FireIce4In 1896, Albert Einstein repudiated his German citizenship (and also, incidentally, his Jewish faith) citing Germany’s “intolerable chauvinism” and shortly thereafter became a Swiss citizen. He traveled extensively between the US, Germany and Switzerland until 1932, when he left Germany for the last time. He, and a lot of perceptive, informed Germans, knew instinctively when it was time to go, and that it was no longer possible to change the country from within.

It’s time to acknowledge that last month’s election was not just a cynically manipulated campaign by neocons to hold on to power. It was won, many believe, on the strength of anti-gay (anti-minority) initiatives on the ballot in a dozen states, initiatives that drew a lot of angry, frightened people to the polls to vote against allowing civil liberties for people they don’t like, and in the process to vote for the self-avowed ‘war president’ who supported these initiatives, and other initiatives that reintroduce and re-justify discrimination against women, people of colour, the poor, and other minorities. It’s time we realize that this was not so much a referendum on the incumbent president, who even many of his supporters acknowledge is awful (never in history has a president with such low approval ratings been re-elected), as it was a referendum on the kind of America a majority of Americans want. It is a manifestation of the intense fear, paranoia and uncompromising intolerance and xenophobia of many Americans, and is reminiscent of the spirit of distrust and hate-mongering of Germans in the early 1930s.

In 1933, the burning of the German Reichstag by a self-proclaimed Dutch communist led to a massive suppression of civil liberties and a huge shift in sympathies to the Nazi party, which effectively exploited the event by introducing the Schutzhaft, a draconian law allowing arrest and incarceration without charge or disclosure, much like the Bush Patriot Act, and a new paramilitary anti-terrorist unit, the Gestapo, not terribly different in its inception and initial authority from Bush’s department of Homeland Security. There are of course differences of degree in these comparisons: The agreement of the German parliament to suspend their constitution and allow Hitler (who was never elected chancellor, and was only appointed to the post after a constitutional crisis undid his more popular predecessor) to cancel future elections and become chancellor for life. In 1933, Germany was suffering, along with the rest of the world, from an horrendous depression, so fear and desperation were relatively easy to stir up.

But my point is that the average German was largely untouched by the suppression of human rights, the xenophobia and the arbitrary and brutal treatment of minorities. It was only the more informed and perceptive members of German society — scientists and teachers and artists, who were alarmed at what was happening. Until it was too late. These informed and perceptive people left Germany in droves in the 1930s, realizing that the pendulum was not going to swing back, and that the country was ripe for dictatorship and imperialism. This year, it is the most informed and perceptive people in America who are likewise, after a lifetime of struggle to defend the values that made America great, realizing the dangers of this radical right-wing shift, and the propensity for war, imperialism, propagandizing, and the loss of liberty and democracy that comes with it.

One Christian German, Sebastien Haffner, who fled to England in the mid-1930s, wrote about Germany in the 1930s before he left:

What saved me was… my nose. I have a fairly well developed figurative sense of smell, or to put it differently, a sense of the worth (or worthlessness!) of human, moral, political views and attitudes. Most Germans unfortunately lack this sense almost completely. The cleverest of them are capable of discussing themselves stupid with their abstractions and deductions, when just using their noses would tell them that something stinks.

It is interesting to note the reaction of Americans to fellow countrymen who are fleeing to Canada. From the right, this is seen as treasonous, disgraceful behaviour. There is almost a sense that right-wingers think leaving is such a humiliation to a country that was founded as a haven for immigrants seeking freedom from other repressive tyrannies, that it should be illegal. At the very least, the message from the right is “good riddance”, and “don’t expect to be allowed back”. From the left, the exodus is seen as a betrayal, or as an act of cowardice, recklessness, or lack of perseverance. For decades, except during the Vietnam War, more Canadians have left for the US than the other way around. For the most part, Canadian emigrants are seen as following their heart, or fleeing the weather justifiably, and remain friends with those they left behind in Canada, and are welcome to return. To what should we ascribe such a difference in attitude?

Things happen for a reason. The chart above shows the wide divergences of values between Americans and Canadians, a rift that is growing much wider very quickly. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, a self-avowed moderate, yesterday expressed his pleasure with the Supreme Court of Canada’s decision that the entrenchment of the right of gays and lesbians to equal marriage rights as heterosexual Canadians, in wholly consistent with Canada’s constitution. The fact that this decision came a week after Bush’s carefully staged visit to Canada is no coincidence. There is no doubt that Bush, who sideswiped Martin during his visit by publicly asking for Canada’s support for its space weapons plans (which Martin immediately repudiated), had expressed to Martin his displeasure both with Canada’s rights for gays and lesbians, and its plans to decriminalize possession of marijuana. Both measures are fast-tracked in Canada’s parliament. Martin is clearly worried about what is happening in the US, and has put a line in the sand declaring Canada’s political sovereignty and its collective repugnance of draconian American laws that directly impinge on civil liberties.

