Friday, June 10, 2016

Farewell To The Giant

On April 2, 2014, I was walking north toward Stephen Avenue here in Calgary when I saw a familiar figure strolling east. He was accompanied but more preoccupied, as a grandfather would be, with a rope of preschoolers who were toddling past. They were a diverse group oblivious to their brush with fame with this man who discreetly doted on them without intruding. It was a beautiful moment for me as I watch this man who gained a second act in his hockey career playing professionally with his sons, the family business masterfully managed by mom and wife, Colleen.

It was of course, Gordie Howe, 2 days passed his 86th birthday. I'd never seen him play, but from childhood I knew that his birthday was one to file in my thoughts and commemorate with a quiet good wish to him each year. On this occasion, I could directly give him my belated greetings but I was reluctant. Frail is never a word that you would use to describe Mr. Howe, never. His health was in decline. That much Canadians and hockey fans had heard. Throughout my childhood, I plundered the bookmobile shelves for hockey books and read of Gordie Howe's life and exploits in way that other kids read of fictional heroes.

I am not one to crowd celebrities. I would much rather acknowledge them discreetly with a nod of respect. In this case, however, the internal debate raged briefly and I concluded that I did not want him to feel forgotten. There was something about his fond glance at those children that gave me the sense he wanted to reach out, to dote, to connect. I gave it a shot and took a few steps toward him and his son-in-law to express my respect to the man and wish him his belated happy birthday.

I was welcomed, the man and his family more accustomed to the affections of hockey fans than wearied, even now, by it, and we chatted briefly. His son-in-law offered to take a few pictures with my phone an unexpected largesse given all I wanted to do his wish him a happy birthday, place my small hand in his bearpaw for a shake and worship him a little.

Monday, June 6, 2016

My Greatest Achievement

The following is an excerpt from my Arctic memoir, Exiled From The Tundra, a passage which outlines what I still consider my greatest achievement. The names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Alfred reminded everyone it was time to prepare for the Christmas concert. The teachers probably dreaded it more than they did the year before. All I wanted do was avoid the girls’ rebellion against the concert and the embarrassing performance that was a consequence of the late decision to join.
Recalling the challenges from the previous Christmas concert, one of the first things I set out to overcome was the challenge of filling the gym with sound for whatever songs we did. With Raymond absent, I decided to combine my class with his to perform "Silent Night" together in French and English, something that would give Raymond’s class a presence in the concert and create a group large enough for everyone to hear in the gym. When the kids became familiar with the song and melody, they let me know that there were Inuktitut lyrics as well. With that, I thought it would be a good idea for the two classes to sing it in all three languages. As we rehearsed in the gym and the Inuit teachers of the youngest students heard it in all three languages, the choir expanded to encompass all the students in the school. This lead to rehearsals with all the students and teachers together in the gym. As everyone gathered to rehearse, there was a rare moment of camaraderie. Each of the teachers took their turn prompting and directing their kids or in their language to enhance the performance. There was a feeling amongst us that — at least for that brief part of the program — the concert was going to be all right despite the prevailing mood among the teachers.
For my class, I came up with a reworking of "A Christmas Carol." I wanted to avoid making it corny or being too wordy for them to remember or their parents to understand. I kept the lines short, assigned and refined parts according to the personalities of the kids and even worked in a (bad, bad) joke on the meaning of Ghost of Christmas Present to let me come on for a moment to correct their use the homonyms and assure them I was there. I cast Putulik as Ebenezer Scrooge. I put Mary in the role of the Ghost of Christmas Present. I portrayed the Ghost of Christmas Future as the Terminator and with that in mind, cast strong, silent Josepi. I kept Piatsi and Eva together to be the Cratchits and Ima had the role of the Ghost of Christmas Past.
I was not sure if the people in the village were familiar with “A Christmas Carol,” but it would be in English, the kids would not have any undue demands on them and it would be quick as well. All of the kids remained in their comfort zones and there were enough little subversive touches to keep them from turning their noses up at it. They were eager to do it and gave me the feeling they would have been willing to do even more. We rehearsed the play in the evenings in our classroom and went over the lines and blocking a few times before they had it and were confident with it.
On the last night before the concert, we ran through the play a few times in the classroom and I found in that evening together a contentment that made the entire year worthwhile. For some reason, we worked just by the light that came into our classroom from the hallway. Sitting in the shadows on the floor, leaning against the wall with the desks obscuring our view while we wound down over milk and granola bars, I looked ahead to the concert the following day with confidence. We chatted about my Christmas holidays and things about my life in the south. I realized that all of them would have done what Putulik did for me in the Co-op my first day back and that I would do as much as I could for them.
I did come up with a way to involve Raymond’s class more in the concert as well. I asked Josepi Ovaut, Paulusi Kenuajuak and Jaaku Angutik what they were doing in the concert and I was met with shrugs and retreat. I knew that these three guys would be up for something fun and that they could do it well. The three of them were about the same height and they were all good at playing the clown. I asked them to come around to the school in the evening for a performance in the concert that would require little translation. I brought them into the gym and set down a long plank, a chair and a banana. I explained in the best detail I could that they were going to perform “The Jape Sketch,” a highlight from Monty Python’s Live at the Hollywood Bowl. I had a personal fondness for the sketch and thought it would be a fun contribution to the Christmas concert even though it did not capture anything resembling Yuletide spirit. I recalled Elias Taptuna’s fond recollections of watching Charlie Chaplin silents on a hand-cranked projector decades before and thought our sketch would provide a good tip of the hat to that era. The guys would proceed to abuse each other with silent-era slapstick while I contributed a pompous academic commentary on what they were doing. My contribution was not all that important during the performance given the vocabulary that I was using. I emphasized the boys’ need to be serious throughout. We rehearsed steadily and I pushed them to buy into the reality that their seriousness would be the key to the comedy. They indicated that they were in, but I suspected that they might be tempted to goof off at some point. I trusted my instincts, but crossed my fingers.
The afternoon started off with all of the kids singing "Silent Night" together. The younger classes then each took their turns singing a few songs and the concert concluded with the play by my class and the “The Jape Sketch” with Raymond’s boys. I hung on every word of my class’ work on their play and was thrilled to see my kids nail it. I wondered if the irony of Josepi’s performance as the Terminator made people think about the disillusion of those same kids who hid behind their mirrored shades when we first arrived. It was not my intention to remind people of that, but it was a vivid image that hinted at how out of character these kids were a year and a half earlier. During the grand finale, Raymond’s boys held form and kept stone-faced throughout, but the adrenaline might have gotten the best of them as they carefully cream-pied each other and did their shtick with the two-by-four. One of them came away with a bloodied nose that he ignored, but it was superb and disciplined other than an attempt to finish their delivery of a pie to me when I was supposed to surprise them instead with one of my own.
The concert quickly went down as one of the better ones that the school had ever had. I went home content and packed for the trip home for Christmas. I joked to myself that I better not come back for a third year because I would have a hard time living up to what I had just done that day.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Fort Mac: Returning and Redefined

