Why we threaten to leave the country

Moving to Canada
Moving to Canada

The time has come to answer the question I am sure has been burning in all your minds for the last month or so: Why is my political column called “Moving to Canada”?

I named this column “Moving to Canada” because the hypothetical benefit to be reaped by moving to Canada is one of the few things it seems everybody can agree upon when it comes to U.S. politics. Whatever the national outrage of the day is, threatening to move to Canada is almost always a safe and appropriate response.

A few years ago, when the Affordable Care Act was being deliberated in the senate, my mother would privately mock a conservative coworker of hers who vowed he would move to Canada if the bill were passed. (Canada’s health care system is more based on the sort of socialist thought this person was objecting to than the American health care system, even with Obamacare, which is why my mother found this person’s threat amusing.)

My mother herself has been arguing we move to Canada with greater and greater frequency in recent years. Before she became an accountant she was the drummer in a bar band that often played in Canada, and she never fails to affirm that the people of Canada are, by and large, “nice.” Each time there is a new mass shooting, she grows a little more adamant about relocating.

Recently a friend of mine threatened to move to Canada when someone brought up the possibility that Donald Trump may become president. Trump’s candidacy would presumably be largely to blame (or thank) if there were an influx of American expatriates to Canada in the coming election season — that is, if any frustrated Americans actually follow through on their stated plans to move. There’s the rub, however: to my knowledge, no one who has threatened to “move to Canada” in response to some part of our country’s depressing political situation has actually done so. (NOTE: I did not do any research to verify this claim.) It seems we can safely conclude that such threats are empty, that they are instead expressions of a simpler desire to swear off American politics and all their attendant baggage: the government shut downs, the pressure to vote despite the numbing certainty that one’s vote is functionally meaningless, the endless debates over gun laws and women’s rights and religion whose answers seem cut-and-dry to both polarized sides.

The “Canada” of our empty threats is not really Canada (the country) but instead a more nebulous Canada of the Mind. It is a romanticized idea of a place that does not exist; our Canada of the Mind is probably just the United States with all the things one objects to excised. For people who lean to the political Left it is a vast expanse of kind and “reasonable” people who live equitably and thrive on socialist health care; for people who lean to the Right it is a predominately Christian, tax-free nation where a person has the freedom to own a gun and shoot moose in the wilderness, or something. (My personal biases probably show through in these characterizations, but I feel it is better to lay them out openly than hide them from you.)

So, by calling this column “Moving to Canada,” my goal is to write pieces that highlight absurdities we should all be able to agree upon in politics and in the news. There is far too little common ground exposed by the debates we wage in our halls of governance, around our water coolers, in our homes, and across our social media. The stuff I write in this space, despite the bleak, sarcastic tone I will often use to relay it, has a positive aim: to expose ways the present system fails us all regardless of political affiliation, and to investigate how the way we talk politics sometimes tacitly perpetuates those failures.

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