In a world swirling with danger and treachery, there’s one thing Americans have always been able to count on — the inferiority complex of our diffident neighbors to the north. The best Canadians have been able to do about it is tell themselves from time to time that they’re somehow worthier than we are, if vastly less significant — and they set great store by trifling evidence, such as the recent survey that reports Canada is a considerably happier country than the U.S. Well of course it is — all the U.S. guarantees is the pursuit of happiness, and the fun’s in the chase.
But the tide has turned. I was just in Canada (where I lived for a time as a boy), and came across a troubling cover story in Maclean’s, the major national magazine up there. July 1 is Canada’s “Canada Day” (sorta like our Independence Day but minus a war of independence), and Maclean‘s cover story took the familiar tack of thinking about Canadians in terms of Americans. What was new to me was the attitude!
The headline to this 12-page report: “How Canada Stole the American Dream. The numbers are in. Compared to the U.S., we work less, live longer, enjoy better health and have more sex. And get this: now we’re wealthier too.”
More money! More sex! They’re beating us at our own games. I carefully studied the Maclean’s report for the usual note of apology, the passage where the Canadian reporter allows that the numbers are subject to varying interpretations and, besides, Americans would be living like kings if they didn’t spend so many billions defending shirkers like us and the rest of the free world. There was no such passage. In fact, Canadians aren’t feeling like shirkers these days. Their soldiers have shed gallons of blood in Afghanistan, and when their lionized commander took over the army five years ago he said, ““We are not the public service of Canada. We are not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people.”
That’s how American generals used to talk.
My theory is this all began with the Conrad Black trial here in Chicago. The discovery that Canada could turn out a white-collar crook who impressed even Americans was a revelation in Canada, and those people have felt ten feet tall ever since.