From
www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/fort-mcmurray-fighting-fire-1.3574046
In about a week, barring any unforeseen reversals, the citizens of Fort McMurray will begin taking the first steps toward cobbling together the routines of daily life. The odyssey toward that new normal will prove to be a daunting, lengthy and ambitious task. After having so much support and comfort from strangers during the four weeks that they have been taking scattered refuge across the Alberta and beyond, they will now have to grapple with the apprehensions and anxieties of trying to put so many things back together, realizing at ever step along the way that they will have to wait for even the most basic and overlooked of daily requirements.

The people of Fort McMurray will need time to reorient themselves to the landscape and will drive north more slowly to absorb the change and take a bit more time to prepare themselves for the extent to which their environment will have changed.  They will need new bearings in this familiar but altered place and then from there they will try to look within and determine what they will need going forward. The list of the tangible will be easy to form and will be lengthened and reinforced with each turn of the head, each wet blink and the new horizons.  The intangible will be harder to account for and the challenge will be to hang onto the optimism to maintain that list with the hope that they might put and "x" or a checkmark in a box or two on that mental list of what they need to make life go on.

In preparation for the return of citizens to the city, Fort Mac's infrastructure has been assessed and tested and its needs triaged.  There will be gaps and shortfalls in the weeks and months ahead and early patience will come from people being in their homes once again after weeks of transience and uncertainty. The individual task of cleaning up will be unpleasant with, at the very least, the hazmat preparations required to reenter one's abandoned kitchen and address the state it might be in after the power being off as long as it has. That grotesquery will be the tip of the iceberg of the challenges that people will face in sorting their lives out.  For those who have lost their homes and still face the precarious questions about their employment and their future face even more daunting questions about their present and future, including the question of whether they ever go back. Once again, people in Fort McMurray will feel the peril of being in the crosshairs of forces far beyond their control.