In a radio program yesterday on CBC, a representative of the Canadian government put it starkly:

In a liberal democracy like Canada, it is not appropriate to use a referendum to put decisions about minority rights to a majority vote.

The government, she explained, has a responsibility to protect the constitution, to stand up to the tyranny of the majority for the rights of the dispossessed, disadvantaged and outnumbered. While the gay and lesbian marriage bill will be a “free vote”, Martin made it clear that he would see, and thinks citizens would see, a no vote as an abrogation of that responsibility.

Contrast this with the cynicism in the US, where the government, either unaware or uncaring of the responsibility of government to stand up for the rights of minorities in a liberal democracy, routinely puts anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-women’s rights and other racist and discriminatory initiatives on referendum ballots to pander to intolerant voters, knowing full well that the judiciary will step in and justifiably rule them unconstitutional. The politicians can then callowly say “we tried, it’s the court’s fault ‘family values’ weren’t upheld”. This disgraceful, dishonest, ignorant and dangerous behaviour now threatens to push the US to the point where, like 1930s Germany, the courts get stacked with similarly dishonest, disgraceful and dangerous judges who have no qualms about trampling or even suspending the constitution, wackos like Scalia and Thomas that Bush promises to introduce more of until they are in a majority. What astonishes me in the light of this terrifying eventuality is that so few Americans are fleeing to other countries before that happens.

Even the astute NYT seems to be naive about the dangers of this ‘gaming’ of the system. On Wednesday they lauded Bush for earmarking $45 million to prosecute black-market gun crimes, and chastized the Republican congress for removing the funding in its latest ‘omnibus’ bill. Perhaps it simply didn’t occur to the NYT that Bush deliberately earmarked these funds knowing that the congress would delete the funding, so he could get a few liberal kudos while continuing to pander to the American gun nuts who overwhelmingly support and help finance him.

I have predicted that by the end of this century our world will be racked by a cascading series of catastrophes, but these will build to a crescendo slowly, almost imperceptibly, until it’s too late to respond to them in a rational, coordinated, planned way. An imperialist America, under increasingly oppressive rule, where all efforts are focused on military adventures to access scarce resources and where the needs of the rest of the world are ignored, might be the early warning sign, exactly the kind of distraction that will prevent the world from addressing the real global problems of our planet before they begin to cascade in an endless series of crises, and become insoluble.

So, Americans, please do not be cowed or intimidated by those who would call you names for thinking of getting out while the getting is good. We need a lot of great minds working on some massive and intractable human problems now. As long as you remain in the US trying to bring about regime change, and even cultural change, there in the country you have called home, you will be endlessly distracted by people and governments who are on a dangerous and probably inexorable track. No one would have thought ill of you for leaving Germany in the 1930s, or even before. Those that left that country then might have even saved the world from annihilation. Those brave souls who are leaving America now, and moving to Canada or other countries, could play a no less important role in our struggling planet’s future.

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  1. Doug Alder says:

    Well said Dave. I’ve been writing about the differences between us and the Americans for some time now. The differences are appallingly obvious to most Canadians and strikingly unobvious to most Americans. For the most part Canada has been on a consistent path to the left after starting out as a fairly conservative country whereas south of the 49th it has been exactly the opposite. The gap between us ever widens. I only wish Martin had the cojones to tell Bush no on the “missle shield”. That thing is nothing more than bad science wrapped up in a giant pork barrel designed to reward some of the biggest contributors to Bush’s campaign. I resent my CDN tax dollars going to reward those who helped Bush get re-elected.

  2. Not only are people leaving the United States, there has been a significant drop in people going there too. Fareed Zakaria, who is as insightful as almost any American journalist, recently wrote about this ( Between the people leaving and the people not going it could have serious impacts on the future of the American economy and America as a nation.As for missile defense, it is a disaster that not only won’t work (see Patriot missile failures) but might initiate the next arms race.

