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Will 2019 be the year we make America native again?

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Image: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

Donald Trump shocked countries around the world when he won the election for President of the United States of America (USA) on November 8, 2016. Trump was formally elected as the 46th U.S. President, together with Mike Pence as his Vice President, by the Electoral College on December 19, 2016. However, the official inauguration ceremony did not take place until January 20, 2017. While most of us were in a state of shock during the weeks between Trump's election and his inauguration; millions of Americans immediately took to the streets in nationwide protests under the collective chant "Not my President!".

Trump's presidential welcome (or lack thereof) did not get any better at his inauguration. In fact, attendance at Trump's formal inauguration ceremony was one of the lowest in modern history -- the crowds were only a fraction of the size that attended former President Obama's inauguration. Not only has the open wound of Trump's election failed to heal, but Trump's toxic team has infected the White House with such high levels of corruption and lies that no one knows who to trust anymore.

Since taking office, Trump has tried to fulfill his campaign promises of enacting a Muslim travel ban; erecting a wall between the U.S. and Mexico; deporting undocumented immigrants, and nominating conservative judges to the Supreme Court with mixed results. While his Supreme Court appointment, Brett Kavanaugh went through despite multiple sexual assault allegations -- it may go down as one of, if not the, most controversial appointments in U.S. history. Trump's travel bans were overturned by the courts and his wall will likely never be built.

At the same time, he has engaged in an anti-media campaign to discredit any media outlet critical of his presidency as "fake news". His obsession with fake news is more of a reflection of his own lies and those of his reported Russian hacker friends, than any media-wide conspiracy to lie to the American people about the President.

He has also used social media to call out his perceived political enemies, name-call anyone who doesn't agree with him and taunt world leaders. While his national security team has no doubt worked overtime to prevent World War III, Trump's presidency has the added stress of one political scandal after another. From his reported relationship and subsequent pay-off to porn star Stormy Daniels; to his alleged collusion/collaboration with Russia; and the guilty pleas of former Trump aides to various criminal offences; Trump has no doubt set the record for the most tumultuous first 18 months in office.

Unlike our ability to change the channel when Trump's former reality show "The Apprentice" would invade our television screens, the very real "live reality" show of Trump's presidency is the only channel available to Americans right now. While Trump's crazy hair, weird hand gestures and remarkably bizarre and often incoherent rants might provide endless fodder for late night comedy shows, this President's junior high school style diplomacy does more than just reflect poorly on Trump as an individual. The Office of the President is an institution that is supposed to represent the American people, but currently appears to only represent Donald Trump's every whim or vendetta in an embarrassing Twitter drama.

The now infamous anonymous op-ed allegedly written by an insider has described Trump as "impetuous, adversarial, petty and ineffective". Excerpts from award-winning journalist Bob Woodward's new book Fear: Trump in the White House, together with insights gleaned from other journalists with access to the White House, like Michael Wolff's Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House expose the current turmoil within the White House. Taken together with Trump's own public behavior and the insights gleaned from former senior officials, we all have cause to be worried. And when I say "we", I mean Americans, Canadians, and Indigenous nations all over Turtle Island.

It's not much of a stretch to assume that a White House in this much turmoil, led by someone who thrives on conflict and chooses to align himself with autocrats and dictators over America's long-held allies, presents a clear a present danger for national security at a global level, but also public safety at the local level. Canada is America's closest ally -- politically and geographically. Any form of major or sustained attack on the U.S. risks the safety of many Canadians as well.

Similarly, those Canadians living in border towns may suffer the consequences of attacks made in close proximity. As a known ally of the U.S., retaliatory attacks on the U.S. might also be accompanied by direct attacks on Canada. It matters very much to our safety and security to know what is happening in the south. So, while Canadians, like many Americans, would also like to turn the channel when Trump appears on our news stations -- our collective worry prevents us from doing so. It is far worse for sovereign Indigenous nations who pay the price for decisions made without us.

It's no coincidence that Canada has been sucked into the trade dispute between the U.S. and China. Recently, several Canadians were detained by the Chinese government, reportedly as a bargaining chip to force Canada to release an executive from Huawei being held for extradition to the U.S. While Canada is not a party the U.S.-China trade dispute, Canadians are collateral damage on Trump's toxic, combative presidency.

It is important to note that these observations from the northern part of Turtle Island are not related to the divide between liberal and conservative ideologies or Republican and Democratic politics. These concerns are not about NAFTA, the trade tariffs Trump imposed on Canada, or the fact that Trump called our Prime Minister "very dishonest and meek". No, these concerns represent the very real concerns of Canadians and First Nations, who, like many Americans and Native American tribal governments, value the advances made in our societies in relation to Indigenous sovereignty and rights, civil rights, human rights and freedoms, and the push to address social injustices like racism, poverty, and homelessness. It is also safe to say that the recent United Nations Report on Climate Change has Indigenous nations all over Turtle Island deeply concerned about the health and well-being our lands, waters, and future generations if "leaders" like Trump remain in power.

