My wife and I recently spent four days in Chicago. It was the first time I’d been to the States since Donald Trump became president. Like many Canadians, I can’t turn away from what has been happening south of the border and even though I’ve loved my previous visits to Chicago, I felt a little weird going there at this time and contributing our money to the American economy.
In all of my life I haven’t spent as much time looking for country of origin labels on produce as I do now. More than once I’ve returned something from my cart when I realized the product was American. It’s not that I think American farmers are bad people. And I don’t know how many Canadian producers would have voted for Trump had they been given the chance. But if I rely on what I can know for certain, I am sure that no Canadian farmers voted for Trump. And my wife has found a Canadian chardonnay that she likes. It’s a little more expensive but everything has a cost, hidden or otherwise.
I was aware that Chicago wasn’t Trump country. Cook County voted 75-21 in favour of Hillary Clinton, but it would still be the first time I’d be around so many people who actually voted for him. At the ballpark, with forty thousand other people, if fifteen thousand people voted, I was in close proximity to thousands of Trump voters, most of whom still support him. They didn’t have horns coming out of their heads, and they weren’t flying the Stars and Bars. They looked just like a bunch of Canadians. Well, white Canadians anyway.
But here’s the thing. For the rest of the trip, I encountered almost nothing but the very people who are in Trump’s sights. I didn’t cross paths with any billionaires that I was aware of (the closest one probably being Harrison Ford in a museum). I didn’t hang out with any televangelists. Nor did I see anyone who was clearly behaving like a white supremacist.
We attended a play, we went to a comedy show, we saw some of the most famous art in the world, we toured some of the most architecturally influential buildings of the twentieth century, and we heard some of the best music I’ve ever heard live and up close.
Our cab drivers were Ethiopian and Indian. All of the busboys and many of the waiters were Hispanic. Or Japanese or African-American. Although virtually every person in the stands at the baseball game was white, almost all of the minimum wage workers pouring beer and selling hot dogs were black or hispanic. There were gay actors and blind musicians. Union workers and young people without medical insurance. It felt like the whole city was comprised of one demographic after another that was under assault by their government.
And so I felt less trepidation about contributing money to the American economy because, if not for good luck, any one of those people that made our stay in Chicago memorable could have been me.
Sixty-three million American voters have caused a hostage situation for the other two hundred and sixty-five million citizens. And for another seven billion people across the world.
And so while I still won’t be buying American strawberries any time soon and I’ll be avoiding other American purchases where I can, my thinking has become a little more nuanced. My favourite music, sports, films, television, social activists, writers…they’re all still American. And they will remain so.
I’m pulling for them. I just can’t visit them at home again for a while.