By Danielle M. Cameron & Richard Forbes.
Featured Image via Evan Vucci.

“We are the leaders of the free and democratic world and this does not seem to be an excellent example of democracy we are setting.” – Eleanor Roosevelt, 1956.

In a League of Its Own

Schoolkids flood the squeaky Jeffersonian halls as their dog-tired chaperones fall far behind. It’s a routine morning in the capital’s National Archives Museum, which has been entrusted with the responsibility of housing some of America’s most sacred documents since 1934. After some patient – or less than patient – queuing outside the rotunda, these students’ eyes will soon gaze upon the symbols of American democracy, entombed in glass: The Bill of Rights, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence – all of them, formative documents, all of them faded with time, now near illegible.

Each student leans in, tilting their head, as they quietly decide to themselves how long a gaze at the unreadable parchment is necessary to respect America. Forty seconds? Thirty? Perhaps a full minute? That seems too long, no!?

What would the founding fathers have us to do?

From the very moment those documents were signed, it seems inevitable that the end of America began. But until now, the coming of that end has remained elusive. In fact, the country has aged like Dorian Grey: while its constitution has faded and shriveled away with the centuries, its leaders have appeared ever anew; its democratic institutions, maturing, but never irrelevant or compromised, its international supremacy, incontrovertible. It’s only now, as allies – including Canada – have lined up, signalling their quiet discontent with the Trump administration, that we’ve begun seriously contemplating the existential question of our world’s superpower: Are we witnessing its sad, humiliating decline? And have we been witnessing its collapse all along?

From populism and anti-elitism to gross inequality and social neglect, the end of America will be a story of a million poor decisions, forming one sad cartoon editorial of a democracy. Indeed, one New Yorker writer has even questioned whether the troubles for America may have begun as early as the signing of that first and most sacred of texts, its Declaration of Independence; America’s revolutionary spirit, Adam Gopnik muses, may be the source of its seemingly demagogic, doltish undoing.

Expiration Notice: Sterling-Dollar Diplomacy

A cartoon editorial of democracy itself may very well have been conceived, in actuality and on paper in the early ‘30s. A little doodle in a notebook signalled the post-war economic dominance that we see unravelling now, so we must ask how did a single fun musing change the course of the world forever? In 1933, during his “wilderness years,” a then-politically isolated Winston Churchill was at his Chartwell home, roughly two miles south of Westerham, Kent, England. The occasion? Entertaining President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s eldest son, James.

Of course, this visitation was not without any ulterior motive, but this meeting was long before Churchill and FDR had established any sort of labyrinthine friendship or political alliance. Before America mobilized and mechanized itself into the superpower we’re so familiar with now. Quietly to James Roosevelt, Churchill confessed, “I wish to be Prime Minister and in close and daily communication with the President of the United States.” The next gesture was to be privately and demonstrably profound. Churchill, sketching an intertwined pound and dollar sign, handed this symbol to FDR’s son and instructed, “Pray bear this to your father from me,” presenting the sneaky invitation, “tell him this must be the currency of the future…the sterling dollar.” This brief moment in time, this risky and burgeoning partnership, that fateful symbol scribbled on a piece of paper marked the beginning of a new era to come.

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Some of the US Constitution’s many visitors at the Rotunda.

This soon-to-be new allied authority was to inevitably be commanded by the Western (Anglo-American) nations, and their colonies, and served as the roadmap outlining the arduous re-shaping of the post-WWII world. How was the partnership and legacy of Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt, over time and through unprecedented crises, pivotal in this global shift in political mindscapes? The intrigue and complexity of their partnership perhaps is highlighted by the global shift in power in their time; the sun was setting on the British Empire’s mighty reign and its imperialist agenda, wrapped in old-fashioned fustian, and was soon to welcome the hopeful horizon of the new world, “[…] with all its power and might, [as it] steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old,” as Churchill himself once said.

So, why talk about this history again? Surely, now it is the metaphorical embodiment of flogging a dead horse. Frankly, we drag out the history books once more because the new world’s heaviest hitter is now actively turning its back on the old world order and its more contemporary friendships – and for what? The so-called “America First” movement is not new, despite media coverage of it in recent days; its past is dark and perilous, once nearly upending American efforts to come to the aid of British and European allies, as the scourge of Nazism, militarism, and fascism took hold of a continent in-chaos. It appears it has raised its ugly head once more to throw relative peace and stability into the fray. America once deployed social welfare as warfare: with some good old fashioned pragmatism, the American government chose the way of optimism over pessimism, globalism over isolationism.

