America’s moral sins continue to add up. The United States withdrew from the United Nations Human Rights Council, which meets this week, news that comes on the heels of President Donald Trump praising North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un as a leader who “loves his people.”
Even as diplomats criticized the world’s most powerful country for retreating from yet another international forum, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticized the Trump administration’s harsh policy of separating undocumented families at the U.S.-Mexico border as “unconscionable.” One worker at a California holding centre told the Los Angeles Times that he quit his job after being instructed to prevent crying siblings from speaking to each other.
Republicans trying to rein their leader in are still playing to his base: One GOP bill that would lessen family separations demands US$25-billion for the border wall Mr. Trump promised during the 2016 election. Meanwhile, it looks like if he’s charged with knowingly abetting foreign agents in order to become President, Mr. Trump might just try to pardon himself.
It’s hard to know what to do as a Canadian watching the turmoil in our neighbour to the south, and choosing not to visit seems like an obvious answer. Not crossing the 49th parallel is an easy act of solidarity with the Latin-American families being torn apart, and not giving our money to a country actively hostile toward us seems like simple self-defence.
Which is why I felt strange this past weekend as I drove to Vermont to visit a friend who I hadn’t seen for more than two years. We usually meet in Montreal when it’s just grown-ups, but running around her very green state’s fields and many lakes made more sense for a trip that included two little kids.
The problem with that decision hit me on Saturday morning, as we picked up artisanal bacon at a farmers’ market while our children danced to folk music played by two grey-haired hippies. This was in Burlington, an extremely progressive city in a fairly progressive state: Visibly LGBTQ families were everywhere; all of the farmers clearly loved growing organic produce; and faded Bernie Sanders bumper stickers adorned a bunch of cars.
It seemed idyllic – and extremely out of touch.
I’m not accusing anyone of fiddling while their empire burns, since many people I saw that day likely push back against their government’s racist, authoritarian agenda. It’s more that it seemed both spoiled and clueless of me to be enjoying myself in the United States, when the United States is more or less melting down.
Yet it also seems counterproductive to react to an isolationist movement by allowing the country to isolate itself and to isolate those trying hard to clean up this mess. Despite my uneasiness this weekend, I’m still considering a U.S. trip to see my brother and sister-in-law, whose work is constant and unrelenting.
She’s a journalist trying to explain what’s currently happening at the U.S. Department of Justice in a way people can actually understand, a heroic job if ever one existed. He’s a civil-rights lawyer currently working with an undocumented transgender woman who was sexually assaulted by a prison guard after being put in a male prison for crossing the border.
They’re in the thick of it, basically, and they don’t have much time to come to Canada, or to relax at all. So I might take my love and support to them.
It’s important to remember that no population is monolithic, especially if you believe the 2016 election was likely tampered with. On the weekend, my friend told me her state’s Republican governor, Phil Scott, pushed through a slate of gun reform laws in March, after the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in which 17 people died.
That’s a bold move in this dichotomous age, and one that proves the current battle for America’s soul isn’t over yet.
So no, this isn’t the time to be a mindless tourist, to go on shopping sprees in New York or gamble extravagantly in Las Vegas. Those who choose not to go to the U.S. at all aren’t wrong.
But there is also value in connecting with those doing their best to shine light in dark corners – and in reminding Americans that the world is still out here, watching what choices they make.