Gary Horton: On the mean streets of the USA

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Carrie and I have been up in the Canadian Gulf Islands boating this past week. As I write this I see an incredibly serene, bucolic, forested harbor view from our boat’s window.

Yes, yes, I know this is a very good life. We’ve worked hard; now playing hard. I can’t make any apologies for it. America provided us an opportunity and we took it.

I’ve noticed they do some things differently here in Canada. Some, we should imitate to our overall betterment. The U.S. does a lot of things very right and we continue to lead the entire world in so many important areas.

Yet it seems our present administration would dismantle much of who we are, especially those things closest to caring for our well-being. From environmental protection to health care – these kinds of policies are being bullied and kicked around.

We’ve become the tough-guy, bully nation. We’re giving orders, quitting treaties, building walls, and cutting benefits. This is what our current president tweets, much to international disrespect.

But here in Canada their having a great Canadian moment. They’ve got their young, hipster Prime Minister, while we’ve got a permanently-pissed, grumpy, and apparently confused president.

They’ve become the accepting and kind nation, while we’ve turned mean toward the whole world. They’re peaceful. We’re warriors. They’ve got guns for hunting. We’ve got guns for fetishes and fear.

There really is a difference in demeanor. You see it in little things, everywhere. Their TSA greet you with, “Hello, and Bonjour!” We get stern faces.

“Kids Don’t Float!”

Land on most public docks and marinas around here and you’ll quickly encounter large signs announcing, “Kids Don’t Float!” with eight or 10 children’s life preservers available for public use for free. You just take them and put them back when your little tyke is done on the water. It seems this kind of government outreach is normal and appreciated.

A mid-twentyish woman helped us out at a clothing store. She’s an American military brat who’s lived all over the world. She attended college in Canada because her tuition at a top school was $5,000 a year. Not free, but not $20,000 for a U.C., either.

She’s an American but got her Canadian permanent resident card a few years back. She’s aghast at all the rancor in the U.S. Why such a fight over something as straightforward as public health care? Says she, “When I come back to Canada I feel so grateful to be in a country where the government truly cares about its citizens.”

Boy, that sentence surely puts things into focus. Imagine, a country where public policy is geared toward caring for its people’s well-being. These days, America is having a problem saying that when it comes to caring for our weakest and most vulnerable.

We’re OK if we’ve got lots of money. Not so much if we haven’t got so much. Nationally, we’ve become responsive and respectful of the upper 10 percent or 20 percent. We’re not only divided politically, we’ve divided economically.

I love America. It’s given me incredible opportunities, from (back then) very affordable college at CSUN that propelled my career. It’s grown my business and enabled my success.

Its high standard of medicine has repaired my back nearly miraculously and restored my daughter’s sight with a cornea transplant made almost to look easy. I’ve been kept safe my whole life through our rule of law.

Still, America has gotten nasty. Its politics are mean. We’ve become unaccepting. Our policing is overt, militarized, and biased toward confrontation and incarceration.

We’ve publicly denounced diplomacy and international bullying has become our dogma. We’ve been at war more or less continuously my entire life. We’re dog-eats-dog, and with the prevailing political climate, it’s sink or swim time in America … and don’t expect to be thrown a rope.

But “Kids Don’t Float!” Metaphorically and literally.

We’re not as self-reliant as we boast or believe. Folks get sick – all of us, sooner or later. Sometimes we win in life, sometimes we lose, sometimes we fail at some point and a lifeline wouldn’t be such a bad idea.

Kids don’t float. We need hand-ups, we need ladders, we need encouragement more than punishment. And now, as America sees its soul flayed open by a destructive president, we’ve got to look deep inside and make sure to put things back right – when he’s finally put away.

We don’t have to be the Bully Nation. We don’t have to be mean to our own citizens. We don’t have to manhandle immigrants, the environment, energy, policy, international relations. We can regain our sensibility and rekindle our kindness.

Canada has taken the lead from the U.S. as the thoughtful, caring, more democratic country. They used to be our bumpkin neighbors up north. They know their kids don’t float.

There’s still time for us to relearn that concept, ourselves.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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