America came into its own during the Great Depression and the Second World War, forging strong alliances, providing a blueprint to prosperity, and ushering in an era of unprecedented opulence. The Great Depression and Second World War… FDR took to the airwaves to solidify a new American mantra: “We must begin the great task that is before us by abandoning, once and for all, the illusion that we can ever again isolate ourselves from the rest of humanity.” These great crises were not so much about clawing our way out of the pecuniary holes we had dug for ourselves, nor was it painstakingly just about building bridges over the chasms of organized greed, reckless banking, and monopoly, but it was more about instinctively striking a balance between capitalism and democracy – leadership and pace-setting.

Speaking of paces, since Donald Trump feels he has done more than any president in such a short period of time, besides Franklin Delano Roosevelt, I’d like to flatly confirm he has not. Glibly, he’s yet to sign off on any major piece of legislation – notably any tabled to actually help people and is currently under criminal investigation for obstruction of justice. Yes, he’s done a lot 148 days into his presidency – a lot of damage.

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Anyway, some time ago, in Philadelphia, a war cry rung out into the sea of the wary, “Here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is not alone a war against want and destitution and economic demoralization. It more than that; it is a war for the survival of democracy,” Roosevelt declared in his Acceptance Speech for the Re-nomination for the Presidency, on June 27th, 1936. This same mentality got America through some of its darkest days since, arguably, the Civil War. FDR’s New Deal, the American fighting spirit, brave innovation, and quest for better defined an era; of course, FDR’s “alphabet soup” of revolutionary programs implemented needed reform and provided relief, but as now know, fell short of delivering full recovery. Only the industrial mobilization of the Second World War, a “tax-and-spend” undertaking of unprecedented scale, would clobber the economic demoralization of the Great Depression and launch America into the realm of world superpowers – where it reigned supreme for a long, long time…

Yet, as early as 1937, war was once again on the horizon. North American domestic recovery and development rapidly switched gears to suit a more corporate-styled plan to combat foreign aggression – making the world “safe for democracy,” again. Author, Kiran Klaus Patel, is a professor of European and global history at Maastricht University in the Netherlands, and his book The New Deal: A Global History hammers home the fact that “[…] pragmatism and the vistas of war do not explain everything.” Patel asserted the New Deal was not just an American underdog story viewed kindly by historians, but rather, parading its successes shed a global light on these philosophies – turning it into a symbol instead of a relic — an iconic slapping down of the ideologies of authoritarian regimes, of fascism, and of militarism. “[…] welfare morphed into an ideological weapon: the supremacy of America and democracy would reveal itself not just in military victories but also in an exemplary political and social system,” Patel maintained. Where is that raison d’être in the American mandate now, eh?

The Atlantic Charter: The Magna Carta of our time

Outside the rotunda in the National Archives Museum, the United Nations Charter and the North Atlantic Treaty also often sit on display. These documents, more readable than the Constitution, are yellowed and typed as the creatures of the post-war era they are. However, between the UN Charter signed in San Francisco in 1945 and the North Atlantic Treaty signed in Washington, just four years later, these documents’ continued residency in the National Archives is as much a product of history and depository protocol, as it is a gross anachronism. Indeed, although they may have been founded in the United States, it’s become increasingly clear these post-war multilateral institutions of peace, security and global governance will not flourish in the safekeeping of America anymore. That’s a responsibility which America’s current leadership has shied away from upholding. Beyond the mere paper it was created on, preserving our post-war world order will mean a renewed commitment on the part of Europe and its allies, including Canada.

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Canada’s Mackenzie King (top-left) meets with Churchill and FDR in Quebec City.

 

Sitting uncomfortably, we unknowingly are entering a new era: both uncertain and ultimately unavoidable. We wait and worry – pondering the likelihood of America’s hold on democracy and leadership fatefully losing its firm grip, and we bear witness to the supposed end of the long chapter on Anglo-American hegemony. At least Saturday Night Live is funny again and the meme game is strong. But, it’s a truly serious matter. The globe once governed under a smiling sunset of exceptionalism, is now crossing the threshold into a world of many trepidations and floors, littered in shards of broken glass and neglected promises. It’s been a long time since the Allies first assumed dominance over the affairs of the world, assuring us all democracy was a pre-condition for economic and social security.

In August, 1941, off the Canadian coast of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, the Atlantic Charter was no mere paperweight, but an ideological heavyweight; it inaugurated the wartime alliance of what would later become the United Nations. Signed by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, it, “[…] guided the development of a stable post-war international system that would seek to address the root causes of conflict in the hopes of avoiding yet another cataclysmic global war,” as Dan Plesch had once put it. The timing was perfect, as the chances of successfully shaping the post-war world via organizations, charters, and pushing for peace never stood a better chance than during WWII – as opposed to WWI. Author Samuel Moyn explained, there simply had yet to be, “[…] comparable human rights moment.” Sure, we could sit here until blue in the face and argue whether it was truly about human rights, states’ rights to self-determination, or merely an “[…] emancipation from monarchical despotism,” as Moyn again questioned.