For all that though, Fort McMurray has been taken to the hearts of the country in the last four weeks. For much of the last decade and a half, if not longer, the city was synonymous with the largesse of the oilsands, the oil industry's indifference to the environment and the excess that oil wealth induced in the people who lived there or were just passing through. For the longest time, Fort Mac had was a place that was home for only a few and only for a short time. That reputation was among the first things engulfed in the flames first threatened the city.

The citizens of Fort Mac who will reunite in the weeks ahead will realize a strong longing for the neighbours that they shared this nightmare with and as they gather to survey the damage and the good fortune they will be able to communicate volumes to one another, if only with a terse nod, a smile twisted to hold back tears or hugs warmed with the deepest of unspoken promises. As they go back to put their hearts and shoulders into the task of toughing out the months ahead and eking out the life they once had there, they will also carve out a deeper sense of community than one would attribute to a place with such a long-standing reputation for transience.

Fort McMurray now resonates in our collective vocabulary as a place that requires a commitment and an homage from the people who go there, no matter how long they stay. As newcomers - people without the firsthand experience of the May 2016 fire - start to arrive again, there will be among them an impulse to connect with this particular volume of the city's history and survey the landscape for the scars and victories that the city has been left with.  The reminders and reminiscences will be on the lips of those who remain and there will be a closeness amongst those who remain in Fort Mac. There ought to be enormous pride among Fort McMurray's citizens for what they have survived and what they will rebuild in the years ahead and, hopefully, that pride will infuse the people and the streets of Fort McMurray with a sense of community that will ensure the city's future is a bright one no matter what uncertainty they face in the weeks and months to come.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Geographer Poet

Eight years ago, on a road trip to Seattle for my bachelor party weekend, we made a required stop for gas. My best friend, the best man who had organized the trip, meandered a few steps to take a picture of the hotel that was in eyeshot, the Golden Rim Motor Inn.

I knew nothing of the place or the nostalgia it evoked in my friend. To me, it was nothing more than another roadside landmark windmilled into view during the pursuit of the horizon or the next time zone. The poetry of the near rhyme and the perfect cadence of those four words evokes so much in the imagination: the story of a small town businessman's ambition in building such a place with its "soft water and colour TV" (and water slide); the alternation of adventure and tedium of the road for touring musicians or any other itinerants earning their keep by venturing on to the next town. As an aside, the hotel is now the Days Inn Golden and the Trans-Canada charm of the maiden name lost to a corporate boilerplate that is far, far less evocative or is so in a pejorative sense.

As news hit us this morning that Gord Downie, the electric, eclectic, eccentric force of the Canadian rock stage has been diagnosed with brain cancer, I thought of that hotel on the side of the road in Golden and how he stored the poetry of that name, filed it among the mental notes and jotted it in a journal until he penned "The Luxury." On this occasion, as so many others throughout his career with The Tragically Hip he elevated this little unknown place, one of hundreds or thousands strung out along the spine of the Trans Canada Highway and elevated it. Could anyone possibly calculate the number of times people have stopped at this hotel for a shot like this or how many will stop in the days and years ahead to acknowledge the way that Gord Downie elevated this hotel to this particular height of Canadiana?

Throughout his exceptionally literate and explicitly Canadian canon, Gord (which the Barenaked Ladies insisted in its wry way is the most quintessentially Canadian of names) has harvested the fabric of this country's history, geography, tragedies and passions in a way the few other songwriters have even tried.  Stan Rogers comes to mind with the flurry of what-if's about his too-brief career. Over the course of the 30-plus years that The Hip have held command over their fans, they have done it with a passion for this country as a source of inspiration and material in a way that coincided with a remarkable transition in the state of the Canadian identity.

I was not in Canada during the time that The Hip were at their peak.  I left the country a few months before the 1995 referendum in Quebec and returned home the day before the 2010 Winter Olympics were awarded to Vancouver in July 2003. When I left, the long-lingering navel gazing over the Canadian identity was the rich source of conversation that it had always been and when I had returned there was a pride in the country and a sense of unity that I would not have anticipated in the fall of 1995 when people asked me if I would have a country to return home to.

On the musical front throughout their career and especially at their peak, Gord Downie and The Hip mapped and excavated this country in a manner that went far beyond the rock band mandate.  They have made Canadians -- of my generation at least, and hopefully our kids -- aware of the breadth and depth of our land in ways we used to tell each other that a once-empowered CBC used to do. We know a little more about the hidden corners of the country, our heroes, our artists, our authors, our villains and victims and get the pre-web Yelp review thrown in for good measure.

