Trying to Live Life on Yellow Alert

“Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”

Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau addressing the Press Club in Washington, D.C. (25 March 1969) on the matter of living next to the U.S.A.

Gone are the days when, for weeks or months on end, we’d hear nothing from the leader of what Pierre Trudeau referred to as our elephantine neighbor to the south.

Typically, U.S. presidents would be working away on heaven knows what or do we really even want to know. Periodically, when the situation warranted, they would make an appearance for a bit of speechmaking. President Barack Obama famously sang Amazing Grace at Emanuel A.M.E. Church during his eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, one of nine killed in church by a white gunman.

Occasionally, in case of some soaring rhetoric, we might tune into the State of the Union address.

No more.

The fully-grown elephant is wide-awake and appears to be in possession of the mind of a frightful two year old (forgive me, frightful two-year-olds).

And, the only refuge of the helpless bystander is to try to keep an eye on where the elephant is swinging his unruly trunk.

  • Are innocent people going to be clapped in irons and hauled away?
  • Will lying become the prevailing truth?
  • Are the children of undocumented immigrants about to be thrown out of the country?
  • Is the new tax law really going to further wet the beaks of the already beak-sodden billionaire class in the U.S. whose numbers have swelled to 540?
  • When Trump invariably loses office (have mercy), will his supporters take up arms on Pennsylvania Ave and make us bear witness to a civil war in a heavily armed country?
  • What if, against all odds and rational thinking, the Republicans pick up seats in the 2018 mid-terms?
  • Will a roughly aimed North Korean missile forget to land south of the border?

It is unquestionably a time to keep one eye open.

For live coverage of the carnage, this Working Girl keeps on her weather eye on all things MSNBC, The Washington Post for breaking news and the New York Times for being a bit of a wet blanket.

Presenters, reporters and news analysts have replaced friends, extended family and useful hobbies.

It turns out there’s a whole host of qualified observers to offer commentary in this march towards doom. These people you see on televsision day in and day out are like characters in a real life, fight to extinction soap opera and after a while you start to notice the little things about them.

  • Will Philip Rucker of the Washington Post continue to grow his beard?
  • Is that Dateline Washington host, Nicole Wallace, flirting with former CIA chief of staff, Jeremy Bash?
  • Where does former Watergate attorney, Jill Wine-Banks, get her impressive collection of broaches?
  • How many times has political strategist and former Republican, Rick Wilson, used the term “fart in a hurricane” to great effect?
  • How often do national security analysts and former intelligence agents Malcolm Nance, Clint Watts and former double agent, Naveed Jamali, have to say Donald Trump is tearing down democratic institutions before they are believed?
  • Is the expressive Washington Post reporter, Ashley Parker, looking a bit tired these days?

I’m not alone in my vigil.

Whether for the news itself or the commentary about the reporting of the news, MSNBC’s ratings are on fire. The 9 pm, 10 pm 11 pm slots hosted respectively by Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O’Donnell and Brian Williams are #1 in cable news, beating Fox for the first time in prime time.

That’s something good, I guess.

But between you and me, the United States has always been a bit infuriating, don’t you think? Going on about how great their way of life is, how they are the greatest country on earth and all that.

I’m afraid they’ll have to put a sock in it for the next while.

In its Democracy Index, The Economist Intelligence Unit recently downgraded the U.S. from “a “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” because of a further erosion of trust in government and elected officials there.

Yet, by the size of their military and their economy, the U.S. continues to be the elephant Pierre Trudeau spoke of in 1969. But now, with their flawed democracy in the hands of both an authoritarian leader and a compliant Republican Party ready to carry his poo, the whole world is living beside the rogue elephant.

And it feels like more than a compulsion to watch and see which way the elephant is going to fall.


Gail Picco is an award-winning charity strategist widely recognized as one of Canada’s foremost experts on how to carve a path through the increasingly complex dynamics of the charitable sector. Civil Sector Press published her latest book, Cap in Hand: How Charities are Failing the People of Canada and the World, in 2017.

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