7:32 p.m., Toronto

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Laura Lush

Empty. A few cars. Grass ditch catch­ing tur­tles steal­ing slowly out of ponds. Steer past the near-catas­tro­phe of deer. A clear­ness in the night. End­less sen­try of tele­phone poles, and the fi­nal sliver of to­day’s sun, or­ange set­tling down.

China, hold­ing $1.18 tril­lion (US) of US gov­ern­ment debt, dumps its bonds as a re­tal­ia­tory mea­sure against US tar­iffs. This causes ev­ery other coun­try to panic and sell their hold­ings as well, bring­ing China closer to be­com­ing the global re­serve cur­rency. With the US bond mar­ket routed, higher in­ter­est rates rip­ple through the econ­omy, slow­ing it down.

The hard­est hit are the farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties de­pen­dent on com­mod­ity crops. The antigov­ern­ment move­ments in these ar­eas swell and or­ga­nize. They elect lo­cal politi­cians, par­tic­u­larly sher­iffs. Pock­ets of the south­ern and midwestern states, un­der these sher­iffs, be­lieve that the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has no le­git­i­mate author­ity over them.

By this time, a Demo­cratic pres­i­dent has come to power, with sig­nif­i­cantly more so­cial­is­tic ideas than any pres­i­dent in his­tory. She even­tu­ally passes leg­is­la­tion im­pos­ing na­tional ed­u­ca­tion and health care pro­grams. The lo­cal au­thor­i­ties take these pro­grams as il­le­git­i­mate gov­ern­ment in­ter­fer­ence and, in the heated rhetor­i­cal cli­mate, claim the man­tle of re­sis­tance, which is also taken up by armed in­sur­gen­cies.

The Na­tional Guard swiftly im­poses or­der. But the states con­sider them­selves, and are con­sid­ered by oth­ers, to be un­der oc­cu­pa­tion.

The bor­ders of North Amer­ica are, in their ways, as patch­work as those in the Mid­dle East and as non­sen­si­cal. The French lost to the English. The Bri­tish lost to the Amer­i­cans. The Mex­i­cans lost to the Amer­i­cans. The South lost to the North. The align­ments of any po­lit­i­cal unity are forced; they defy his­tor­i­cal ex­pe­ri­ence, ge­og­ra­phy, eth­nic­ity, or po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy. And that’s why it’s all so break­able, so frag­ile.

The antigov­ern­ment ex­trem­ists know who they are. They see them­selves as the true Amer­i­cans. And who could deny there’s a cer­tain jus­tice in the claim? What could be more Amer­i­can than tax re­bel­lion, the wor­ship of vi­o­lence as po­lit­i­cal sal­va­tion, a man­gled mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Con­sti­tu­tion, and a be­lief sys­tem de­rived sui generis that blurs pas­sion­ate be­lief with straight huck­ster­ism? The next Amer­i­can civil war will not look like the first Amer­i­can Civil War. It will not be be­tween ter­ri­to­ries over re­sources and the right to self-de­ter­mi­na­tion. It will be a com­pe­ti­tion over dis­tinct ideas of what Amer­ica is. It will be a war fought over what Amer­ica means. Is it a repub­lic with checks and bal­ances or a place that yields to the whims of a pres­i­dent’s ex­ec­u­tive power? Is the United States a coun­try of white set­tlers or a na­tion of im­mi­grants? It’s also pos­si­ble, maybe prob­a­ble, that the coun­try will never get an­swers.

in canada, in the mid­dle of the Amer­i­can col­lapse, the Queen dies. Charles III ac­cedes to the throne. De­spite the prospect of hav­ing his face on the money, there is

no se­ri­ous at­tempt to chal­lenge the sta­tus quo. It’s a hard time to ar­gue in favour of any dra­matic po­lit­i­cal re­order­ing. For the same rea­son, though Que­bec sep­a­ratism rises and falls as usual, a new ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence is put away for a gen­er­a­tion; there’s enough in­sta­bil­ity in North Amer­ica.

The refugee cri­sis at the bor­der con­tin­ues to grow, quickly out­strip­ping the abil­ity of bor­der agen­cies to man­age it ef­fec­tively. Canada’s ap­petite for refugees with­ers as the tide swells. Calls for or­der grow louder. Asy­lum cen­tres ap­pear as in Ger­many and Den­mark.

