The fragility of democracy was on full display Wednesday as U.S. citizens living in Canada, and Canadians with strong ties to the U.S., could only watch in horror as Washington, DC descended into chaos.
Painful memories were brought to the surface for Shoshana Lebo.
“It brought me back when I was 13 or 14 watching the Charlottesville rallies happen, watching just everything happening that’s there, and how that was the first time I ever felt terrified to live in America.”
The 17-year-old is an American citizen, and a high school senior at a boarding school in Connecticut. Right now she’s living with her family in London, Ont., and studying remotely due to the pandemic.
She may be a country away, but she’s completely dialed-in to U.S. politics.
“I’m very glad that Joe Biden got confirmed, but I’m also very afraid to see that in America it got to the point that it did yesterday with this building at the Capitol. And I’ve even had peers of mine who have come, calling that a peaceful protest, and that’s even worse.”
It should come as no surprise that Shoshana takes a deep interest in the political landscape south of the border. Her father is Matthew Lebo, the chair of Western University’s Department of Political Science.
He says the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters has rightly been called an insurrection.
“Democracy relies on that the losing side agrees that they’ve lost, and that they respect the other side’s right to rule sometimes. And that’s gone. Democracy has been declining there for a long time - before Trump - and he’s accelerated it.”
With Trump-style populism on the rise throughout the Western world, including Canada, some wonder if such a seige could happen in Canada’s halls of democracy.
Matthew points out that Canada is still a long way from the partisan division of its closest neighbour.
“Maybe Canadians can just learn that democracy can be fragile. And you can only get so far from treating the opposition as the opposition. Treating them as the enemy gets into dangerous territory fairly quickly.”
As for Shoshana, she’s in the process of obtaining her dual American/Canadian citizenship. In the meantime she worries it could take several years for America to recover.
“I’m hoping for the new administration to bring an America in a place where, you know, people are more happy and proud to live there, and feel less, you know, embarrassed and worrying all of the time.”