COVID-19 has created some striking situations and circumstances that many of use thought we’d never see. We’ve had to face things we never thought we would, and we’ve had to take actions that we never thought we’d consider. And now that we’re five months into things, it’s even harder to image how we wouldn’t have taken the steps that we have. Given the pace of the disease elsewhere in the World, those difficult decisions look completely rational and the right things to have done, to the point where we scoff at those who refuse to follow suit.
One such action was the closure of the border with the United States. When we did it, it was a stark example of where things were at. Most of us never imagined a day when we would have closed that border yet now that we’re five months out, it feels more and more like the most rational thing we could have done. When we look at how things are out of control in the US, that just confirms that sentiment for the vast majority of Canadians.
Here we are, just 10 days from when the current agreement to keep that border closed expires and there is no clamoring for things to return to that normal on this side. It’s generally expected that the agreement will be extended again and here we see the threat that re-opening it too soon poses. Back in May I wrote a piece about how differently we and our American neighbours are viewing this. Where we were seeing the dangers in COVID and re-opening too fast, we saw confused Americans wondering what the heck the big deal was. It’s a phenomena we’ve seen through out this pandemic, as we have approached this disease with the seriousness it merits while too many elected officials and citizens in the US seem to be doing everything they can to undermine serious public health work, all while expressing surprise at our reaction. Today another stark example of this came across my social media in the form of a story from Idaho, one that I’m sure will re-enforce the views of many Canadians to keep that border closed longer:
Many have made jokes and comments about the fall of the American Empire and the dissolution of a once great nation, and when you see stories like that you can easily see how. According to Boise State Public Radio “a group of Idaho lawmakers is pushing a bill that would strip the power of public health districts to close schools during an emergency or mandate masks to prevent the spread of disease.” You’ve got that right; in the middle of a global pandemic these elected officials want to strip the ability of public health officials to mandate public health.
That’s all kinds of crazy, right? I mean, who in their right mind would think that this would be constructive in the least bit? It’s not, but that doesn’t seem to be the point here according to one of the legislators who is bringing this forward. Republican State Senator Steven Thayn is quoted on the record stating the following:
“Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach and I’m very fearful of an elitist approach,” he said. “I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism, especially when you say, ‘Well. We’re doing it for the public good.’”Source: Boise State Public Radio
Elitist approach? Leads to totalitarianism. Are you freaking serious? Forget the fact that the story itself mentions that polling has consistently shown that “most Americans support aggressive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including mask mandates”. This person thinks that more of his constituents should be left to die because people with actual medical educations are being asked to make decisions on matters of public health. What’s next? Ban engineers from making decisions on bridge construction out of a wacko fear that elitist bridge building will stop road from collapsing into the rivers below and lead to totalitarianism? That is bloody insane, yet that guy is not only elected, he seems to be in the majority of elected officials in that statehouse on this matter.
As a people trying to keep ourselves safe, that’s exactly the kind of blinkered non-thought thinking that has allowed COVID-19 to run rampant in the US and convinced the majority of Canadians to keep the border shut. Yet when I saw that story on Boise State Public Radio’s Twitter account, just two stories above it I saw this, which just blew my mind at the disconnect:
That is a story talking about the effects of border closures on border communities and how it is hurting them. It talks about the importance of the border to those communities and how the biggest industry for those businesses on the American side of the border in Eureka, Montana is “Canadians”. And while expressing their general understanding about why the border remains closed, the reporter and host in the piece express confusion and astonishment at the difference in attitude between us and their fellow US citizens. At one point the reporter expressed his surprise at the lack of politicization of a serious public health matter as this.
Given all my interactions with the US and Americans over my lifetime I guess that I shouldn’t be shocked by this. I mean, it’s not a new phenomenon when it comes to how Americans see us and the rest of the World, thinking about us very little and knowing even less about us. Yet as so many things have changed during this pandemic and we’ve had to face so many difficult choices we never thought we would, you’d think that maybe our American neighbours might have had more introspection or thought about why we might not want this border re-opened. Yet nope, no change at all, no real realization about why we are doing things so differently or why we approach this the way that we do.
As we get closer to the next inevitable extension of the border closure stories like those from our south are continuing to make it easier to keep it closed. It’s easier to convince Canadians to keep that border closed as neighbouring states are spending precious time silencing and disempowering public health officials rather than dealing with the actual pandemic itself. It’s also easier to convince Canadians to keep that border closed when we see continued lack of self-awareness when it comes to how they view this compared to us. Add to it the growing list of stories about botched school re-openings, biker rallies with six-digit attendances and anti-public health rants from the President, it becomes easier and easier to see the border closed. At this rate, it’s getting harder and harder to picture the scenario in which that border re-opens this year with the support of a strong majority of Canadians. These are strange days indeed and the longer 2020 goes along, the stranger they get. We’ll see what happens with our border but as long as elected officials in the States keep acting like this, they are making our decision to keep the border closed that much easier.