TORONTO — It was Robin Williams, of all people, who coined the phrase that I’ve heard repeatedly in Toronto over the past few weeks.
“You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab,” he said during an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit in 2013.
I’ve read it on Twitter. I’ve heard it while standing in a socially distanced line on the street. And most recently, it kicked off the main editorial in one of Canada’s national newspapers, The Globe and Mail.
It’s been hard to concentrate up here, with all the noise on the other side of the border. First, the coronavirus got way out of control down there. Then there were the Black Lives Matter protests and the counterprotests. Now, do I have to say it?
Tuesday’s election has caused people around the world to fidget.
Canadians have been ripping their cuticles off.
Not only do we live right upstairs from the United States, but we do all the things that close neighbors do — share things, hatch local improvement plans, kvetch, party together. The United States is not just our biggest trading partner, it’s our biggest vacation spot, too. Despite Canada’s vast size, two out of three of its residents live within 62 miles of the border and many of us have sisters and brothers and cousins down there. (I have two sisters in California and a sister-in-law in North Carolina.)
I haven’t slept well in days, and neither have many of my friends and neighbors.
“I’ve done no work in two days because of a drawn out election in a country I don’t live in,” Emmett Macfarlane, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo, said on Twitter.
Recent polls show that as many as four in five Canadians were rooting for former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee, to win the presidency. Canada’s political center tends to lean further left than America’s, making the Democratic Party a comfortable ideological home for many “Red Tories” — what we call liberal right-wingers.
But, this isn’t about policies. It’s about President Trump. Canadians really don’t like him — his confidence rating among Canadians plummeted to the lowest point of any American president over the past 20 years.
At first it was personal — he slapped tariffs on the country’s steel and aluminum exports two years ago, threatened to cut Canada out of the continental free trade deal, and insulted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak,” moments after leaving the Group of 7 summit, which Mr. Trudeau had hosted.
Since then, watching Mr. Trump politicize the coronavirus, vilify his opponents and attack democratic institutions, many Canadians say it has become a question of morality.
“Even the right is offended morally by his behavior;conservatives have values,” said Janice Stein, the founding director of the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto, after a night of watching Fox News. “They are deeply offended by this man, who is frankly all about himself all the time. He’s a terrible narcissist. He’s a racist.”
While Mr. Trudeau has maintained a disciplined silence about the election, saying diplomatically that he’ll work with whomever American voters elect, the leader of Canada’s New Democratic Party, Jagmeet Singh, spoke out against Mr. Trump at a news conference this week. “It would be better for the world if Trump loses, and I hope he loses today,” Mr. Singh said.
But as the predicted blue wave failed to materialize, and Canadians hunkered down into their couches for another day of watching Americans — many of them maskless — protest outside vote counting centers, many came to the sobering realization that Mr. Trump is not an aberration. With a deep well of support in the United States, he is a reflection of many of their American neighbors. Whether or not he wins, some 70 million people voted for him — roughly double the total population of Canada.
“Beyond despondent,” one reader wrote in a haiku competition hosted by The Toronto Star. “That so many support his bigotry and hate.”
Even political analysts, who study the nuanced dynamics of voting, said Mr. Trump’s widespread support signaled a worrying cleavage in the American identity.
“He’s tapped into something real — a sense of disillusion and hopelessness,” said Lori Turnbull, the director of the School of Public Administration and an associate professor of political science at Dalhousie University in Halifax.
“Whether he gets to 270 or not,” she said, “the challenge will be: Is America able to restore the integrity of its institutions and it’s mythology and belief in an American dream?”
Canada shares the longest border in the world with the United States. Before, Canadians crossed it regularly — for vacations or family reunions or lunch. We haven’t done that since March, when the pandemic arrived and the border was closed, like a long garage door. Despite the painful economic and personal ramifications, an overwhelming majority of Canadians want that border to stay closed until our American neighbors have contained the spread of the virus, which this week, reached record case numbers two days in a row.
Given this election, few of us think we’ll be seeing our American brothers and sisters anytime soon.
“We’ve had different administrations,” said Mike Bradley, who since 1988 has been the mayor of Sarnia, an industrial city across the river from Michigan.
“I’ve never felt that collective angst about what’s happening and what will happen in the future,” he said, pointing to Mr. Trump’s Thursday night pronouncement that the election had been rigged. “Everyone is scared of retaliation.”
He added, “I think Americans have changed in a manner that’s difficult for us to deal with as Canadians.”
Aydin Aghdashloo, an artist at the center of accusations in Iran’s #MeToo movement, is a Canadian citizen. While an exhibition of his work in Tehran has been canceled, the executive director of Tirgan, a hugely popular Iranian cultural festival in Toronto, would not commit to publicly uninviting him.
Halloween was terrible in Quebec City this year — two people were stabbed to death and five others were wounded by a man dressed in medieval garb and brandishing a sword.
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