How does a former Montrealer living in Vermont suddenly feel more optimistic about the presidential election? The answer lies with Canada, via Bernie Sanders.
“Are you moving to Canada if Donald Trump wins?” my liberal friends and relatives have been asking me for months. I have lived in the United States since the mid-nineties, and was born in Indiana, but from the age of two through to eighteen I grew up a happy third-culture kid in the cosmopolitan dance party that was Montreal in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I am a dual citizen living in the Burlington, Vermont, area, plus I also happen to be half Mexican. I have both the means and the motivation to flee the Trumpocalypse. I grin at the irony of moving to Canada for the “climate.”
The dangerously unstable orange supernova has started to burn out and collapse into the black hole of his own (un)doing. The latest polls indicate that the voters will come out for Hillary Clinton. Mind you, to some degree, I am still “feeling the Bern.” While I am not as fired up about being with Hillary, I am more optimistic now than I was a few months ago. And it has to do with Canada, by way of Bernie Sanders.
Like most Vermonters, I was a huge Sanders supporter during the primaries, and felt personally invested in his presidential bid. I campaigned for Bernie pretty hard: I queued up in the freezing cold with my sons to watch Bernie speak at rallies; my husband and I donated a fair bit more than the now-famous $27 average contribution; and I made phone calls to muster voters and volunteers in New York, Wisconsin, and California, in English and Spanish. This is more than I have ever done for any political candidate.
Certainly, it’s more than I have done for Hillary Clinton.
I am still somewhat bitter about Bernie’s loss, and as someone who grew up with a Canadian social safety net and in a household where we were well aware of the atrocities of US-backed military and right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, I was frustrated to hear Democrats portray Sanders as a dangerous socialist. Clinton reminded us that when he was mayor of Burlington in the 1980s, Bernie praised Cuba (for its universal health care and education systems), and that he sympathized with the Sandinistas in Nicaragua (who brought back democratic elections after a brutal 43-year dynasty). When pressed on his positions, during a debate with Clinton, Sanders clarified that he decries the authoritarian nature of the Castro regime, but that ending the embargo will be more effective in helping the Cuban people and it will increase American opportunities. To this end, he has visited Cuba, laying the groundwork to broker trade deals with Cuba. He also negotiated with Hugo Chavez’s government to bring Venezuelan state-owned heating oil to low-income Vermont households at a 40 percent discount and to homeless shelters free of charge. He also had dealings with Canada — speaking of pinko rogue states — when he commandeered a bus full of seniors and took them across the border to buy their prescriptions at a fraction of the US cost.
This socialist ideologue had an extremely broad base of support in Vermont that went far beyond the tattooed, kombucha-brewing millennial demographic. At 80 percent, he has the highest approval rating of any senator. I know many staunchly Republican seniors, veterans, farmers, and small-business owners who backed or even campaigned for Sanders, because his office had successfully helped them overcome bureaucratic and financial obstacles to obtain their pensions, prescriptions, treatment for PTSD, or business permits. Vermonters know Sanders as an effective politician who works and thinks independently.
In Washington, Senator Sanders, known as the Amendment King, crossed party lines and compromised to get things done. As chairman of the Senate Veterans Committee, he worked closely with Republicans like John McCain to pass a bill to help veterans. In the fight over the Affordable Care Act, when it became clear that there would be no single-payer system, he nevertheless pushed through $11 billion dollars for community health centres. With this added funding, in 2014 these local clinics served 23 million people who had little or no health insurance. The brand new community health centre I visited in one of the poorest Burlington neighbourhoods offers dental care, mental health specialists, primary doctors, and a pharmacy, and feels like a small clinic or CLSC in Montreal — right down to the long list of languages for which they can offer interpreters to the many recent immigrants who get their care at the centre.
In view of what Bernie Sanders achieved for Vermont and for the country, hearing Hillary Clinton and many fellow Americans claim that he is an unrealistic ideologue who couldn’t win a national election was enough to make me want to pack up my bags and move back to Canada. I could go from a dreamy president who can slam dunk on the court and at the podium, to a dreamy prime minister who can dance at a queer pride rally with the best of them. Tempting…
But then the Democratic National Convention happened.
There was a Hollywood-worthy emotional arc. The Democrats went to work on reuniting both their divided party and the divided nation. The Berners’ initial drama and conflict was no match for the bevy of multilingual, multicultural, transgender, differently-abled, DREAMers, veteran, and ex-Republican speakers. Avengers, assemble! And, of course, there was Michelle Obama, reminding people that class and money are not one and the same. American patriotism was redefined in that week, not as jingoistic, not as us versus them, but rather as a single nation of people working toward a more perfect union. After watching the convention, I flew an American flag outside my house for the first time in my life.
And I felt supremely vindicated when I heard so many speakers promote elements of Bernie’s campaign platform: establishing universal health care, offering affordable higher education, raising the minimum wage to a livable wage, eliminating for-profit prisons, creating a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants, collecting higher taxes from the wealthiest citizens, and limiting the power and size of banks. In the primaries, Clinton had excoriated Sanders supporters as a bunch of malcontents living in their parents’ basements: “children of the Recession,” who wanted everything handed to them free of charge. Now she had clearly changed her tune. I knew this song…I turned to my husband and said: “The Dems want to make America Canada!”
Am I bitter that Clinton is now using Bernie’s platform to promote her candidacy? No. I am more optimistic about having her at the helm, because now she has a little bit of Canadian in her, too, and not just in her tendency to keep calm, quietly shaking her head, in the face of pugnacious, loud-mouthed narcissists.
The reality is that I have made a life for my family here. And while this election has been ugly, polarizing, and embarrassing, it has also given me hope, and it has motivated me to keep supporting local and national candidates who are willing to bring a little “eh” into the US-of-A.
Photo: Wally Stemberger / Shutterstock.com
This article is part of The US Presidential Election special feature.
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