For that, we have every reason - fan or not - to be thankful for the career that Gord Downie has had and given to this country. This rock star who is equal parts Earle Birney, David Thompson and Michael Stipe (have I misstepped on my choice of front man?) has left an indelible mark on Canada, its music and its sense of self.  Today and in the days ahead, we will pause to honour and contemplate the work he has done. In the concert halls we will congregate to thank him in the months ahead but we will always be able to pause on a street corner, in a library, in a canoe or at the next bend in the highway to pay homage to the corners of this country that he has illuminated and shone a light on with his poet's brush.

Thanks, Gord.  Godspeed.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Canada's North and the Relocation Fallacy

Since January, when the school shootings in La Loche, Saskatchewan occurred, there has been a great deal of back and forth on the notion of relocating northern communities to the south.  The case has been built and the data cited to show that indigenous Canadians who live closer to urban centres have lower rates of suicide, depression, mental illness and other harbingers of the hardships that occur with greater frequency in more remote communities where individuals lack the easy access to the professional help.  Beyond the obvious professional help there would be other amenities and possibilities that would offer indigenous youth, in particular, opportunities for self-discovery that they are denied in remote isolated communities.

The strategy of packing-'em-up-and-shipping-'em-south has its appeal.  There is an undeniable feasibility which would be built in and economists would be able to cite a breakeven point some number of years down the line.  It would be cheaper to reestablish these communities elsewhere and forego the expenses of fly-ins, road maintenance, isolation pay, northern allowances, and all of the other things that make supporting the communities of the north to a standard that would not embarrass us in the eyes of the United Nations.  The measures might even be softened or hidden by their inclusion in a larger population pool and more facile-minded statisticians could say that the occurrences of certain social problems has declined.

The entire strategy of relocation overlooks two basic things: 1) the indigenous people in these communities need to be intimately connected to the land they live on in order for their culture and consequently themselves to survive and 2) they have already be relocated and disconnected from the land that they were once connected to.  It may be right outside their window, but they are not connected to it anymore, at least not as intimately as their ancestors were.

When I was a young teacher cutting my teeth in an Inuit community in Nunavik (Arctic Quebec), I had mused about the convenience of moving the community south.  I also weighed the alternative at the other end of the continuum: restoring their lifestyles to the way they were prior to contact with southerners.  There is in that notion of having them go all-in to renew their relationship with the land and there is some peril in doing this when the traditional skills that ensured their survival are dormant, if not lost.  It would be quite easy to resort to the language of cutting them off and a lot of post-lapsarian language about indigenous people being cast out of the "gardens" that southerners would claim to have built for them, all replete with electricity, heat, cable TV and cell phones.  (My refrain from adding running water to that list is a deliberate one.)  The reality is that the settlements that were built for northern Canadians over the past decades have taken the people in those settlements out of the nomadic lifestyle that they once survived by.  If post-lapsarian terms are to be used accurately, they would need to be used for the move from the land to the settlement, not for the return trip.

When I taught in the Arctic I asked my students about their willingness to go back out on the land and live there despite all the risks that they would face.  Everyone of the students said that they would have preferred to live on the land rather than in the village.  There may have been the softening thought that they would be able to use the village as a safety net and return there whenever things got a little too difficult, but they had a palpable despair about the lives that they were living.  In the 23 years that have passed since I left their community, one of the eight committed suicide just as he turned 21.  Other students from that class have, barely into their 30s, lost their own children to that plague of the north as well.  The math when dealing that that class of eight, that had been decimated by the tragedy of suicide before I arrived there, is stark and painful.

Apart from the relocation that occurred with the establishment of the settlements, which palpably altered the economics and the notions of survival in the community, was the further separation that occurred with the commitment to schooling.  A key part of orientation for north-bound teachers is the history of strategies and current realities that pertain to school attendance.  For decades and decades teachers have made the utmost effort to break indigenous students of the roles they played in their families contributing to the family's or community's survival by contributing to the hunt or the home. These roles, which were deeply laden with meaning, value, learning and self-worth had been disregarded and cast aside in favour of the institutional classroom, which further distanced the removal of indigenous people from a vibrant ecosystem that they were once indelibly linked to. What was once a well-known home has been rendered distant landscape by these separations and variations on relocation.