  3. Joe says:

    Nice theory. Sounds a bit like paranoid rantings though. We Candaians are not as different as Americans as from Europeans. I might agree with your graph, but if we were to plot other cultures both the US and Canda would occupy the same a similar point on the graph.To the reader above who says Canada is on a consistent path to the left – let’s look at the following:-libel laws are more in favor of big business in Canada than the US-corporate fraud is almost never prosectued in Canada (look at Livent as an exaple)-Canadian companies have a tough time filing under SEC as compared to the useless OSC-we have religious education publicly funded in most provinces (SEPERATE School board)-the Republicans want US dividend tax laws to at least be as lenient as Canada-the Canadian press is dead from the neck up (look at the Canwest papers, or the Toronto Star. If the Wash Times is the party in powers mouthpiece then look at the Toronto Star)-we gerry mander ridings with abandon (look at our Deputy PM’s)-we supported an unjust war in Kosovo even though there was no proof (our former judge in our supreme court is getting her ass handed to her at the Miloslovic trial – makes one question the competence of judges)Dave – you should really learn a bit more about the US and Canada before you claim Canadians are superior. Joe

  4. Thought-provoking piece, Dave. Thank you. I was born and have lived all my life on US soil. My own family has been American for generations. I have no plans to flee to Canada, on the heels of Bush’s election, in part because I would have to uproot my life here. But I also have every intention of remaining American because of one key dynamic for reform your essay overlooked: the will of the grassroots, a powerful force the conservative “mainstream” media simply will not give its due. America has always been a pluralistic culture at heart–recent election results and conservative media portrayals of us to the contrary. If I may point out, this pluralism, and a post-Nazi-era collective consciousness, do a lot to set us apart from Weimar Germany. Yes, the neocons control of the highest offices of American government, but what about the Democrats who turned out to the polls in droves last November, to unseat them? Was the energy behind that immense liberal counter-insurgency something never-before, never-again–simply a historic “flash-in-the-pan”? Or was it, as I’d argue, part of a trend that won’t die, that may, in fact, be gaining steam as more and more middle-of-the-road Americans reach their wits’ end and start to explore the “Left”?I’d argue the neocons, the fundamentalist crazies, the big-business interests, actually have much to fear. That’s why they are so paranoid. I believe the sentiment behind the liberal revolt at the polls last month also feeds the actions of local officials, including local judges, who quietly, every day, in numbers, refuse to uphold federal policies they do not agree with, including Department of Homeland Security legislation. I’m thinking of the local librarians who are refusing to turn over the reading records of patrons to local federal officials who half-heartedly demand them, effectively gutting the laws. I am thinking of the immense popularity of Others better-read than I am could provide richer examples of this resistence, I’m sure. I believe the enormous energy of the liberal counter-insurgency, demonstrated last month, is manifesting generally in renewed commitment to self-reliance, local activism, and to local communities. I would be awfully interested to see some kind of national breakdown for how liberal-Democratic and liberal-independent candidates fared in local elections, despite the Democrats’ defeat at the federal level. Anyway, David, I admire your reasoning, and I wouldn’t begrudge my fellow Americans who decided to move to Canada. But I don’t think your defeatist tone is quite fair.

  5. Oh, it’s “resistance” not “resistence.”

  6. Cindy says:

    I lived in the US for 13 years, left and went back to Europe. Did not like Bush then and will never like him. What if telecommunication (TV, Internet etc.) is still as backward now as in the 1930s? Would Bush be any different than Hitler? If we put Bush in the environment such as Iraq, would he behaves just the same as Saddam? Abu Grabb is a very good example. Things are still not moving much in Cuba Island. Observing the US election last month and looking at the map of the US after the vote counts. The blue along the west and east coasts, the rest red. It is scary to see how easily people can be manipulated if they do not have a firmer understanding of what is going on in the lives. Comparing the US elections and the present mood in the Moslim world – isn’t there similarity of brain-washing?What I think is even more scary, is Bush’s push to privatize Social Security. Remember Enron? Remember employee savings plans? Who will suffer eventually? Cindy

  7. Luisa says:

    “Brave souls leaving America?” Come on. I have no quarrel with those who would flee to dodge serving in an immoral war or to escape targeted persecution, but the liberals who want to throw in the towel are cowards, pure and simple. The U.S. is the heart of global corporatization and militarism (among other problems) — it is here that the most important battles for the future of our planet will be fought in the next several years. BTW, as depressing as the election results here were, John Kerry and the Democrats as a whole ran one of the worst campaigns in modern history. It’s bad, but it may not be quite as bad as it looks.

  8. Bruce says:

    Don’t forget, either, that John Kerry actually won the election. If you want to astutely assess the situation, you need to take that into account.

  9. Jack R says:

    I can understand wanting to leave. The fights for freedoms in other parts of the world, is losing Americans their rights at home. However, I don’t think Canada is far enough away. Thinking and well informed, most Canadians are frightened by big business,militarism and the general dehumanization around us.

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