Christmas, as many of us were assured as children, is a special season, a time of kindness and generosity, of peace on earth and goodwill to all people everywhere.
That is one of the lessons we absorbed at our mother’s knee. Within a few years, we learned another lesson from teachers who taught us that the American system of government was a model democracy with its checks and balances among its executive, legislative and judicial branches. It is more perfect, we were instructed, than a monarchy or any other system of governance.
Of course, both “lessons” were illusions. They represented a triumph of hope over reality.
That said, this Christmas season is more depressing, more fraught with peril than most Christmases. The universe is not unfolding at all the way Justin Trudeau’s father famously said it should.
There were desperate moments late last week when chaos reigned in Washington and no one could predict what might happen next. Without consulting anyone – his allies or even Congress – President Donald Trump unilaterally ordered the withdrawal of all United States military in Syria, abandoning the Kurds, whose forces they were supporting, to the mercy of their arch-enemy, the Turks.
He warned he is on the same course with Afghanistan, where a drawdown of 7,000 American troops may happen as early as January. It is a signal to the Taliban that the country is theirs; it hands victory to the Islamic State and the terrorists responsible for 9/11.
Defence Secretary James Mattis, often described as the only adult in today’s White House, promptly resigned, effective Feb. 28, in a letter that sharply rebuked Trump’s go-it-alone approach to foreign affairs. Stung by the criticism, the President turned to Twitter, his medium of choice, to announce on Sunday that he would force General Mattis out by Jan. 1, two months early.
Meanwhile, federal departments began to shut down as the dysfunctional President and equally dysfunctional Congress failed to agree – for the third time in Trump’s erratic 23 months – on the terms of a funding bill to keep the government operating.
With Trump continuing to demand the bill contain $5 billion to fund his Mexican border wall, a proposal that has no chance in Congress, everyone went home – the politicians to their districts and government workers to spend Christmas with their families but without their paycheques. Unless someone blinks, the impasse could stretch well into the new year.
It is not precisely the perfect democracy that we learned about in school. America’s allies are alarmed and fear whatever Trump may do next. Her enemies are emboldened – not the least being China, which is flexing its muscles as it aspires to become the world’s number one superpower, and Russia, where Vladimir Putin may see in Washington’s chaos a golden opportunity to seize control of the rest of Ukraine.
Canada is by no means immune from the chaos in the U.S. capital. We became collateral damage in the U.S.-China trade war when Beijing, citing national security, arrested two Canadians in a tit-for-tat move to protest the detention of Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition order.
Canada also remains locked this holiday season in a nasty confrontation with Saudi Arabia, which broke off diplomatic relations and ordered Saudi students in Canada to return home as the kingdom set out to make Canada an example of the retaliation that other countries – the United States included – can expect if they challenge Riyadh’s treatment of human rights activists.
At the weekend, CNN offered this assessment of the “ever-changing madness” that is Donald Trump’s Washington: “In all the turmoil, poison, and irresponsibility of the past two years, the last 72 hours merit the term ‘historic.’ … It is the message that is the most potent: the casual disregard of history, ally, or duty. It says the Commander-in-Chief considers his own gut paramount, and the decades of sacrifice that got America to this point of lesser importance.”