What we cannot dispute, naturally, is that the Atlantic Charter was one of the most paradigmatic of the doctrines to come out of the war as it was not only the first meeting between two titans of politics, but it was also their most meaningful –etching that quirky intertwined symbol I talked about into stone. This clash of titanic hubris was about rhetoric, reconstruction, reformation, and regret. This tête-à-tête fleshed out both men’s aims and visions for the new world. The endgame of this document, “[…] demonstrates the breadth of policy necessary in modern times. The eight-point bulletin of war aims extended beyond simple military goals and included social security, improved labor standards and disarmament alongside fair and free international trade and respect for self-determination,” Plesch elaborated.

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NATO’s members forming a clock around its emblematic windrose.

The stakes were as high as the global tension; Roosevelt was wary and Churchill was needy. However, Churchill desperately needed Roosevelt to commit for this “was a thing to do now.” The Western world yearned for its missed Wilsonian moment; but, these allied war aims were necessary for, as Moyn explains, “if the cause fails, it is because of evil; if it succeeds, it is not by accident but because the cause is just.”

Following the messy results of the latest British election, the BBC published a piece declaring not only the dying days of the legendary “special relationship” between the U.K. and U.S., but of their dual grasp on international standards. Nick Bryant wrote, “Neither Britain nor America can boast strong and stable governments. Neither have the look of global exemplars.” He went on to write that the very ideals the Anglo-American empire held dearest culminated in the Atlantic Charter; “In many ways, it was the product of Anglo-American exceptionalist thinking: the ‘city upon a hill’ meets ‘this sceptered isle.’” As the new sterling-dollar diplomacy flourished, it is important to recall that the United Nations (U.N.), International Monetary Fund (I.M.F.), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (N.A.T.O.) and more all stemmed from this monumental document. Indeed, as Bryant alluded to, the English-speaking world, under the so-called “Anglo-Saxon model,” exerted its vast influence over international economic, diplomatic, trade, and cultural markets for many years – as we now often refer to as the liberalized free trade system.

Conversely, unlike the rising powers of the day, we now see a waning cling to control. In a joint speech back in January, British Prime Minister Theresa May and President Donald Trump harked back to the very days of which I speak – Churchill and FDR’s vision for a post-war world led by their allied nations. Yet, the two stood less valiantly and far less dignified in presence and tone than had their predecessors; the two figureheads paling in comparison, defying their nations’ long-held values. Looking more like lapdogs of mediocrity than guard dogs for democratic diplomacy, the two advanced their harmful and controversial ideologies – notions that actively seek to dismantle what the past had fought so hard to build and preserve. Remind me, what are we fighting for?

Canada, like America once upon a time, also held to the notion that the new world would be founded upon four essential human freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of fear, and the freedom from want, “everywhere in the world.” We either pursued this or give up. Now, we face the same litmus test in our time. The very ideals behind the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (U.D.H.R.).

 

Enter the Loonies just mad enough to take up the torch

Philosophy, manifest destiny, and the West’s righteous might aside, it’s been up to the adults of the world this past week to respond to the actions and inaction of the White House – and act they have. Perhaps none more than Canada’s own foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland.

Did I bury the lede? Most may say undoubtedly “yes,” but waiting this long to get to Canada was on purpose – to prove a point. We’ve always been here. In waiting. Ready to go when called upon, and we always pulled our weight. Yet, our chapter in the history books is miniscule, despite our long history of punching way above our weight and sporting an incredibly underrated intellectual prowess. Canadians are often forgotten, but never bitter. This month, however, some of our polite nature was chipped away when we took a firm stance on defence policy and foreign affairs, revealing a backbone many forgot we had. Liberty, for now, has moved north and it is time someone made good on their promises.

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“The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership, puts into sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. For Canada that course must be the renewal, indeed the strengthening, of the postwar multilateral order,” says foreign minister Chrystia Freeland in her speech to the House. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick, CP.)

On the anniversary of D-Day, marking the allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France, Canada rose to the occasion once more, so as to not shy away from the maladies of our world. On Tuesday, June 6th, Freeland delivered a speech in Canada’s House of Commons, in advance of the federal government announcing a major multibillion-dollar investment into the Canadian Armed Forces. Ottawa intends to unleash $62-billion in new military spending, over the next 20 years, to be exact. Why? Why now? Well, if going high when they go low didn’t work, we must step up when they back down.

