In a pandemic world, wither Cascadia?

If mirth can be found in despair, a bit of it seeped through the cracks as Whatcom County soldiered through the early stages of the pandemic: “At least,” the local tongue-in-cheek wisdom went, “we can park at Trader Joe’s now.”

The reference was to border restrictions — barriers to entry slapped on international crossings once considered routine by residents of Northwest Washington and British Columbia. When the pandemic struck, both nations, in panic mode, slammed shut long-open doors with border-crossing barricades that have existed in various forms ever since. 

The premise of border shutdowns was public health, but the length and severity of restrictions was fueled by nationalism and nativism, border observers say. History is likely to view them as a knee-jerk reaction, the pulling up of the drawbridge to protect the locals from disease-ridden foreigners, who have been God knows where.

We have sadly been there, done that, before.

It’s an important takeaway from our recent estranged-children-of-a-common-mother experiment, said Laurie Trautman, director of the Border Policy Research Institute at Western Washington University. 

The unprecedented shutting of the border to most common folks — definition: those not driving a truck laden with commercial goods — might have had some yet-unproven health benefits, Trautman said. But the sentiment fueling them allowed them to linger longer for a simple reason: While broadly unpopular in border communities, they proved to be popular national politics.

“Americans and Canadians both really favored this nationalist sentiment,” Trautman observed. The impacts of course were not immediately felt in D.C. or Ottawa. “We’re the ones who felt it.”

The closures, which Trautman called a “9/11 moment” in border terms, struck a blow to the notion of the B.C.-Washington community even more dramatic than that 2001 shutdown and subsequent slow recovery in crossings, she said. They would previously have been considered “unthinkable” by border observers.