Trump may be able to brag about the American economy and the low unemployment rates, but this does little to quell the violence which stems from white supremacy and racists emboldened by Trump's perceived alignment with these groups. His outright refusal to condemn Nazism and his claim there are good people within the white supremacist movement has made it even more difficult to keep the lid closed on Pandora's box of hatred. Under the guise of "making America great again" the worst segments of society have come forth in more public ways to spread their hatred against racialized peoples under the guise free speech and diversity of thought. And why should northern Turtle Island be concerned? Because white supremacy, hatred, and race-based violence is an infection that spreads when you give it oxygen. And given that Turtle Island is divided by an artificial border, there is little stop this rise in white supremacy from expanding its lethal infection north in Canada.

And it is spreading north. Steve Bannon, Trump's former strategist, whose far-right ideologies are praised by Neo-Nazis and the KKK, was invited to speak about populism at the Munk debate. However, while hatred is spreading, that doesn't mean it is new to Canada. One need only look at Canada's lethal genocidal policies against Indigenous peoples and its ongoing racism, violence and destruction of native lands to know that racism and white supremacy is alive and well here. It is the recent rise in populism, fueled by Trump, that has encouraged it to spread to new generations in Canada in more public ways. The reported anti-black and anti-Indigenous actions of Ontario Premier Doug Ford, and the hateful, anti-immigrant rants of politician Maxime Bernier are just the tip of the iceberg.

Formerly hidden or subversive hate groups in Canada and the U.S. have been given very powerful signals from exceptionally powerful men (usually right-wing, ultra-conservative) that the coast is clear to more actively spread hatred. So, Trump's impact on Canada presents a very real and present danger to Indigenous nations and racialized Canadians.

The question remains: are Americans (and Canadians) truly condemned to two more years of Trump or are there realistic alternatives? Early in his presidency, some political commentators offered their analyses on the chances of Trump being impeached. More recently, commentators and politicians alike have suggested the possibility of declaring him unfit under the 25th amendment. While some worry that this may cause a constitutional crisis, others like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren -- embroiled in her own controversy of white appropriation of Indigenous identity -- feels that the U.S. may already be in a constitutional crisis if Trump's cabinet feels he can't do the job.

What most political analysts do agree on is that there is a very remote chance that Trump will ever be removed from office. Could this be why there is reportedly a core group within the White House trying to protect country? Could this be why senior White House officials are taking huge personal risks to expose the potential danger within and protect the American people? While it is hard to know anyone's personal motivations, it would be incredible to think that someone is watching out for the people.

Some believe that a true patriot -- a real American -- is one who votes and that true loyalty to the American flag and constitution means standing by your President no matter what. Sure there is some buyer's remorse amongst some who voted for Trump, and some feelings of regret by those who didn't vote at all having assumed that there was no way Trump could be elected. But what about the collective fear and worry by Americans and Native Americans -- regardless of their voter status or their political leanings -- about the very real and dark turn of events since Trump's election? What of the confirmed Russian interference with the election, the risks of retaliation from other countries against Trump's aggressive tactics, the thousands of children traumatized when they were separated from their migrant families, destruction of native lands, murdered and missing Native American women, or the very obvious rise in racist, white supremacist banter?

How does American loyalty to the institution of the Presidency jive with their loyalty to equality, democracy, freedom of the press, human rights, the right to life and their own constitution?

If this is the difficult issue facing Americans right now, imagine how those working in the White House feel? Worse, imagine how Native Americans feel that this is all taking place on their sovereign territories? While it may be easy to condemn the unnamed officials who are trying to keep the White House stable despite the Trump circus, what real choice do they have if they are committed to "the people" -- which is supposed to be the real government anyway?

It may not follow the rules of democracy or the processes laid out in policies, but how long can good people use process, protocol or past practice as an excuse not to act? In his address to before the Canadian Parliament in 1961, America's 35th President John F Kennedy said; "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." I am sure many Americans are hoping that more good people come forward and take concrete actions to protect the U.S. and Canada both from the risks posed by Trump's presidency.  

In the meantime, my money is on "the people" -- the people who have risen up and taken a stand against this infection of hatred, those who shoulder the unfair burden of making sure it doesn't turn into a plague. Our sovereign Indigenous nations have something to say about the threat to public safety and national security in our territories. Our treaty partners have not only breached our treaties, but their self-interested, hateful actions pose real dangers to our peoples and our Canadian and American allies. The fight for our future is real. We better make 2019 the year of the revolution and Make America (and Canada) Native Again.

Dr. Pamela D. Palmater is a Mi'kmaw lawyer and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick. She teaches Indigenous law, politics and governance at Ryerson University and heads Ryerson's Centre for Indigenous Governance.

Image: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

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