I started baking a lemon blueberry cake at about 10:30 last night. I was going to bake while watching the U.S. election returns. Then in the morning I planned to throw on my Hillary Clinton T-shirt, take my cake to work, and celebrate the election of the first woman president of the most powerful country on earth.
Obviously, things did not go as planned.
The cake was baked anyway. I brought it in to work as a consolation cake. And I couldn’t put on the Hillary T-shirt (which I’d ordered online and arrived yesterday, just in time to wear triumphantly the day after the election. Sigh). Going through my extensive collection of graphic tees, only one seemed to have the message I needed today: my rainbow-hued shirt with the Jack Layton quote about love, hope, and optimism.
As a Canadian, I could be taking the position of many of my fellow citizens and saying “Thank God that’s not us.” Certainly, the worst excesses of a Trump presidency, backed with a Repulican House and Senate and at least one Supreme Court vacancy to fill, will be borne on the backs of U.S. citizens — people of colour, Muslim-Americans, Latino immigrants, LGBT people, women who need safe legal abortions, and the millions of middle-class and working-class people who inexplicably believed that a billionaire’s tax plan would benefit anyone other than himself and his billionaire cronies.
But some of Trump’s policies (or rather the policies of those with whom he surrounds himself; I’m not sure the man himself has any beliefs at all, other than that he wants money, power and adulation) will affect the whole world. Even short of the chilling image of a volatile, childish personality with access to nuclear codes, there’s the tiny detail that Trump, like most of his party, believes climate change is a hoax and ignores the consensus of 97% of the world’s serious scientists on that topic. Unless he’s planning to build a roof to go with that wall, the act of pulling America out of the Paris Accords and refusing to move forward on renewable energy is going to mean that the inevitable climate change will be more severe than it would be if America were to lead the way on renewable energy, and that’s going to have consequences for all of us. So yes, it’s our business too.
And there’s a way this hits on an emotional level for a progressive-minded Canadian like me, too. It’s a second blow coming after the UK’s Brexit vote in the summer — another thing I did not believe would happen. Am I just naive? I see the rise of far-right parties and ideologies around our Western world, and yet I continue to believe that people are essentially good, that we are moving in the direction of greater love, inclusion, and openness. The only way the world will survive the pressures that will come with the above-mentioned climate change is if we move towards greater openness and sharing — if we focus on defending “us” against “them” as “their” lands become increasingly unliveable, we will descend into a dystopian nightmare of bloodshed and chaos.
I keep hoping we will be able to be our best human selves, and then spectacles like the Brexit vote and the Trump vote remind me that there are politicians who are deeply invested in appealing to our worst selves — our prejudices, our fears, our selfishness. The dark side of human nature is very real, and there will always be powerful people who want to exploit that to increase their own power. I firmly believe Donald Trump is such a man, and so are many of those who surround him. They have unleashed the forces of the alt-right, the very worst in American (and human) society. And everyone, not just Americans, will reap the consequences.
So, what’s a Canadian to do today? Put on her rainbow Jack Layton shirt, bake a cake, and hope for the best? It seems a facile response. My wish for everyone, especially Americans today, is that we can all be loving, hopeful and optimistic, and bake each other some cakes. Be kind and compassionate. The most bizarre thing, to me, is that I know genuinely kind, compassionate, decent people who I also know voted for Trump, for reasons that made sense to them (though not to me). People in the US still have to live next door to each other, go to work in adjacent cubicles, sit down to their Thanksgiving dinner with family members who voted differently. A little love, hope, and optimism will go a long way in the toxic atmosphere created by this election. A little cake can’t hurt either.
Here in Canada, our last election went against the tide that we seem to see rising around the world. We rejected the candidate who tried to incite xenophobia, in favour of the one who preached inclusion and openness. We invited in 30,000 Syrian refugees while Trump, in the US, thundered about closing the borders and not letting in even one.
I feel like it’s up to Canada now, and up to the European nations who haven’t fallen prey to their right-wing nationalist parties, and up to any other democracies in the world who have voted for inclusion, for progressive policies, for caring for the environment — it’s up to us to lead the way. Even for small countries like Canada. It’s up to us to show that love, hope and optimism aren’t just naive ideals — they actually work. And all the while Trump will be providing the US with a blueprint for what doesn’t work, we can direct our efforts towards being a small but shining light, an example of how to do it right.
That’s a tall order, Canada (and Mr. Trudeau, and the rest of our governing party). But it seems like all we can do in the face of this devastating US election.
I’ll be here baking cake.