De­spite re­stric­tions on refugees from the United States, Canada re­mains scrupu­lously mul­ti­cul­tural. When a visa ap­pli­cant from In­dia, hop­ing to work at Google, is sep­a­rated from his daugh­ter at the US bor­der, and they are rec­on­ciled af­ter a month, the world’s tech­no­log­i­cal elite move to Toronto, Van­cou­ver, and Mon­treal. Peo­ple who have young fam­i­lies and aren’t white find the prospect of build­ing a ca­reer in the United States too pre­car­i­ous.

The hunger among young Cana­dian tal­ent for New York and Los An­ge­les and San Francisco nat­u­rally di­min­ishes for the same rea­son. In­no­va­tors can­not just head south when they encounter the in­er­tia which de­fines so much of Cana­dian life. The stolid cul­tural in­dus­tries and the tech world lose their gar­ri­son men­tal­ity, at least some­what.

To sum up: the US Congress is too par­a­lyzed by anger to carry out even the most ba­sic tasks of gov­ern­ment. Amer­ica’s le­gal sys­tem grows less le­git­i­mate by the day. Trust in gov­ern­ment is in free fall. The pres­i­dent dis­cred­its the Fbi, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, and the ju­di­cial sys­tem on a reg­u­lar ba­sis. Bor­der guards place chil­dren in de­ten­tion cen­tres at the bor­der. Antigov­ern­ment groups, some of which are armed mili­tias, stand ready and pre­pared for a gov­ern­ment col­lapse. All of this has al­ready hap­pened.

Break­down of the Amer­i­can or­der has de­fined Canada at ev­ery stage of its his­tory, con­tribut­ing far more to the for­ma­tion of Canada’s na­tional iden­tity than any in­ter­nal logic or sense of shared pur­pose. In his book The Civil War Years, the his­to­rian Robin Winks de­scribes a series of Cana­dian re­ac­tions to the early stages of the first Amer­i­can Civil War. In 1861, when the Union formed what was then one of the world’s largest stand­ing armies, Wil­liam Henry Se­ward, the sec­re­tary of state, pre­sented Lin­coln with a mem­o­ran­dum sug­gest­ing that the Union “send agents into Canada...to rouse a vig­or­ous con­ti­nen­tal spirit of in­de­pen­dence.” Cana­dian sup­port for the North with­ered, and pan­icked fan­tasies of im­mi­nent con­quest flour­ished. Af­ter the First Bat­tle of Bull Run, a hu­mil­i­at­ing de­feat for the Union, two of John A. Mac­don­ald’s fol­low­ers toasted the vic­tory in the Cana­dian Leg­isla­tive Assembly. The pos­si­bil­ity of an Amer­i­can in­va­sion spooked the French Cana­dian press, with one jour­nal declar­ing there was noth­ing “so much in hor­ror as the thought of be­ing con­quered by the Yan­kees.”

The first Amer­i­can Civil War led di­rectly to Cana­dian Con­fed­er­a­tion. What­ever our dif­fer­ences, we’re quite sure we don’t want to be them.

How much longer be­fore we re­al­ize that we need to dis­en­tan­gle Cana­dian life as much as pos­si­ble from that of the United States? How much longer be­fore our for­eign pol­icy, our eco­nomic pol­icy, and our cul­tural pol­icy ac­cept that any reliance on Amer­i­can in­sti­tu­tions is fool­ish? In­so­far as such a sep­a­ra­tion is even pos­si­ble, it will be painful. Al­ready, cer­tain na­tional points of def­i­ni­tion are emerg­ing in the wake of Trump. We are, de­spite all our ev­i­dent hypocrisies, gen­er­ally in favour of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, a rules-based in­ter­na­tional or­der, and free­dom of trade. They are not just values; the col­laps­ing of the United States re­veals them to be in­te­gral to our sur­vival as a coun­try.

Northrop Frye once wrote that Cana­di­ans are Amer­i­cans who re­ject the rev­o­lu­tion. When the next rev­o­lu­tion comes, we will need to be ready to re­ject it with ev­ery­thing we have and ev­ery­thing we are.

stephen marche has writ­ten six books and has con­trib­uted to The New Yorker, the New York Times, and The At­lantic.

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