Freeland, indirectly but firmly, categorically rejected Donald Trump’s “America First” foreign policy flops, his disdain for maintaining the free trade order, disbelief in climate change, and his shameful dismissal of the fundamental alliances once mutually enjoyed around the world – once forged in fire and held together by will. Freeland’s concern was centrally hinged upon the very real fear that Americans have begun to “shrug off the burden of world leadership.”

This abandonment of self-appointed authority has shaken the global community, not just Canada. Freeland said on Tuesday, “The fact that our friend and ally has come to question the very worth of its mantle of global leadership puts in sharper focus the need for the rest of us to set our own clear and sovereign course. To say this is not controversial: It is a fact.” Perhaps in a lapse of memory, American leadership has forgotten the words in Harry S. Truman’s 1949 Inaugural Address, delivered on January 20th: “The peoples of the earth face the future with grave uncertainty, composed almost equally of great hopes and great fears. In this time of doubt, they look to the United States as never before for goodwill, strength, and wise leadership.”

Freeland, Echoing German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s confession that her government no longer sees a reliable partner in the United States, asserted, “we will make the necessary investments in our military, to not only address years of neglect and underfunding, but also to place the Canadian Armed Forces on a new footing – with new equipment, training, resources and consistent and predictable funding.” Much of these new expenditures are to be allotted to the mounting costs of new fighter jets and warships, while it is reported the rest of the money is to be decided after the next election. Furthermore, Russia’s encroachment of the Canadian arctic is of prime concern; Canada is to take a far more assertive role in protecting its northern sovereignty – safeguarding its space from incursions by foreign, namely Russian, military aircraft requiring interceptions by Canadian fighters. This would expand Canada’s northern Air Defence Identification Zone (A.D.I.Z.), under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (N.O.R.A.D.).

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It’s fair to say President Trump’s first appearance at NATO left much to be desired; the UK’s Theresa May (left) remains one of his only allies on the world stage.

Some other major items announced under the umbrella of rededicated military spending are a reported 88 new fighter jets, 5000 more personnel (regular and reserve), and funding to help pay for the soaring costs of 15 warships, as announced by Harjit Sajjan, Canada’s defence minister. This pivot, for some, seemed to counter the Liberal Party’s hard push for other policies, like infrastructure and social programming, but it upholds Canada’s promise to put forth a larger commitment to defence and peacekeeping expenditures. This spending must come quickly. The ever present threat of global terrorism, a brewing Mideast crisis, and a crumbling world order, Canada must, for itself, secure its sovereignty.

Under this new budget, by 2024-2025, Canada’s defence spending is set to increase to 1.4 percent from the current figure of 1.19 percent out of Canada’s annual economic output. It is a time for choosing, and Canada has chosen to uphold its responsibility in preserving democratic ideals, while working in partnerships with countries around the world. As America recoils, Canada is opening its arms to progress, hope, and the belief that we, together, can do better and will do better. Invoking the post-WWII order, Freeland urged, “It is important to note that when sacrifice was required to support and strengthen the global order — military power, in defense of our principles and our alliances — Canada was there.” And, we are still here.

To bring this long, winding reflection to a close, Franklin Roosevelt said, “We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better world beyond the horizon.” This broad theoretical horizon, like human rights and global stability, may very well be a game of “chasing the dragon,” but there is something to be said that the journey is indeed substantially greater than the destination. I mean, it must be. I do not subscribe to the verdict that we have tapped out, exceeded capacity, or reached our limit to chase, to dream, to provide, to protect, and to ensure our futures…though how freeing it must be to consider other possibilities than the tangible world we, for better or worse, find ourselves in right here, right now.

Our universe is said to be infinitely expanding and if we are a product of our environment, I must still believe that our scope of wellbeing, comprehension of humanity, and our pursuit of happiness and personal betterment is also reaching far outward into the void of existence and living – providing us with infinite possibilities for good, for evil, and for evolution. In the bizarre words of Donna Harraway, Canada is staying with the trouble. A better world is attainable; we must only convince ourselves that we are the agents of political change – not our governments, not international institutions, not our schools, not our state apparatuses – us, the people. For, we fill the ballot boxes every election and we are responsible for the agendas we continue to vote for or normalize. We hold the pen to our future.

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Danielle M. Cameron is East Coast-born and returned after having lived in Ottawa. Besides crash-coursing in journalism at the City University of New York (CUNY) in N.Y.C., Danielle holds a B.A. Hon. Human Rights from Carleton University, B.J. Journalism from University of King’s College, and is currently working towards an M.A. in Political Science at Acadia University. Former intern at The Coast — Halifax’s Weekly.

Canadian and American politics are more precious to her than air – will watch anything on PBS American Experience and has probably read every presidential biography, twice. “New Deals with It” on a daily basis, and also recently discovered coffee is not a food group.

Twitter: @DMC130

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