For the better part of four years, CNN’s Jake Tapper offered Canadian viewers an island of sanity in the increasingly crazed waters of Trump-era American politics. That’s why it took so many of them by surprise to hear him talking in decidedly Trumpian tones about Canada’s vaccination efforts back in April, when the third wave was about to crest in places like Ontario and Alberta.
The reporting on Tapper’s April 11 show, The Lead, made no mention of the role provinces like Ontario and Alberta and their failure to implement public health measures were playing in Canada’s COVID-19 crisis. Instead, it reduced everything to vaccines and the fact that Canada hadn’t put as many doses into arms as America. Not surprisingly, this annoyed many Canadians, who felt Tapper was misrepresenting the nature of Canadian federalism and our performance in securing and delivering vaccines — not to mention the role that American procurement policies might be playing in it.
When pressed on why Canada’s performance was worthy of a story on CNN, Tapper said it was “because frankly the Canadian people deserve better.” When supporters of the Liberal government pushed back on the numbers his show presented, Tapper effectively channelled the administration he’d just spent four years criticizing. “Careful for acknowledging facts or Tru-Anon will attack you,” Tapper tweeted.
This was a gift for Canadian conservatives, and the Toronto Sun’s Brian Lilley wasted no time in unwrapping it. “I feel like Canada owes Jake Tapper a huge thank you for giving us all a new way to discuss Justin Trudeau and his followers,” he wrote. “No criticism of Trump was accepted by his most ardent supporters — in particular those who identified as Q-Anon — and so it is with Trudeau.”
This week, in a television appearance plugging his new book, Tapper told the CBC’s David Common that he’d “been hearing from relatives in Canada that the rollout was not going great, and that Trudeau and his government had had difficulty securing the vaccines.” His show’s story, he said, came from “a place of love.”
But like so many Americans, Tapper’s “love” of Canada reflects the combination of indifference and ignorance that has always characterized their cross-border relationship with us. To most Americans, Canada is a geopolitical amalgam of a distant cousin, a summer-camp romance, a friendly neighbourhood golden retriever. Tapper’s story showed we’re also a useful foil when it comes to making Americans feel better about their own shortcomings.
On COVID-19, those shortcomings have killed people on both sides of the border. In the United States, where vaccinations have slowed markedly in the face of both toxic partisanship and the far-right media bubble that sustains it, the COVID-19 death rate is still higher than Canada’s. Last week, the percentage of Canadians who have had their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine bumped ahead of the United States for the first time, and while they’re still ahead on the percentage of people who have been fully vaccinated, we’ll catch them on that front before long.
As to Canada’s difficulties in procuring as many vaccines as the United States in the first few months of 2021, that’s at least in part because the United States prevented us from getting them. As the Globe and Mail reported in February, “a Pfizer plant in Michigan was supposed to help supply vaccines to Canada. But an exclusivity deal with the U.S. government guarantees that all of its American-made doses will stay in the country until Washington’s orders are filled. Moderna has a similar arrangement regarding its plant in New Hampshire.”
Jake Tapper surely meant well in his coverage of Canada’s COVID-19 third wave, even if his tweets at the time didn’t always reflect it. Likewise, most of his American viewers share his amiable attitude and spirit of neighbourly love towards Canada. But that love exists only in the abstract, and only when America’s own interests or national pride aren’t at stake. When they are, Canada is of no consequence or concern to those otherwise friendly Americans.
Jake Tapper’s CNN story showed we’re also a useful foil when it comes to making Americans feel better about their own shortcomings, writes columnist @maxfawcett. #COVID #Vaccines
If there’s one thing that transcends partisanship and politics in the United States, it’s that America always comes first. For all of his many flaws, at least Donald Trump told the truth about that. So too, in his own way, did Jake Tapper.