The expression, “if you give somebody an inch, they’ll take a mile,” is never more true than when applied to the United States of America.
When Canada and the United States made the decision in recent weeks, because of the COVID-19 crisis, to essentially close the U.S.-Canada border, I said to more than one person that we were heading for big trouble.
“Once that border is closed, it is going to take a long, long time to get it open again,” I said. “It will be harder to go to Florida in winter; it will be tougher to go for short visits in summer. When people say the virus will changer everything, they have no idea.”
So today, we learn the U.S. is considering sending troops to the border, ostensibly to help U.S. Customs and Immigration keep out infected people from Canada who are trying to sneak into the States.
This is not without precedent. Large numbers of U.S. troops are already stationed near the Canadian border. Fort Drum, which has a military population of more than 10,000, is located just outside Watertown, N.Y., which is only 35 miles (56 kilometres), from the border crossing at Ivy Lea, Ont., just east of Kingston.
Be that as it may, the Canadian government is concerned that these new troops – said to number around a thousand – would be deployed to points between major border crossings. And the government has every right to be concerned because once those troops are deployed, they will not be redeployed. And their numbers will grow. You can bet on that.
And the reason you can bet on it is because of what happened after the United States was attacked in what has come to be known as 9/11. One of the first things then-President George W. Bush did was establish the Homeland Security Department. Fair enough. Terrorism was the enemy and deserved special attention.
But as inevitably happens, what started out to be positive became, over time, negative. I used to cross the border every weekend in those days. The first year following 9/11, there was very little change. Sure, in the beginning – the weeks following the attack – it was a quagmire but things very quickly returned to normal. Every now and again you would run into a traffic backup, but there were usually extenuating circumstances. For the most part, though, crossing that border in the first year following 9/11 was no big deal.
But then, things pretty much ground to a halt. Homeland Security was up and running by that time and happy to flex its muscles to justify its existence. Everybody was stopped and questioned at length. I was a “regular” at the border and used to literally be waved through. Then it was 20 questions. One time I said to a guy I knew, “Is this necessary?” and he sent me into Immigration for a secondary check.
I used to go over to the U.S. all the time and I spent a lot of money while I was there (I was auto racing then) but it became such a long and arduous process to cross over that I stopped going. You can imagine my surprise, then, two years ago when I flew to Naples, Fla., at Christmastime for a vacation and when I got back I discovered that someone had opened my checked suitcase and gone through it. Then I found a printed card with a message. It said Homeland Security had gone into my bag because of its mandate to protect the United States of America.
I know they X-Ray the bags, but why do they have to do a search? I have my suspicions, which have nothing to do with security, but that’s beside the point. They open bags and go through them, because they can. But they have gone beyond their initial mandate by citing “security” as justification for just about everything they do.
Which is why Canada has every right to be suspicious about a thousand U.S. troops being deployed near the border because, over time, the chances are that there will be many more than a thousand. That’s just the way it is and I use Homeland Security as an example. Our border is about to become militarized.
And for all the critics of President Donald Trump, who think he’s behind all this – and he very well might be – I guarantee that nothing will change if there is another president elected from another party. The president of the United States is tasked with protecting the country and the next president will not overturn decisions made by a previous president when it comes to the homeland.
The United States has always tended toward isolationism. It’s in their DNA. They really don’t care about the rest of the world. They’d prefer to go it alone. Trump has triggered this sense of nationalism and it’s resonating. The next man (or woman) in charge is not going to mess with that.