Even humorists feel dark about the world at times, and when I do I force myself back to the basics: food and family. Don’t worry, I’m not going to lecture on why food and water are essential to life. But having a family (either made of kinfolk or friends), people you can trust who trust you, is equally necessary, because that’s what keeps a person from succumbing to loneliness and self-obsession. The lonely self-obsessed are not a group you can trust much. I am certain (though Google does not support me on this) that old expression went “I wouldn’t trust an egg under him,” meaning someone who would let an incubating egg get cold, or for that matter might eat the egg. Much of the world’s leadership seems to be in the hands of people under whom I would not trust an egg.
Since the end of the Second World War, “leader of the free world” has generally meant the President of the United States. So you know things are not in great shape when the current holder of that title befriends leaders of some of the least free countries. These buddies don’t just keep their people from voting in free elections, they kill them. Mr. North Korea has death camps. Mr. Putin has convinced no one that it wasn’t he who authorized the killing of two Russian nationals in Britain: a former spy and his daughter. The use of a Soviet-invented nerve agent was a fairly fat clue. So when Mr. Trump said he would summit with Kim Jong-un and tête-à-tête with Vladimir Putin I didn’t think, “Oh, good. What a much more stable world it will be.” I thought: food and family; family and food.
According to my rules, a test of world common sense was badly flunked when the US risked its long-standing alliance with Canada by letting fly the first salvos of a trade war. I speak of the tariff on Canadian steel and aluminum. The US economy is a steel glutton, and that country does not make nearly enough to supply itself; one-sixth of the steel for its industry comes from Canada. Though the tariff harms Canada, it might harm US manufacturers more, as they pay the old-price-plus-tariff for their next Canadian shipments. Perhaps you can tell me how that helps Make America Great Again. The strategy eludes me.
An old expression went “I wouldn’t trust an egg under him,” meaning someone who’d let an incubating egg get cold, or for that matter might eat the egg.
According to what he repeatedly says, Mr. Trump’s steel tariff is partly to avenge Canada’s use of a dairy supply-management system. Our system functions, Trump says, like a Canadian-imposed tariff on overproduced oceans of cheap milk in the US. To him, it is logical that we must trash supply management so that cheap US milk can flow free in our country and in our veins. Does anyone else think “dumping” when they hear this?
Food and family. Countries, like people, need food more than any other item. The one thing you must never risk is that you become dependent on one or more other nations for your food. The fact that you cannot control other nations makes this a risk no one can afford. One of those countries, even after a few centuries of electing reasonably stable people, might decide to elect a complete nutbar. Let’s shake things up, folks. That nutbar might just decide to not trade your country any food. Worse, you may have also allowed the nutbar to destroy the means by which you used to be food self-reliant.
There is also the fact that Canadian rules imposed on our milk do not allow antibiotics and growth hormones. US rules are not so fussy about these tiny matters. So tearing down our supply management system to allow Americans into our milk market would reduce both our food security and our health security. So that’s not on the table, right?
Most distressing for me about the discussion of US trade tariffs (from my food/family-fixated vantage point) was that almost no one mentioned that milk and steel are fundamentally different, one being a food and one not. This is not to split a hair. Food is not something you can do without, whereas steel is. You may not wish to do without steel, but in a pinch (pandemic, drought, fire, nuclear war) you could.
The next bottoming-out in the US—the forced separation of immigrant parents from their children and the imprisonment of both—was an attack on my other tower: family. Instead of launching into full despair, I’ve been searching that particular mess for a sign of hope. It seems just possible that Trump’s immigrant families atrocity located a still functioning decency nerve in his followers. From all over the political spectrum, Americans were upset about the attack on the bonds of family and other small matters such as putting little children in a courtroom to testify without legal counsel.
Let’s hope that nerve is found. While we’re at it, let’s cheer for those in Canada who have been defending our food and families. Get your pencils ready to mark ballots in their favour come the elections of 2019. Let’s also keep an eye on those who would give or trade away the food and family values we need to be human. These people are the ones under whom an egg cannot be trusted.
Fred Stenson’s most recent novel is Who By Fire (Doubleday). Other books include The Trade, Lightning and The Great Karoo.