Paul Lammens is a published writer, teacher, father, husband and outdoor athlete living outside of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. This is his first essay for Thundercling.
I remember discussing the looming election of Donald Trump with some of my Grade 4 students. Although I passed off his chances as impossible, my kids knew his outrageous non sequiturs and behavior were completely unacceptable. To these kids it seemed a gaff that he was even permitted to run for president. “If he was a student like us,” they’d say, “he would be sent to the principal’s office!”
I teach in a First Nation community at a Nursery to Grade 12 school, tucked into semi-remote British Columbia, Canada. Our teachers and administrators use what’s called an Ntk’amen Flow Chart, a system designed to teach the values of local tradition. My students are imbued with a sense of cooperation, respect, compassion and care for the land. The flow chart also uses a 7-step process to deal with unacceptable behavior, each step requiring more involvement from the individual and his/her family. The kids were all in agreement that this scandalous showman had arrived at the final step (requiring a meeting with parents/guardians and an in-school suspension) long before the election.
And yet, it happened. You elected this farce of a man as chief ambassador for you and your values. Tell me, how can a Canadian kid not conclude that you Americans have lost your minds? The day after the election, one student said bluntly, “The world is going to end because of the US.” While I don’t agree with that, I do feel like my neighbors to the South have hit an all-time low. The “Land of the Free” has been transmogrified into a land of racism and discrimination. That’s how many of us feel up North. Some folks find humor in your struggle. My students do not. They are anxious.
Over the past eight years I have taken for granted how dependable the US has been on all issues of importance. Things seemed to be moving in the right direction with the environment, and although there were still a few nut-jobs denying climate change science, they seemed easily dismissed. I remember the intelligent and thought-provoking debates between Barrack Obama and John McCain during the election of 2008. It seemed as though you Americans really appreciated intellectual discussion. Canadians could trust Americans to speak up for what was right in the world. Maybe you don’t understand how that feels, to see a country uphold the potential of the world. You probably don’t. So, I’ll tell you. It feels really good.
Then, Donald Trump slid down that escalator and most of us passed it off as a stunt. Each unconscionable statement, each preposterous scandal, we thought it all a terrible reality show. And suddenly – too suddenly – he did get elected and the severity of the situation became clear. I can no longer unequivocally say that Americans think and speak logically or ethically…or intelligently. Not when Trump and his people are spewing their garbage. Canadians have been stopped at the border and prevented from entering the country if they admit to not supporting Trump. His gold-flecked brand of racism and discrimination fueled the shooter in the recent Quebec City mosque shooting. I am scared to see how far-reaching his alt-right, repugnant persuasion will become. He now controls the destiny of your nation, and that really is scary.
But there was something else going on. It slowly wafted North onto our television sets and into our newspapers. We started picking up a vibe of dissension and an intransigent unwillingness to accept that Donald Trump and his band of Nazi-like thugs would get away with their injustices. I was brought to tears when I saw footage of a Republican congresswoman telling the story of her niece watching as she was booed by her party for standing up to the vulgar behavior of your President. I watched as thousands of people marched for women’s rights and against the discrimination promoted by Trump. I saw mainstream media outlets stick up for the truth and refuse to be bullied into ridiculous claims of alternative facts. Something is happening down there…
Cheering on your #resistance led to an epiphany. If Americans can survive four years of this authoritarianism and come through the other side as a country united against Trump’s demagoguery, then maybe there is hope for the world. If enough of you stand up and refuse to let your country’s principles of freedom and acceptance be eroded, then perhaps it means something for the world. Most countries ruled by dictators struggle to regain their culture and values after finally deposing a rotten leadership. And although Trump was democratically elected, it grows clearer by the day that he’s basically a tyrant, an incurious bully, a totalitarian nut-bar. But, I have hope. My students have hope. Maybe you Americans can stand up to this, when most others would not be able to.
None the less, I must tell you this much: with your stats on mass-shootings and gun violence, I’m not super-keen to visit. Add to that your new political reality, with its insidious undercurrents, and I certainly won’t be bringing my multicultural family across the border. My family’s value of diversity was summed up in our Prime Minister’s recent comment after Trump shut the border to Muslim countries, “To those fleeing persecution, terror and war, Canadians welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength.” Kind of reminds me of President Obama’s many soliloquies of inclusion and compassion. Diversity is our strength. I have learned so much from those who are different from me, whether from their religion (Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Atheist, spiritual) or their cultural background (First Nation, Asian, European, etc.). Both my students and my children continue to learn so much from the diversity around us. Most speak three languages in their first decade. It’s a simple and wonderful wrinkle of our lives that the people around us don’t always look the same or speak the same tongue. So, although we won’t be going to your country during the next four years, I will be watching safely from north of the border and hoping for the survival of our like-values. For the world, as much as for you! Many of us up North believe you have it in you to fight the good fight. We believe, against all current evidence, that the American heart beats strong and true and maybe, just maybe, can overcome the damage done by a damaged man.
My class of Grade 4 students will be watching.