Trump-think has worked its way into Canada
Donald Trump has spent much of 2020 insisting the novel coronavirus would disappear. Instead it has found a comfortable home in his lungs. The news is at once remarkable and utterly ordinary. He now joins more than seven million Americans infected with a highly contagious virus. Despite the tragedy of more than 200,000 deaths from COVID-19 in that country, most have recovered. I wish the same for the U.S. president.
The coming days will be a time for speculation around what this development means for the remaining month of the American election campaign. I can't but help reflect as well on the impact of Trump — and the things he says and does — on Canadian public opinion and behaviour.
Much is often made of how people on this side of the border dislike him. Less scrutinized is the way his world view has moved and intensified Canadian opinion. Not long after he was sworn in as president, one-quarter of the people in this country said they supported a Trump-style travel ban barring Syrian refugees. And it is ironic that while the first prime minister to seriously champion climate issues in Canada was Conservative Brian Mulroney, since Trump's election, only about one-third of modern Conservative voters in this country believe that climate change is real and human caused.
There is little doubt in my mind that he has also had a significant impact on the way many Canadians view the seriousness of and reaction to COVID-19 in their own country. That said, on one key issue, we've tuned him out.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Trump's
Let's just hold on to how much better we've done fighting COVID.
single-minded focus on political optics over public health saw him almost always refuse to wear masks, minimize their effectiveness, order his staff and White House officials to eschew them and mock anyone who put one on, including Democratic nominee Joe Biden, just days ago during the train wreck of a debate.
But new data from the Angus Reid Institute finds more than four-in-five Canadians say they now wear masks in public places when they can't physically distance at least “most” of the time. Among the minority that don't, the answer to “why” often lies in the banality of learning a new habit: they forget.
A more curious dynamic emerges over the issue of Canadians and their willingness to receive a vaccine. Despite the federal government's efforts to secure more than 70 million doses of a future COVID-19 vaccine, fewer than half of Canadians (39 per cent) currently say they're eager to receive an inoculation as soon as one is available. The rest are divided between wanting to wait awhile first (38 per cent), not wanting a vaccination (16 per cent) and feeling flummoxed about it all (seven per cent). These data represent higher levels vaccine ambivalence than we saw at the end of July.
Why has willingness to vaccinate in this country seen such a worrying decline over the last couple of months? We can't blame it all on the U.S. president. Trump has repeated, reiterated and restated that the arrival of a vaccine is imminent, and looks to it as something of a magic bullet in returning life to its pre-pandemic rhythm. Hardly the message that would dissuade those listening to him from wanting to be inoculated.
Further, homegrown anti-vaxxers have worked to infect the Canadian population for years, by questioning the efficacy and safety of the flu shot and vaccinations against common and preventable childhood illnesses such as measles, mumps or rubella. Still, I believe that the kinds of conspiracy theories in which Trump trades, combined with his chronic undermining of real data, seasoned experts, and actual science has had a knock-on effect on both sides of the border.
In Canada, winter really is coming. Caseloads are once again spiking. In some provinces, testing is a mess. While the coming days will be dominated by discussion of the president's status, as Canadians, let's hold on to just how much better we've done at fighting this vicious disease than our neighbours to the south.
We can't afford not to.