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Vacation warnings & 1776 time travel

Vacation warnings & 1776 time travel

A US roadtrip.

Myriam Tirler/Hans Lucas via Reuters Connect

The long weekend is upon us, and you’re probably traveling to see family or friends in that last escape from work before summer fades away like a political promise to balance the budget. It never lasts. But plans for some Canadians got complicated this week after Trudeau’s government issued a travel warning to the LGBT community to be careful visiting US states that have enacted restrictive new laws and policies.

This isn’t Afghanistan or Russia, where you might normally expect these warnings, but this is the USA. Is this just another log on the “woke,” virtue-signaling bonfire of the sanities that is torching the political landscape?

Well, the data is compelling. The ACLU is currently tracking more than 495 anti-LGBTQ bills in different US states that restrict accommodation in washrooms, educational curriculums, and healthcare access, and weaken non-discrimination laws. In other words, it’s a real thing, but does it make a US visit dangerous?

Back in May, the Department of Homeland Security issued a report on the rise of violence against the LGBTQ community, saying “These issues include actions linked to drag-themed events, gender-affirming care, and LGBTQIA+ curricula in schools." Countries like Canada, which have already warned about things like mass shootings, are clearly taking notice of this as well.

It's stylish to dismiss all this as merely a “culture war,” as if the Jello-ey bloviations of pundits trying to build a social media profile are just low-rent cultural entertainment for the politically craven. But the emphasis is shifting from the “culture” part toward the “war” part, where open attacks on the human rights of citizens are cast in the flag-waving, revolutionary rhetoric of battle.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the sudden rise of the tech-bro Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy. Ramaswamy casts his entire campaign as a “1776 moment” of revolution against the Woke Straw Man. (I am so tempted to write “Straw Person” just to see the social media brushfire, but we have had enough summer fires, haven’t we?) Ramaswamy told the House Anti-Woke Caucus that to defeat the woke agenda there needs to be “a new kind of American Revolution in our country, reviving the ideals of 1776.” Fellow candidate Ron DeSantis is on the same train, and his war with Disney — yes, taking on Mickey Mouse is frontline political work — was meant to affirm his anti-woke bona fides.

1776 was a revolutionary and foundational moment, but it’s not some Paradise Lost that needs to be reclaimed. It was merely the starter pistol for a historic period of transformative change. After all, it took hundreds of years, a bloody civil war, constitutional amendments, and countless political movements to end slavery and extend full rights — including the vote — to women and multiple minority groups. Not a lot of folks would want to live in 1776 America, where the idealism about freedom (written by a whole bunch of dudes who owned slaves) and the reality of it only had a passing relationship. The whole point of the 1776 Big Bang was to accelerate more freedoms for individuals, not less. That makes it hard to jibe with the campaign rhetoric of restrictions today.

It is an issue boiling up in Canada as well. In New Brunswick, Premier Blaine Higgs is embroiled in a battle over gender self-identification in schools and the balance between parental and kids rights, a topic picked up nationally by Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre, who believes these are parenting issues, not government ones. Is this why the Canadian government suddenly made the travel warning announcement? Trudeau is fading in current polls while Poilievre is surging, and this is a convenient wedge.

Or is this another part of the same culture war, only this time trying to animate the left, not the right? “It seems like too much of a coincidence for the Canadian government suddenly to make this announcement and there be no connection to domestic politics,” Graeme Thompson, a senior analyst at Eurasia Group, told me.

Ok, it’s the long weekend, and you might be annoyed that it’s so political. Where to go to spend your tourism dollars, who to visit, what’s the risk … it’s enough to wreck a good vacation. But remember, this weekend started as a political battleground. Labor Day in the US became a national holiday in 1894 after workers in places like Chicago (in the famous Haymarket riot of 1886) fought to get fair wages, better working conditions, and an eight-hour workday. It worked.

It’s worth noting that your weekend of rest came 118 years after 1776. Ready to give that back too? Maybe this long weekend is actually the best time to get political.

This column by GZERO Publisher Evan Solomon was featured in GZERO North on Aug. 31, 2023. Subscribe today.


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