I look out my second-floor office window here at Cathedral Drive Farm in Hope Ness and all is calm: the morning sun is shining on the second-growth of tender, young buckwheat still managing to survive the cooling nights. There is little wind, though 100 km/hr winds are forecast for this weekend. And I wonder if I will get a chance today to start putting plastic on the windows to help keep out the winter cold.
But, I confess, the state of the world has got me down: the increasingly destabilized, insecure, dangerous world and the threat that poses for ordinary people like me who just want to get on with their lives, do right by their children – and the human family – yes, that too, because we are all in this together, whether you live down the road and around the corner, or on the other side of the planet.
Civilization, in the best and broadest sense of that word, and the opportunity for humanity to live together in peace, is a very precious, but fragile thing: it hangs in a state of miraculous being by delicate threads of understanding and accepted standards of good behavior.
I come to a four-way stop in town with three other people in their vehicles, perhaps a split-second apart. But we each know the order, and we wait our turn.
I can’t for the life of me think of an occasion when anyone violated that inherent understanding of the order of things where four human lives literally intersect more or less at the same time.
And, of course, we never get to meet each other, except maybe a passing glance as we move on, or take our turns. But I dare to make the assumption, even in the small city of Owen Sound an hour away from Hope Ness, that we are a diverse and numerous collection of humanity if you add us all together over, say, a few years.
Some might think that’s a small thing really that has nothing much to say about how people get along, or could, in the wider world. And, certainly, history contains all kinds of terrible examples of how humanity can’t co-exist. And yet, somehow the world has managed to avoid nuclear war for the past almost 70 years, for example, despite a collective arsenal capable of destroying the world many times over.
But I find myself worrying these days – indeed, I thought about it this morning as I fed my pets – that the lid has come off Pandora’s box, that all manner of chaos, madness and, yes, evil, has been loosed upon the world in the year 2017. Or, to avoid mixing metaphors, the fragile threads that have held the world together in a state of more or less functional balance and sanity for more than 50 years are unravelling. But more terribly than ever. Madness in certain high places where, above all, it ought not to be has become normal.
Or was it always an illusion? Was the beast always among us, just waiting for its moment to spread chaos, cruelty, and destruction?
. . .
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau continues to walk the “sunny ways” tight-rope whenever he goes to Washington, and especially when he sits in front of the Oval Office fireplace with the increasingly most dangerous man in the world.
As far as I can tell that fire still hasn’t been lit. But that may just be a matter of time: black smoke rising from a chimney at the White House signaling the end of the world as we know it, confirming what many have feared for some time – well before last year’s U.S. election, now almost a year ago; if you know what I mean.
Has it really been that long? Seems like yesterday. And still the several investigations into the extent to which Russia committed an act of Cyber-warfare to affect the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election, and who was involved, plod on.
Will they – Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation especially – end in time, with irrefutable evidence of collusion, or not? Or will the man in the White House who continues to call it a “hoax” kept alive by the “fake news media” find a way to make it all go away?
To be clear, that is the news media, what used to be called the free press, that doggedly publishes reports – often citing unnamed, insider sources – critical of President Donald Trump; such as a recent report about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson calling him a very unflattering name after a high-level meeting at the Pentagon. In an extraordinary press conference the day after the report was aired Tillerson did not deny it, but instead adopted a holier-than-thou attitude in declining to comment on such a “petty” matter.
He could have chosen to tell the truth, and explain why he said what he said. But he chose not to, maybe because he is one of the few people desperately trying to keep Trump under some semblance of control, for the sake of his country and the world.
Rex, maybe you made the right choice, maybe not. Time will tell, to put it mildly.
The same news network that broke that story, NBC, also reported Trump wanted a tenfold increase in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. It cited unnamed sources with knowledge of what was said at the Pentagon meeting.
Trump denied the accuracy of that story this past Wednesday. More troubling perhaps, from NBC’s perspective, was a written statement from his well-respected Defence Secretary, James Mattis. He called the report “absolutely false,” adding “this kind of erroneous reporting is irresponsible.”
Fair enough. The free press should not be immune to criticism when mistakes are made. In my long experience as a journalist that principle was nowhere more important than in the newsroom of the local daily newspaper where I worked for many years. And we weren’t writing about the fate of the world.
But Trump, being what he is, seized the opportunity later in the day to take it one very big step further on his favorite social media venue, Twitter, suggesting it was time to muzzle not just NBC, but “network news” in general:
“Network news has become so partisan, distorted and fake that licenses must be challenged and, if appropriate, revoked. Not fair to public!”
Trump’s contempt for the inquiring news media, despite the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of Freedom of the Press, was queried during his meeting this past week with Trudeau in the Oval Office. His response led the Washington Post to call it “perhaps his most chilling comments yet about the freedom of the press.”
An on-line transcript of the media question-and-answer session with Trump and Trudeau, as well as their opening remarks makes interesting reading. References to the ongoing “tough” NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) re-negotiations were to a large extent pre-empted by Trump’s keen interest in the U.S. nuclear arsenal and his threatening attitude toward the news media.
“We are here with a man who has become a friend of mine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mrs. Trudeau,” Trump said. “Thank you so much. Appreciate it. And we are discussing many things, including NAFTA. But we have discussions scheduled for quite a few subjects, and I think we both look very much forward. And I want to just tell you, Justin, great honor to have you both with us. Thank you. Thank you very much.”
“Thank you. It’s great to be back here in the Oval Office,” Trudeau replied. “As the President said, a lot of things to discuss. We have an incredibly close relationship – two countries that are interwoven in our economies, cultures, and in our peoples. But we have a good partnership, and there’s always ways to improve it – always issues we need to talk through. And that’s why having an ongoing, constructive relationship between the President and the Prime Minister is really important. And I’m glad to be able to meet with you here again today. Merci beaucoup.”
A reporter asked Trump the supposedly big question of the day, at least from a Canadian perspective: “Is NAFTA dead?”
His response was. . .well, typically hard to decipher:
“We’ll see what happens,” he replied, “We have a tough negotiation, and it’s something that you will know in the not-too-distant future. But we are going to b discussing NAFTA, and we’ll be discussing defense because we have a great – I mean, these are truly great and original allies, and their mutual defense is very important. And I guess we’ll also be discussing mutual offense, which people don’t mention too often. But offense is part of defense. So we have many things to talk about, but NAFTA will certainly be a big factor today. Okay?”
Now, that certainly begged for a few follow-up questions, about “mutual offense,” for example. But reporters had other things on their minds, such as this:
“Do you want to increase the nuclear arsenal?”
“No, I never discussed increasing it. I want it in perfect shape. That was just fake news by NBC, which gives a lot of fake news, lately. No, I never discuss – I think somebody said I want ten times the nuclear weapons that we have right now. Right now, we have so many nuclear weapons. I want them in perfect condition, perfect shape. That’s the only thing I’ve ever discussed . . . And it’s, frankly, disgusting the way the press is able to write whatever they want to write. And people should look into it.”
What “people” apparently remains to be seen. “Chilling” indeed to hear the President of the United States of America talking like a typical tin-pot dictator.
Trump glanced over at Trudeau as he said those last few words, as if assuming sympathetic agreement.
I think it’s fair to say the Prime Minister of Canada was biting his tongue.
But at some point, he too must dare to speak truth to power, he and a lot of others, including Tillerson, who have first-hand knowledge of the madness in the White House, before it’s too late.
This post was partly inspired by today’s daily prompt, succumb, as in ceasing resistance. Not now.
A version of this post was originally published in The Sun Times October, 2017.