The U.S.-Canada border crossing is seen amid the coronavirus outbreak in Lacolle, Quebec, on April 17.
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The novel coronavirus pandemic has offered no shortage of pretexts for Canadians to double down on their reliably consistent culture of crass America-bashing.
Canadian newspapers lay blame on American travelers for bringing the virus into Canada. Editorial pages favorably contrast Canada’s management of the pandemic to the supposed “chaos” of the United States. Brief cross-border spats, including a dispute over the supply of American face masks to Canada, prompt posturing from politicians such as Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, who took the opportunity to gratuitously scold the United States for having “sat out the first two or three years” of World War II, in order to imply inherent American duplicitousness. Pundits have written tendentious essays about how the pandemic provides the opportunity to “re-evaluate” the usefulness of Canada’s special relationship with the United States, while a coronavirus-themed Leger survey last month found only 34 percent of Canadians claiming to “trust” Americans amid the crisis.
To some Americans, all this may serve as evidence of just how seriously the United States — and the Trump administration in particular — have bungled their COVID-19 response. “Even Canada is turning against us!” they might say. A more accurate framing, however, would simply position such hostility as the predictable way a large number of Canadians will always react to the United States in moments of crisis.
It’s worth recalling, for instance, just how fierce Canadian anti-Americanism got in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the early years of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Shortly after the attacks, Noam Chomsky’s “9-11,” which minimized the significance of the attacks in favor of calling the United States “a leading terrorist state,” sprung to the top of Canada’s bestseller list and remained there for more than 50 weeks. A 2005 Innovative Research poll found that 38 percent of Canadians believed President George W. Bush was “more dangerous to world security” than Osama bin Laden. Another 17 percent were apparently unable to decide. By 2006, 53 percent of Canadians were blaming U.S. foreign policy for 9/11 while “more than one in five” believed the attacks were organized by the Americans themselves.
Such attitudes routinely drifted into politics. Sometimes it was flamboyant, as when a former Liberal member of parliament Carolyn Parrish was caught on a hot mic gripping “damn Americans … I hate those b*****ds” and later stomped on a George W. Bush doll.
Other times it was more subtle. Former Liberal prime ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, who ruled from 1993 to 2006, we’re no strangers to employing anti-American rhetoric when it was politically useful, turning issues such as the Iraq War, a softwood lumber dispute and continental missile defense into populist campaign cries. It got so bad that even Canadian ambassador to the United States Frank McKenna — himself an onetime Liberal politician — felt the need to rebuke Ottawa’s gratingly “sanctimonious” rhetoric.
Polls and anecdotal reporting — such as a revealing 2005 article by an undercover Toronto Star reporter, or a vivid 2004 essay in The Post — illustrated a Canadian public making little effort to distinguish Americans as individuals from larger notions of “America” as an indefensible nation. The supposedly awful actions of the Bush government were seen not in isolation, but as the predictable outgrowth of a country inhabited by people most Canadians described as “violent,” “greedy” and “rude.”
Canadians are boastful of their tolerance, but the reliable way so many will rush toward the worst possible interpretation of any American event reminds that when it comes to the United States, the dominant Canadian disposition is often closer to a form of unthinking bigotry. When only 17 percent of Canadians call America “a country I’d be proud to live in” or when more Canadians rank the United States above North Korea as a country “standing out as a negative force in today’s world,” it’s clear we’re dealing with a perspective that’s not entirely rational.
Yet it’s worth pondering one real way Americans invite this sort of thing upon themselves.
In 2018, I wrote a column claiming Canadian anti-Americanism seemed to be declining, given how growing identity-based political causes like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter were making people on both sides of the border think about politics in a less country-centric way.
What I failed to appreciate, however, was American progressivism’s sharp uptick in self-loathing, in which the United States — one of the safest, most comfortable countries on Earth — is now routinely characterized by the American left as a hideous “failed state,” on the verge of imploding “into some sort of Mad Max hellscape,” as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg recently put it. Such commentary has only skyrocketed in the age of COVID-19.
Canadians have a little identity beyond what can be defined through contrast with American flaws, yet their understanding of these flaws tends to be heavily cribbed from U.S. sources. For those who desire the United States that is internally strong and respected abroad, with virtues that are accurately understood and appreciated, a growing danger is not merely that allies like Canada are irrationally anti-American, but that Americans are distressingly eager to encourage them.