Canada is not the United States – and amen to that – but no country on Earth has more of a stake in the Great Republic’s success. Our relationship is not that of a competitor who wins when America fails, but rather a partner who can’t get ahead if the other guy keeps falling down on the job, or a neighbour who can’t get a night’s sleep because the people next door won’t stop smashing dishes and setting fires on the lawn.
As comedian Robin Williams once put it, Canada is like someone living above a meth lab – a description the Donald Trump era transformed from joke to geography lesson.
Because we share a continent, a language and the world’s longest undefended border, open to the migration of ideas and culture, our floor and their ceiling aren’t thick enough to keep what goes wrong there, there. As such, we can’t live our best life up here until the family downstairs starts talking seriously about turning their lives around, and gets into rehab.
That’s why Jan. 20, 2021, is a good day for Canada. The swearing-in of President Joe Biden is the first step in America’s 12-step program.
Mr. Biden is promising to undo the worst of the Trump administration, in a sense resetting the clock back to 2016, while at the same time also aiming to tackle big problems that existed long before Mr. Trump’s election, and contributed to it.
A reset means returning to a foreign policy that includes partnering with allies, rather than alternating between ignoring or antagonizing America’s friends.
It means reversing Mr. Trump’s reversal of environmental measures, including pulling out of the Paris Agreement.
It means returning to an immigration and refugee system that, though already flawed before Mr. Trump came along, had not yet been turned into an instrument for satisfying voters’ worst impulses.
It means undoing steps taken by Mr. Trump to roll back the Affordable Care Act. Though Obamacare is neither perfect nor complete, it has reduced the number of Americans without health insurance. Attempts by the Republicans to whittle it to death helped Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives in 2018, and win the presidency in 2020.
But Mr. Biden is trying to do a lot more than just take the U.S. back to 2016. Even then, a sufficient number of Americans were angry enough to give an egomaniacal con man control of one of America’s political parties, and then to give him enough votes to put him into the White House.
Addressing that anger will be Mr. Biden’s biggest challenge. It’s the key to our neighbour’s full recovery.
The free market is a vehicle for growth and innovation, but the extreme, winner-take-all version of it practised in the U.S. has also made it an engine of immiseration. That is partly what propelled Mr. Trump into office – the sense among those who used to be the Democratic Party base but are now the Republican base, namely lesser-educated Americans and especially lesser-educated white Americans, that the economic system is really sticking it to them.
Last year, economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton, the latter a Nobel Prize winner, published Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism. They detailed how the U.S., unlike other developed countries with stronger social safety nets and less income inequality, is suffering from an epidemic of deaths of despair – lives cut short by drug overdoses, alcohol and suicides. The sharp spike in early deaths is taking place entirely among lesser-educated Americans, especially low-education whites, who in the 2010s found themselves as never before facing a life of low wages, lack of job security, and a loss of hope and self-respect.
The irony is that many of these people gave their support to Mr. Trump – who did not deliver economic uplift but instead salved their pain with the opioid of racial grievance.
A lot of Americans on the left propose a kind of mirror image: They, too, want everything to be about race. But Mr. Biden and his team appear to understand that the way to heal America’s divisions involves strengthening what citizens have in common, regardless of background.
That means improving social programs, expanding health care, raising some taxes on higher earners and raising minimum wages so that, as was true in the golden years when Mr. Biden came of age, more working-class Americans can afford middle-class lives.
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