North on Strachan Ave and the Collapse of America as a Democracy

Having dropped off a rental car, I walked north up Strachan Ave. The street has typical Toronto row houses, called in fact the Toronto House, but some have been renovated into marvellous contemporary works of art, one with bronze coloured metal facade with suprising and delightful features. I have to stop every time before this house such games it gives my imagination. Other homes impress me, not for their size and grandeur but their intimate appeal, a place to live that has some beauty to it. It’s garbage collection day on the street and the truck is there working its way down the street. To save time I’ve noticed that sometimes the Collectors to save time combine the organic waste of two bins so as to have only one trip to the truck instead of two. They reach into one bin and pull out the organic waste products by hand and combine with the second bin. I’ve often wondered what the men might think as they reach into the bin and looking up see these remarkable homes in the neighbourhood they are working through. I have to believe they look on these homes with an imagination as I do, imagining themselves living in such a home.

The difference is I have a nice home; I think of the collectors, who are black men working my street and Strachan, who live somewhere else, and see that there are people who do live in these homes, and know they will never have a chance, without a lottery, to live here, to live in such a house in such a neighbourhood. I think back a few years when they had a better salary until the city elected a wealthy mayor who led the City Council to contract out garbage collection to a private company. That was the same thing as saying to these garbage collectors, we’re going to take your incomes and reduce them to minimum or close to minimum wage. And at the same time, instead of continuing to pay you a decent wage, we as a city are going to pay money to this private company, lots of money as profit for a single owner or small group of already rich people and make them richer. The rich mayor thought this a good idea. Of course he did. We, I, let him do it. Didn’t change my world. I’m fine. Garbage is still collected. But every time I see these men, I say hi, my heart aches for them.

The relationship is asymmetrical. All the power is above. What are the collectors to respond? They have to eat and pay rent; they had to suck it up, go home and tell their families they are going to have even less to live on and even less of a future to dream about.

During this Covid time walking back home along Queen, I am negotiating with each person who approaches me as to how we will divide the sidewalk space to keep the 2 metres distance between us. One fellow was hard to get around. He was just not caring about helping out. He knows better than anyone else I guess, and he’s not going to let the society change how he lives, deter him from what he wants for himself. I felt on an edge after he passed, wanted to yell at him. Everyone else I met, and that was a good number, were to one degree or another very cooperative, waiting to let me pass through a narrow space or thanking me if I let them go first. Couples went into single file as we passed. Everyone went to one side of the sidewalk as I hugged up against the store fronts on the other side. I felt happy, less fearful, grateful for the human quality and consideration of the encounter we had.

Most people act in a good way, want to contribute to a positive life on the street we share. But good people, that is people who live with consideration and even compassion for others, just want to live out their lives. Unfortunately, there are those who sneak in, with all kinds of deception, seize the levers of power, and use these levers to serve these interests, often craftily placating, let’s call them, the good people. These good people have to speak up to affirm the qualities that bind society into a cohesive, stable whole, that gives us all a stable life.

In the Atlantic article, linked below, there runs the thread of what happens when good people do not speak up but be careful if you read it, the article is more depressing for its corollary of when good people speak up, and others don’t stand with them. Good intentions are undermined and people destroyed while others protect their jobs, rationalize their compliance or look away, pretend they don’t see.

This article about the assumption of authoritarian power under President Trump is depressing as it unveils the deep state of the decline and corruption of American democracy, over the last decades, soon to reach a point of no-return. According to the article author George Packer and The Atlantic editorial board, if President Trump is reelected for four more years, the corruption of the state will no longer be an emergency but complete, irreversible. It’s how Rome went. Won’t be possible we hope against hope, think wishfully. So far, President Trump has been seriously underestimated by all the bright thinkers in Washington and the Ivy League universities and the stalwarts of American institutional governance. Will the Black Lives Matter insurgence right the ship? Will good people, whatever good might mean, stand up and be counted.

The corruption, and I feel the article is crystal clear that, democracy has been corrupted, the corruption has been in front of us these last four years, but reading this article, I can no longer hide in my wishful thinking, hide from its implications and the Trump corruption reach far into civil society has we’ve known it. As said by Zeynep Tutckci (academic and author of Twitter & Teargas), as she says of the usurpation of democratic freedoms and human rights, it will not be a cataclysmic event t end it, but the gentle walking down a quiet path. That quiet walk might be us sitting back saying it’s all fine, smart people know what they are doing, American won’t collapse. Well you’re right. Not cataclysmically. We won’t even see it coming, not even notice until it comes. if we don’t read this article that is. Truth is, there are smart people on both sides. I feel overwhelmed in the face of the evidence and my being unable to deny its seriousness. The empire is to collapse under its own weight of greed, a system of greed the article gives evidence to.

I have to catch my breath. Walk out into the sunshine. I’ve lived my whole life in relative peace. Only Covid has given me any sense of history where life just doesn’t go on. My grandmother lived the best years of her life with the aftermath of the Great Depression, complete collapse of society, and two World Wars, years of fear fighting authoritarian states who wanted to destroy democracies. Am I over-reacting? I’ve just finished two books on Apocalyptic literature of 2000 years ago. What is history going to record of this moment in time, the year 2020-2021? While I’m going on with my day today, this Tuesday June 16, happily walking up Strachan Ave today of all days. What is the end of my life, my last decade, to look like? What can I do today? Do what I can. You’re a good person, too. What are we going to do? Anything?