In 1775, delivering one of the greatest speeches in American history, Patrick Henry urged the Second Virginia Convention to prepare for the "clash of resounding arms" coming from the burgeoning Revolutionary War.
He told the assembly:
For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.
Out of Canada this week we can see "the whole truth...the worst." It is right there in front of us: The Canadian government has invoked the national Emergencies Act, which confers upon government ministers the power to freeze the bank accounts of people protesting against the government itself, to suspend their right to public assembly, to limit their movements, to seize property, and to compel workers to assist the government in breaking up protests.
In other words, the Canadian government currently possesses plenary power over every single resident of Canada.
The government will also require insurance companies to refuse to cover any vehicles used during blockade protests. Police will be working with banks to identify and punish protesters. Credit card companies will be required to report any protest activity to the government.
All of this is occurring because a relatively small but determined contingency of Canadian citizens did not want to be forced to take the COVID vaccine. For that, the Canadian government has imbued itself with what George Orwell called "omnipresent and omnipotent" powers: Canadian officials can essentially do whatever they want, with no restrictions, for whatever reason they deem.
It is time to start preparing for this eventuality in the United States. You might argue: "It would never happen here." Of course it could. What would stop it? The would-be tyrants currently in charge of our federal government are no less ruthless and no more inhibited than those in charge of Canada's; they are looking at Justin Trudeau right now with a mixture of admiration and envy. They want what he has, and if given the chance they will take it.
To be sure, our Constitution is meant to constrain this type of tyranny, but at present it can only do so modestly. A century of bad court decisions and the ongoing erosion of constitutional norms have rendered the Bill of Rights increasingly notional rather than actual. There would be little to stop a truly determined administration from seizing the kinds of powers now held by Trudeau.
Recall that periodically throughout 2020, the broad Democratic consensus was that President Donald Trump should issue a nationwide shutdown to fight COVID, suspend the First Amendment, and essentially become an American dictator for as long as the crisis lasted. This is what American progressives believe government should be able to do.
Do you think that sort of impulse is just a one-time sort of thing?
The COVID crisis of the past two years has accelerated what was already an arc toward authoritarianism in the West. The great powers of our part of the world have for several centuries enjoyed stable governments, individual rights, and restrained government power. Those blessings have been slowly denuded over the past several decades; the pandemic has seemingly stripped them even further, including here in the U.S.
What's happening in Canada, then, is not irrelevant to the United States. It is rather what Patrick Henry called "the clash of resounding arms," a thing happening right now and an obvious and inarguable warning for the rest of us. We should be prepared for the same thing to happen in the United States; we must not "shut our eyes against a painful truth," but rather recognize it, and provide for it.
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