Votes were counted through the evening of Nov. 8, 2016 and a familiar patchwork began to fill in across the family television screen. Of states, defined by geographic and political borders, shaped by oceans, rivers, vitriol and discontent. When Florida went red, I gasped, when Pennsylvania went red too, a chord in my chest was struck, I knew this race was over.
I will always remember a friend that night confiding in me his dismay. For many, the race felt like a referendum on the validity of their identity and experiences, and this was the case for my friend. He felt that the country had voted, and decided that someone like him, a gay person of colour, was not acceptable to the new administration. Likewise, Hillary Clinton, in labelling some of Trump’s supporters as “deplorables”, made voters on the right see a DNC political machine that did not care for them. This sentiment paired with the perception that calls from the left to recognize the suffering of people of colour, immigrants and queer communities, was a snub from their own suffering being recognized, made them feel as though a Clinton victory would be a loss to their place in society. Indeed, rural, poor whites do suffer, while at the core of their suffering is not necessarily their being part of a marginalized race, sex, gender or body; it is true that they too can be entrenched in a similar spiritual and material poverty as those of other groups. Those experiencing poverty, and all marginalized people can rightfully feel that their position in society is precarious, and under constant threat by opposing political beliefs and systems that aim to invalidate their needs, their experience and their identity.
I would end up in Montréal by 2018. I gravitated to Canada as a result of push and pull factors. Education is relatively cheap; I pay less than I would at a state university in my home state.
For a major city, Montréal’s rent is also quite low. An apartment in Montréal is less than half that of one in New York City. Combined with an advantageous conversion rate, I found the move to be one that put me in a better financial position in the present and future.
Articles and research like The New York Times’ ”The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest” (2014) show that despite higher taxation, middle class Canadians are earning more than Americans. As a result, middle class Canadians are individually and collectively better off under a government that reinvests its higher per capita tax revenues into the well-being of its people, while also taking home more money after taxes than their American counterparts. On a whole the average Canadian makes more money and receives more support from their government than the average American.
I didn’t fully comprehend how significant a difference this policy making and governmental attitude was in practice until the pandemic struck. When the $2,000 a month Canada Emergency Response Benefit was announced, I was surprised to find out that I qualified as a resident, non-citizen who met all other qualifications for the benefit. In the United States, I would have received nothing, but here in Canada I was guaranteed four months of support while my employer sorted out how we could safely return to work. By allowing all legal residents of Canada access to this program, it showed recognition of the needs, the dignity, and the humanity of all those in Canada who were suffering the COVID-19 economy. This, compared to hundreds of millions of dollars in aid being used as a political prop by Trump and Pelosi, makes me feel like I’m in far better hands in Canada.
Americans desperately need another round of aid, and Nancy Pelosi is comfortable enough to let Americans suffer to prove that the GOP’s austerity is hurting Americans prior to this election. Meanwhile conservative figures like Trump and Steven Mnuchin balk at a reasonable aid amount. The Machiavellian powerplay of this political exchange over something so necessary to America’s economic well-being, and the financial well-being of households across America is disheartening. Where the Canadian government recognizes the needs and the personhood of each person who resides within its borders, the American government panders to the constituencies and votes that they are trying to manipulate in exchange for heightened political power.
One day walking through the Plateau with another friend of mine, she expressed to me that, to her, “America is a better place to be, only if you’re rich.” I’m inclined to agree. In Canada’s economy, I feel that class mobility and opportunity exist, and that it is possible for me to live a life of decency and satisfaction, I cannot say the same for the United States.
The reductionistic answer with what’s wrong with America is Donald Trump. It’s easy, it’s simple, and it points to something exogenous to many of us. It’s not, though. Trump’s right-wing populism is an outcome of the realities that are engendered in the American psyche as it stands. It’s the inherent contradictions held by liberals who pretend to champion the needs of the marginalized while rubbing shoulders with their economic oppressors. It’s a right wing that is emboldened by the lack of repercussions resulting from their overstepping their rights as individuals to police the bodies of protestors, women and queer people. It's a left that has forgotten the incremental nature of progress. It’s an America that is so polluted by itself that it’s hard to say if it has lost its way or is working exactly how it always has. Truth be told, I can’t tell. Joe Biden battles “for the soul of America” but part of me sincerely believes that it is intact, it’s just now that many are starting to recognize it for what it is.
No matter the outcome of this election, I’m not coming back.
Matt Houston is an economics student with a particular interest in popular politics and the social outcomes of policy who currently lives in Montreal.