The proposal of entirely uprooting indigenous communities from the north and moving those people would be a mistake of significant proportions and an invitation for the actuaries or other bean-counters to eke as much efficiency out of such a process as possible.  There would be questions about how much of a community really has to be together and then at the same time opposing questions about the autonomy indigenous Canadians ought to have about where they live and how.  The proposal of relocating them denies them the basic rights to be masters of their destiny.  There is, instead, a need to deeply examine the problems that exist in each community and school and find ways to reconnect them to their environments and homes in manners that will address their needs and goals.  Broad programs, whether or relocation or some other "solution" will only exacerbate the current problems that persist in the Canadian North.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Can Corporate Calgary Innovate?

For much of the last 18 months Calgary has been trying to rediscover its way as it reels from the collapse of oil prices.  Layoffs have swelled the EI rolls, the prices and geopolitics of the day are monitored for a theory to explain the collapse and give a more optimistic theory for a recovery of the price.  Conspiracies loom with the theories that the spigots have been turned to full blast to drive the prices down and other theories suggest that the rise of alternative energies will keep the Wood Buffalo bitumen in the ground indefinitely, if not for good.

All of the uncertainty seems to have left the oil industry, if not all of Calgary, dazed.  There are choruses singing their old song of the economy needing to diversify but the reality of that is that when the oil industry is kicking along at its break-neck pace, there is little opportunity for any other industries to attract and retain talent for an organization or an industry outside the oil patch.  It was hard enough to keep Tim’s staffed at anything less than $15 an hour in 2008; trying to get a university graduate with expertise required for a new start-up would have been a daunting task when the full-on churn of the oil industry was driving up salaries, the cost of living and the auction prices on the Calgary Stampede chuckwagon tarps.

Industry in this city has been set in its ways for some time and the diversity and innovative thinking that have been the hallmarks of other economic hotbeds in North America and beyond, has seemed lacking in the city.  The city’s workforce diversified gradually as a result of the demand for engineering talent, but the question of how that talent was integrated into the workforce remains.  Did organizations diversify significantly to integrate and retain the talent that was coming in, or was the onus of adaptation placed on the newcomers?


Just as significant a question is whether or not industries and organizations in the city innovated in wide-ranging manners that optimized the talent that was under their roof or in the field representing them.  Like it or not, the oil and gas industry in Calgary has earned the reputation for being relatively old-school in its practices and have not varied much from the mindset that serves them in the task of extraction.  Those formulas are simple, tried and true and based on the bare efficiencies of the process.  As the price of oil fell, extraction stopped and costs were cut with an eye to the immediate bottom line.  While riding this phase of the boom-bust cycle might be the correct strategy for the oil and gas industry, they cycles continues and this trough seems to be far more uncertain than previous dips.

The question that has occurred, and the increase of diversity within the workforce is just one component of this, is how innovative can corporate Calgary be?  There have been innovations made throughout the oil industry to address environmental concerns and find ways of increasing cost effectiveness of extraction, but there have been few innovations which have indicated that Calgary has the appetite for collaboration and innovation that such an educated workforce ought to be capable of.

In 2010, as many can recall, there was a convergence of talented young thinkers who put together an approach to the challenge that faced them and they succeeded in a manner which made significant news across the country and beyond and that accomplishment still resonates within the city.  That group of people was the team that helped move Naheed Nenshi, alternately known as a policy wonk and a prof at Mount Royal College, from darkhorse mayoral contender to his first-term as mayor. Midway through his second term as mayor, it could be argued that the city government and bureaucracy may be more innovative and collaborative than some of the largest corporate citizens who line the towers of the city with their glowing names.

There have been corporate entities in Calgary that have innovated, WestJet, SMART, and DIRTT are a few of the organizations that have thrived, but those are probably still too few for a city of this size. Apart from those organizations, there is still opportunity for innovation and collaboration within the energy giants in the city, but the corporate culture still seems rooted in processes, mindsets and relationships that are less likely to increase collaboration and innovation even within the energy sector.  In the preamble to Alberta Venture's list of the 20 most innovative organizations for 2015, the magazine states that, "[innovation is] not just a buzzword, it’s a compulsion to be better and an inability to be satisfied with the way things are. Frequently, innovation is born of struggle. When a resource is low, ­competition for it is high, and companies realize the status quo will not carry them to prosperity." The probability in the oil and gas sector is that the comfort with high oil prices and high demand imparted some complacency in the sector rather than encouraging the strategic partnerships, innovation and collaboration that has defined other sectors.  (With a travel agent who has discovered the niche of marketing tours to geeks, with a fondness for comic book expos, I hoep the list is not in any particular order.)

