Two summers ago, Jeanne and I took our first honest-to-God vacation in our thirty-plus years together. We went to Scotland for nine days, the first time that we had ever gone on a vacation that did not involve seeing family, squeezing in a work conference, or some other justification for simply taking a break. We simply picked a place—Scotland—and went. We had such a wonderful time that, even before we returned home, we were planning the next time that we would do something as radical as take a real vacation.
We tentatively planned that it would be this summer, and our destination would be Wales (plus perhaps a bit of England, as long as it didn’t involve London). We knew by early March, of course, that this was not going to happen. But the other day, with a bit of time on my hands as I sought to avoid worrying about this coming semester’s classes—in person or on line? Both? At the same time?—I went to the “Visit Wales” website, knowing that I had planned our Scotland vacation, from flights to B and B’s to rental car to scotch distillery tours, on the “Visit Scotland” site sitting in my recliner in our library room. This is what I read:
VISIT WALES. LATER.
COVID-19 Coronavirus information: Please do not visit Wales at this time, and avoid all unnecessary travel within Wales. Following these guidelines will save lives. We look forward to welcoming you back in the future, but for now, let’s all #staysafe.
No surprise, of course, but it was a dose of cold reality. You think you’re going on vacation? Think again, fool—no one’s going anywhere until this virus thing is brought under control. Judging from the news of the past few days, we aren’t even close.
When the European Union began opening its external borders last week, it listed fifteen different countries whose citizens would be allowed to travel to the EU. The United States was not on the list. Even though the EU will lose millions of tourism euros by not allowing Americans to travel to its member nations, decision makers believed that the US’s continuing failure to deal effectively with COVID-19 nationwide, with spikes in cases throughout the South and West, required the ban.
It occurred to me when I heard this, paired with our ban on most foreign visitors coming to this country, that the EU decision effectively helped Donald Trump accomplish something that was a central promise in his successful run for President in 2016. I posted this on Facebook and Twitter:
I realized today that, through his actions and inaction, Trump has succeeded in building his wall. No one wants to come in, and no one wants us to travel to their country. Nice.
Congratulations, Mr. President. You got your wall.
My Facebook post generated some very interesting conversations with three or four friends and acquaintances from Canada (Canada, not surprisingly, is on the EU’s “welcome to visit” list). First, here’s my history with Canada. I love Canada. I think Canada is awesome. I grew up in northeastern Vermont, thirty or forty miles south of the Canadian border. I have visited Canada, for periods ranging from a few hours to a few weeks, hundreds of times. My family and I visited Canada so often during my youth that the Canadian border guards used to just wave us through as we slowed down sufficiently for them to recognize our car. Montreal and Quebec City are two of my five favorite cities that I have ever visited (the others are Boston, Paris, and Edinburgh).
So, I love hearing from my Canadian friends, some of whom I have never met in person but with whom I have had many great Facebook exchanges over the years. In response to my Facebook comment, one of these friends (whom I actually have met in person—once) wrote
I hate to say it, especially with so many loved ones on the other side, but the border needs to stay closed . . . Our economy is taking a hit but we are going very slowly . . . Freely traveling around makes contact tracing really hard. If we can control this in one area, then we need to stay put. Viruses can only travel about six feet on their own. So, no offence my American friends, but maybe see you next year?
That’s rough, because Jeanne and I have said many times that if Trump wins re-election in November, we are moving to Canada (although we also said we would do that if he won in November 2016). I replied that
If I lived in Canada, I would not want anyone from the US travelling to my country. We have undoubtedly done the worst job of any nation in dealing with this pandemic, and still have not managed to get a handle on it–not even close.
Not to promote a stereotype, but my Canadian Facebook friends are remarkably friendly, kind, and hesitant to criticize—even when criticism is warranted. My friend responded “I wish I could see a way forward . . . I hate to generalize, but Americans just don’t have much of a tradition of compliance.” No shit. I replied, “Certainly true—and, unfortunately, Americans often frame required compliance for the good of the community/society as a violation of their ‘God-given rights.’”
Another of my Canadian friends, exhibiting the Canadian penchant to prefer self-criticism to the criticism of others, refused to endorse keeping the border closed, arguing idealistically that it’s never helpful to “pile on” and criticize those already in trouble, as well as practically pointing out that “all things being equal, the very survival of [Canada] depends on a robust cross-border relationship.” As an American more than willing to criticize anyone, I replied that
I’ll leave it to you and my other Canadian friends to decide whether it’s helpful for you to point out my country’s failures so far. I guarantee, though, that it is absolutely crucial that it be said loudly and often in this country. It actually appears, slowly, to be making a difference . . . From the south side of the border, my perspective is that, yes, a “robust cross-border relationship” between our two countries is, all things being equal, crucially important–for both countries. But “all things being equal” definitely does not apply to our current situation. There’s a good reason why the EU is willing to lose billions of tourism euros by not allowing Americans to fly there.
It was interesting, as the conversation continued, to find my Canadian friend trying to soften my criticism of my own country. He wrote,
We’ll respectfully disagree on this I think, Vance . . . I see nothing to be gained by this, and it feeds a narrative that will make any successful international post-pandemic planning almost impossible. The world must have the US take the lead in that planning – you are the only ones capable of that leadership. However, if the narrative that “the US is incompetent or broken” wins, then I cannot see a way forward.
Which struck me as a rose-colored-glasses view of the US that currently doesn’t hold true.
Everyone all over the world had better hope that Donald Trump does not get re-elected to a second term in November. The sort of leadership that you are looking for from the US will not happen while he is President; it will take many years to undo even some of the damage after he’s gone. At the moment, I don’t believe the rest of the world should be looking or waiting for the US to be a global leader in anything.
He got the last word in the exchange.
Good to know. I’ll continue to try my best not to ‘pile-on’ and leave it to my friends and loved-ones south of the border to bind-up the nation’s wounds on their own.
Since Trump’s wall has effectively been established, not through billions of wasted dollars, but rather through months of deliberate and chosen neglect and incompetence when faced with the challenges of COVID-19, we are indeed on our own. There has unfortunately been little evidence that this President and his administration have any interest in “binding up the nation’s wounds.” That means it’s on us. There are many things we can do, beginning with the most basic. Stay home as much as possible. Wear a mask. Socially distance. Vote. All as if our lives depend on it. Because they do.