There’s a lot to be said for growing a garden, especially one as big as mine here at Cathedral Drive Farm in Hope Ness, on the Bruce Peninsula, in Ontario, Canada. It’s like ballet, or any other creative discipline that requires your absolute devotion and attention for hours a day, every day. You can get lost in it, but not aimless. It can be an escape for a while from the world of cares and woe and discouraging news about how the future is likely to unfold; and these days it’s not very good at all.
And, yes, I am referring to the infernal T-word.
To T or not to T, that is the question, as if anything I might say or do will make the slightest difference one way or another about it. But in my heart I know good people, however small or large their voice may be, must not remain silent or inactive in the face of a very bad thing. Surely, the history of the modern world has taught us that, or should have.
At least here in the garden there is hope: I get up early in the morning, take some time for a reflective cup of coffee or two, and then put on my boots and hat and go out to see how the veggies are doing. And now that the temperature has finally gone up a few precious degrees they’re doing quite well, thank you. I water what appears to need it, and then I get down on my hands and knees to pull weeds carefully from around the brave little lettuce, carrots and bean plants that were waiting patiently for warm, sunny days like these.
And as I go about my dogged efforts to make good things grow on this hard soil, I think a lot about the unrelenting bad news emanating from that great, but now very troubled country to the south of my own. Here in Canada, already one of the most multicultural countries in the world, there is a new spirit of hope and an open, caring attitude, without discrimination, toward suffering refugees. But there, the possibility Donald Trump could actually get elected President of the United States, holds out the prospect of an altogether different attitude. What might it mean for Canada, I shudder to think.
After the initial shock as the news of the Orlando mass-murder was breaking that first terrible morning, I said a little prayer of sorts, regarding the then still unknown person or persons who had committed the crime.
“Please don’t let it be a Muslim,” I said to myself.
The political situation in the United States regarding this fall’s presidential election, and the “presumptive” candidate for the Republican Party, was already bad enough, to put it mildly.
Trump is a man whose unlikely candidacy to become President of the greatest and most powerful democracy on Earth should have been quickly tossed in the ash-can of history. His outrageous, often repugnant comments and behaviour are now a matter of infamous public record, thanks in large part to the news media he has branded as full of “liars.” Yet, where would he be today, without the news media?
Time and time again when I think of the man and what he has said and done, and continues to say, I keep coming back to that moment in particular when he incited violence at one of his rallies: he actually told his supporters to assault protesters who were heckling him, and not to worry about being charged because he would pay their legal defence costs. That should have ended his candidacy right there. To think a candidate for President of the United States would call upon people to commit a criminal act of violence is surely way beyond anything acceptable by any stretch of imagination in a country supposedly governed by the rule of law.
And yet he got away with it, as he has gotten away with many other things that in any other U.S. presidential campaign I’ve followed over many years would have been the end of any candidate’s presidential aspirations. There was, after all, a level of underlying decency and intelligence in America’s public consciousness that would have been aroused against the likes of him.
So, what’s different now? Why is he getting away with it?
It’s this: what’s feeding Trump’s surprisingly, troubling rise to political power so far, is a form of mass hysteria that defies the application of any normal, rational thinking or appeal to common decency.
The political establishment in the U.S. doesn’t seem to know, or for some reason isn’t saying, that there is a tidal wave of disquiet that has been rumbling and rising just under the surface for years. It’s not just about the 911 attacks and their aftermath, including America’s misguided invasion of Iraq, and the prolonged invasion/occupation of Afghanistan. What did they accomplish at a price of thousands of American and other lives, other than de-stabilization of the Middle East? After 911 the U.S. had the moral high ground; it was well within its rights to conduct, with international cooperation, a military-back police action, to find and arrest the culprits, bring them back to the scene of the crime, and leave.
The disquiet, the underlying anger and discontent in American society is also about the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs to “offshore” locations, especially China. Meanwhile the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer.
Whatever else can be said about him, Trump has the cunning instincts of the master deal-maker. He picked up on the angry mood of largely, white Americans, 13 million of them during Republican primary voting. And he has played that mood like a virtuoso demagogue.
My Concise Oxford Dictionary describes the meaning of “demagogue” as follows: “Popular leader; political agitator appealing to cupidity or prejudices of the masses, factious orator.”
Any demagogue worthy of the name knows the people are often confused and bewildered by a feeling of being overwhelmed by the complexity of the problems and issues they, and their country, face. They need someone to “tell it like it is” in straightforward, simple terms. That’s often what his supporters say they like about Trump. They have no patience with intellectual discourse.
Key to the mass-understanding of what’s gone wrong is the need for someone to blame, including an identifiable group of people with a supposedly malevolent agenda. The Jewish people have been victimized by that for centuries, most recently, and terribly, by Adolf Hitler and the Nazis before and during the Second World War.
In Trump’s demagogic strategy the main targets have been Mexicans, and now again more than ever since Orlando, Muslims. He has even insinuated that President Barack Obama is sympathetic to “radical Islam,” and called for his resignation.
To discriminate against millions of people on the basis of race or religion is against everything the United States and its Constitution are supposed to be about; it’s what makes America “great.”
I hope come November the American people in their collective wisdom will finally put a stop to the dangerous Trump phenomenon before it really messes up their good garden.
A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times in June, 2016.