This is not to say that Calgary is not innovating at all, but that the corporate leaders in the city may all be too habituated by the boom-bust cycles of the oil and gas sector to integrate innovative thinking and collaborative work practices into their organizations in a manner that makes the city play a more active role in defining its destiny or its potential.  If the 80-20 rule were to be applied, it would likely indicate that only 20% of Calgary enterprises are adopting more innovative and collaborative practices while the other 80% are sticking to the tried and true, even now, and riding it out, insulated (they hope) by their sheer size and the assumption that the oil market will again come around to them.

In their book Creative Confidence Tom Kelley and David Kelley simply state that "Most businesses today realize that the key to growth and even survival is innovation." From there, they go on to outline the means by which organizations can unleash the creative potential of the 75% of employees who do not feel they are achieving their potential.  In my survey of thought leaders with a close eye on Calgary would concur that there is a great deal of potential that has not been tapped for a variety of reasons, whether it is more hierarchical thinking, an absence of a creative bent amongst those coming from the STEM fields or the narrow focus that the drive to get the oil out of the ground has propagated throughout the industry.

While there may once again be a call to diversify the economy as Calgary and Alberta adjust to new normals with the price of oil and the demand for oil in the state they are in at the moment, the other thing for businesses in Calgary to do is to take a long detailed look at their organizational cultures and structures and adapt to integrate more collaboration, innovation and diversity into their organizations and look closely at models of innovational success from other industries in the city and beyond.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Trump and the American Identity

It is hard to tell if America is in an odd paroxysm of darkness or merely playing out the drama of the Donald Trump campaign for the Republican presidential nomination to , hopefully, harmless and comedic comeuppance for the main character in this big production reality show.  For months, Trump has, in short, been himself nothing more or less.  Despite campaigning with a performance artist's preference for shock rather than the consequences of his actions his achievements in the primaries beg the question, "How did he do it?"

His bigotry, misogyny and glee at offence have galvanized the Republican voters to support him in startling numbers and his progression toward becoming the party's nominee for the presidency has left some pundits questioning whether or not voters are fully informed or taking the election process seriously.  As the speculation about the short-term future of the Republican Party mounts, it has become evident that Donald Trump, despite the abundant flaws that ought to hinder him, has struck a chord with the electorate.

From a Canadian perspective it is doubly puzzling to see the regular season of the current presidential election season unfold the way it has.  One thing that might be the defining trait of the Trump campaign has been the persistent exceptionalism.  Whether it is his antics mocking other candidates, his language or his policy statements he has crossed the line time after time without denting his momentum.

Such ruthless behaviour would normally define a candidate as a loose cannon who should not even be on the stage for a debate let alone having dibs on the keys to the White House.  As an aside, I suspect that Trump would either drastically remodel the presidential mansion to reflect his "tastes" or quit and go home.

He has achieved what he has during this presidential campaign season because of the certitude and simplistic elements of his slogan, "Make America Great Again" even if the slogan is printed on hats that are Made in China.  Unlike Canada, which has struggled to define itself and establish a clear definition of its identity throughout its history, America has not been troubled with lingering complex questions about what the nation is or stands for.  While Canada has struggled with the inherent pluralism and bilingualism that has refuted efforts to say Canada is such and such in the simplest of terms, Americans have been able to assert time and again that their nation stands for greatness and freedom.  Like Tim Robbins' Nuke LaLoosh character in Bull Durham, they have never been troubled by self-awareness.  They have overlooked flaws and the darker chapters of their history.

For much of this century, the United States has been troubled by events and circumstances that have challenged their preeminence in the world community and the exceptionalism that they once believed was their birthright has wavered and weakened due to the increased complexity of the times we are living in.  Trump's promise to restore America to greatness with the most short-sighted and dangerous of policies that lack for clarity and substance.  Given the doubts that have been troubled Americans since September 11, 2001, racist policies, bullying the weak and threatening war are not merely empty promises to reassure America's greatness.  Instead these threats and actions do more to undermine the meaning of "America" and its "greatness."

If the United States is inclined to lurch toward an antithesis of Barack Obama, Trump would be the man to provide that.  However, simplistic policies and megalomaniacal thinking are not going to serve the United States well in the face of increased complexity.  The consequences for the United States would be far more dire than the loss of face that occurs in a reality program.