Recently I published a book of speculative nonfiction about the possibility of a civil war in the United States. In the opening chapter, I imagine a scenario in which a carnivalesque group of far-right activists takes over a bridge and refuses to leave, provoking a response from federal authorities. My fantasy became reality recently, except not in a rural American county, as I had envisioned it, but in Windsor, Ontario. For five years, I have been studying American political rage, its sources, its abyssal depths, its vertiginous fracturing power. I thought I was studying an external phenomenon at a distance, and I was. Now the rage has come for me. The anti-vax trucker convoy has made it up close and personal.
Three weeks ago, truckers formed a convoy to protest the cross-border COVID-vaccine mandate. Last weekend, they rolled into my Toronto neighborhood, near Bloor Street and Avenue Road. I went down to bear witness to the spectacle. The scene was not surprising to me: The same sort of people I’d seen at Donald Trump rallies and prepper conventions were there, with their hollowed-out faces intimate with pain, and their perpetually misspelled signs, and their sense of belonging to a community of the excluded. I confess that they disgusted me. I found myself stopping several people on the street and telling them to go home, that they weren’t wanted here.
The truckers want “freedom” from mandates and have called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to resign. They won’t achieve either of these goals, so what they’re doing now amounts to disruption for disruption’s sake. Trucks have been driving around the entrances to the Ottawa airport in a kind of slow-motion blockade. This is a deliberate tactic to force the federal government to take action. The protesters want confrontation with Trudeau, not Doug Ford, the Conservative premier of Ontario, because only such a confrontation could save their movement. Their forces are diminishing: About 1,000 people are left in the Ottawa convoy, although that number may rise over the weekend. Their main avenue of fundraising has been suspended; a week after GoFundMe stopped all trucker fundraising activities, the Conservative government of Ontario froze all GiveSendGo donations. The federal government has, so far, resisted the impulse to call in the military, and it is quite right to do so. Every day the truckers remain in Ottawa, they appall a larger and larger segment of the Canadian population. “Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake,” as Napoleon said. Time is firmly on the authorities’ side, if not that of the people suffering in Ottawa.
Ultimately, I know that this trucker convoy will come to nothing. Its power has been exaggerated by U.S. media, principally Fox News. Nearly 60 percent of Canadians find the protesters “offensive and inappropriate.” More to the point, 88 percent of people in Canada over the age of 4 have been vaccinated, including 85 percent of those in the trucking profession. The main trucking advocacy groups are on board with the vaccine mandate, as are the Teamsters. At their peak, the trucker protests had just 8,000 people. The Conservative Party of Canada has told the truckers to go home; they have virtually no mainstream political support, except from a few remote members of Parliament from Saskatchewan. Nobody sensible can feel threatened by anything that comes out of Saskatchewan.
Direct military confrontation with the convoy would be the worst strategy; after all, nearly a quarter of the protesters have their kids with them. Most likely the government will resolve to prosecute everyone involved in planning the convoy and investigate all foreign sources of support. The truckers have made life hell for their fellow citizens and threatened the democratic process, impotently but intentionally. Custodial sentences, massive fines, and class-action lawsuits are all coming. These situations never end well for the hostage-takers.
On some level, though, even that kind of reaction seems over-the-top to me. These protests have been peaceful. I think that if you want to see accelerationist or insurgent tendencies, you have to squint. Everyone I have spoken with who has actually been to these rallies has described them to me as a tailgate. Several sources reported Nazi-flag sightings, but the Nazi flags in question were accusing Trudeau of being a Nazi. I guess it’s a small comfort that, for the trucker convoy in Ottawa, the Nazis are still the bad guys, unlike for, say, the “Jews will not replace us” crowd in Charlottesville, Virginia. The rally in my neighborhood took place at the corner where the Royal Ontario Museum happens to be. During the rally, the museum didn’t even close. I’m sure the trucks looked impressive on Twitter, if you angled the phone just right to make them look dangerous, but there, in person, kids were strolling by on their way to look at dinosaurs. January 6, it wasn’t.
The truckers matter principally as an example of an American political proxy conflict spilling over our border, and as a harbinger of more such conflicts. Peter Sloly, the Ottawa police chief, has declared that a “sizable element” from the U.S. has been involved in fundraising and organizing. The Ottawa police have been overwhelmed by 911 calls intended to disrupt operations, and “they were coming in from the United States,” according to Sloly. By far, the largest supporters of the trucker convoy on social media are Americans, namely Donald Trump and Elon Musk. (One of Trump’s former “science advisers” has attended rallies.) Republican Senator Ted Cruz is way, way more into the trucker convoy than any Canadian Conservative is. This episode is no doubt just the beginning of the nightmare of living next to the United States in its time of breakdown. As American politics enters a state of complete toxicity, veering into insurgency, its violence and misinformation networks will inevitably spread across the border.
So why was I, at the trucker convoy in Toronto, gripped by a deep physical loathing, true abjection? The truckers are operating on the level of narrative and symbolism. Their internal documents, leaked to The Guardian, reveal the usual conspiratorial thinking underlying their movement: that world leaders planned the pandemic and the rest of the “great reset” garbage. The truckers disgust me because they believe lies and want to force their lies on the rest of the country. They disgust me because they are not playing by the rules and represent a threat to decent, orderly citizens. If I’m being honest, in some part of my Canadian soul they disgust me because they’re making a scene. Ultimately, they disgust me because they are so disgusted, and their anger and loathing have now provoked a mirroring anger and loathing in myself.
For the first time, I felt political rage: a sharp rise in testosterone, blinding and stupefying and violent. I am ashamed to have felt it. Clearly men should not be in power. Our hormones make us too unreliable. Testosterone is a hell of a drug. On my way home, I saw stragglers from the convoy lining up outside the Japanese-cheesecake bakery and the pot shops that have come to dominate Toronto’s urban landscape. I wanted them gone. This was not a healthy desire. The desire to punish, which is the dominant motive of both the left and the right in the United States, is fundamentally stupid. I hoped we could avoid it in Canada.
I now have the anger I’ve been studying. I now know what it tastes like. And telling myself that the truckers don’t matter, that the convoy will have exactly zero effect on public-health policy in Canada, doesn’t make the anger go away. While I was writing The Next Civil War, I worked hard at suspending judgment, at concentrating on hearing people and trying to understand their motivations, even if they were Nazis or violent criminals. I worked so hard to resist the loathing and the rage. Now they are with me, at my doorstep and in my heart. I want nothing to do with either. Unfortunately, I know more is coming. When you live next to a junkie, you can expect something flaming to land in your backyard eventually. America is a political-anger junkie; the trucker convoy is something flaming that has landed in our backyard. How do we keep ourselves from burning?
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