A Tale of Two Countries

I remember the day we heard that Trump had been elected. I was at a trade show with my boss, and we met up that morning in the long hallway leading to the show floor. I said to him, “What has your country done?” and he just shook his head sadly.

Most of Trump’s presidency has had minimal impact on our family. Shortly after he announced his intent to terminate NAFTA, the agreement which provided my work Visa at the time, we finally (after 7 years) won the H1B lottery. This simplified crossing the border, and granted Nicole recognized personhood for the first time in the US — her immigration status still depends on mine, but she has some legal rights now. In the end, the changes to the NAFTA agreement were minor, but we felt safer with our improved status.

So it has been that we’ve been able to ride out the Presidency of a morally repugnant, but mostly politically innocuous, Donald Trump. Since we don’t belong to any minorities, his policies haven’t impacted us significantly. And some of what our Republican-voting friends were hoping for has actually come true — the Supreme Court has tipped toward Conservative leadership (not that it has done them much good), and the economy has performed reasonably well. He’s not a likable person, and some of his fan group is pretty reprehensible, but an argument could have been made that he served his base.

That is until Covid-19 hit. Beginning with denial, following-up with attacks on his own scientific advisers and State leaders, and continuing with threats to de-fund sources of research, Trump led his country into one of the worst possible outcomes. America is exceptional only in its horrifically poor handling of the pandemic. And while other nations are in careful recovery, the US is in resurgence in many densely populated areas.

From the US Embassy in Canada website – the strength of partnership

Its no surprise then, that our home country doesn’t want us back right now. The date of re-opening for the usually friendly border has been moved back at least twice, as Canada (and other parts of the world) watch in horror while our frequently inept State and federal governments scramble to spin the irrefutable, and currently unstoppable, facts of viral transmission in line with their political positions — as if an interpretation of the Constitution will somehow change the behavior of a virus — all while many Americans are indifferent to what’s happening.

But that’s not all. Trump has also put a hold on green cards and H1B stamps through to November, claiming that it will help protect American jobs. Since most H1B Visas (which make up a tiny percentage of the US population) are issued for tech workers, the tech community responded by pointing out the obvious: skilled work forces, regardless of origin, improve American output and create American jobs. But Trump benefits from less educated voters, so he’s not listening. (Not listening is apparently his default state.)

Can I nominate one of these dumb chickens to be the next President?

We are still lucky, though. Ohio’s Republican government has performed well during this pandemic, our mostly conservative community has generally behaved thoughtfully, and our county is fairly safe. I don’t always agree with the political signs I see on people’s lawns, but I haven’t observed any ignorance or hate — “love your neighbor” (or at least “live and let live”) seems to win around here most of the time. Plus, I have a job that allows me to work from home, and the kids have enough space to enjoy the warm weather — we even got chickens for them to raise this summer. So while we’re grateful, the one-two punch of Trump’s leadership in 2020 has a big impact on us…

Nicole and Eli’s Visa stamps expire in September. Normally this isn’t a big deal — when this happens, we take a trip home to Canada, show our work authorization paperwork on the way back to the States, and get a new stamp. But stamps aren’t being issued until at least November (who knows what happens if Trump gets re-elected), and non-essential travel is restricted until July 21. If the border re-opens as planned, that gives us a window of one month to visit home, of which we’ll likely spend two weeks under a mandatory isolation order. If they delay the re-opening by another month (which is likely), that gives us a window of 10 days to visit home, of which 14 will likely be under an isolation order. That’s negative 4 days to visit family and friends…

Biden has said he would lift the Visa holds if he’s elected in November. If that was the only reason to root for his election, I’d feel selfish. But there’s basically unlimited reasons to hope we never have to see Trump in the Oval Office again. He’s turned this great country that we love into an international embarrassment, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We can only hope that our American friends have had enough of this strange timeline, and will vote for the other bigoted old white dude

M-m-m-my Corona

It was a strange progression, from something sort of abstract happening elsewhere in the world, to some minor inconveniences here at home, and finally, suddenly a “stay at home” order from the State government. Nowhere was it stranger than in the White House, where it changed almost overnight from “totally under control” to a full on disaster. It was like a watching a car accident in slow motion, only the whole continent was about to get hit, and there was nothing we could do but wait for the impact.

To be self-centered and honest, though, it hasn’t really impacted us that much. There’s been some cancelled events — Ben’s big class trip to Chicago, Eli’s girl scout camping trip, Abi’s birthday, and numerous work trips. But those are inconveniences at worst. Unlike some of those around us, I’m at no risk of getting laid off, nor do either of us have to go into a job where we might get exposed to someone who is sick. Our little cul-de-sac in the country is pretty well isolated on a normal day, with a couple acres between each house, so crowded situations aren’t something we have to worry about. And the common complaint of boredom certainly doesn’t apply to us — we’ve got even more to do than usual!

That’s not to say this situation is ideal. Like everyone else, we’ll have to ration toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Clorox wipes. Grocery shopping is a pain due to the panic buying that has swept the nation. And one of our two cars is stuck in the shop for the duration. But overall, there’s more opportunity for us in a situation like this — which isn’t fair, I know, but its true. The Fed’s questionable decision to continually drop interest rates until they had nowhere left to go allowed us to lock in a mortgage re-finance at a historically low rate shortly before banks started closing. And our income tax return left us with spare funds to invest while the stock market is the lowest its been in over a decade.

Its hard to extrapolate from here where things will go. China seems to be on the mend, and if those numbers are true and directionally analogous, then the US and Canada will recover in a similar fashion eventually too. Its unlikely that the economy will ever be quite the same after this, but its equally unlikely that it will completely fail. There’s a sort of twisted fascination with imagining a worst case scenario that looks like a zombie movie or Mad Max situation that I’ve observed others entertaining, but in my estimation, things are not heading in that direction — this time.

Still, the vegetable garden in the backyard has taken on a new level of importance, and I regret that I never got around to the project where I augment our electric well with a manual back-up, in case of emergencies. It really does seem like as individuals, and as a nation (and I’ll include our home country of Canada in this generalization) we are pretty ill-prepared for these kinds of scenarios. The rapid and stealthy spread of this pandemic is tempered by its relatively low mortality rate — should this happen again (and it probably will) with a flavor of disease that is a less discriminate killer, I’m not sure we could really handle it.

The kids are taking it all in stride — they don’t have enough run-time on the planet to understand just how unusual this situation is. Some day they’ll tell their own kids about this period as a generation-shaping event. Hopefully there’s only this one in their lifetime, but if not, hopefully we’re all better prepared — and better people — from having coming through this one.