny bit sorry for Boris Johnson: that guy is so screwed right now and he’s too blind to see it. He’s Britain’s very own Mussolini-in-the-making, except with hair. And we know how that eventually worked out.) But even if what I’ve written still seems a tad alarmist at this point, since you’ve gotten this far, consider this: how much would it really take for a nationalist authoritarian America in need of strategic resources and arable land (which I’ll call “lebensraum” – you know, for fun) to fairly quickly come to see Canada as a potential conquest/colony? They’ve done it before on the other side of the world in the last two decades, when they were still sort-of a functioning democracy. And it scarcely needs pointing out that powerful nationalist authoritarian countries don’t generally do their conquering/colonizing by peaceful or friendly means. We need only look at the last hundred years to know that.
In the coming decades, tens of millions of climate refugees are going to stream northwards. Justice, compassion and humanity require that we Canadians, with our vast land mass and abundant resources, extend a hand to these unfortunate millions, and welcome them. But it’s critically important that we be able to do so on our own terms, not at the dictates of said powerful nationalist authoritarian regimes.
Nationalism is ultimately a primitive, outdated, destructive concept, and it needs to be put in the ground if humanity is to eventually build a better, fairer, kinder, more equitable and more peaceful world. But in Canada’s specific case, it must be sacrificed for the sake of survival. And if our national sovereignty must be sacrificed, then it should be sacrificed for a union with people in other countries who share our relatively enlightened social and political values. We need the EU, and the EU needs us. And in this troubled world, balanced as we are right now on a the edge of a knife, there’s no more time for childish nationalism. It is time for Canada to embrace collective security as the basis for our foreign policy, and to do so expeditiously while our powerful and increasingly authoritarian nationalist neighbour to the south still has some vestigial semblance of checks and balances to suppress its worsening impulses. Right now is probably the best opportunity we’re going to have. And we likely won’t get another one this good again, at least not for a long, long time.
Going forward, there’s no other evident option.
“We can do it the easy way or we can do it the hard way, but one way or another, the world is going to be politically united in the next fifty-five hundred years. The exact time scale doesn’t matter. It may get destroyed in the process – the unity of the mass grave – but it is going to happen.” — Gwynne Dyer, 1983
* For a detailed discussion on this topic, I recommend Abrahm Lustgarten’s recent article in the New York Times Magazine, “How Climate Migration Will Reshape America”. (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/15/magazine/climate-crisis-migration-america.html)