It seemed – if only for a while – that Canada might find a way to deal rationally and practically with an irrational and impractical America.
We would strike a balance, we told ourselves, between our interests (trade, investment, jobs) and our values (tolerance, liberalism, diversity). We would. Well, it’s been 10 days, and we can say we tried.
But when Donald Trump imposed to ban citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, we saw the new reality. It promises a season of popular and official protest in Canada, the worst crisis in Canadian-American relations since the Vietnam War.
Since Trump’s election, Ottawa has tried prudently to adjust to the upheaval here. The Liberals have sought advice from Canadians who know Trump, including Brian Mulroney and Conrad Black, Trump’s great apologist. The back-channel diplomacy has even considered an appeal to Ivanka Trump whom, some hope, may be more progressive (on issues such as climate change) than her father.
When Trump’s emissary assured the cabinet in Calgary recently that Canada is not a target, we felt better. On energy, trade and investment, we might even reap the Trump Dividend.
But with every tumultuous day since the inauguration, it is clear that the Captain of Chaos means business. Putting “America First” represents an epochal reversal in U.S. foreign policy. The script is now nativist, protectionist and isolationist – ready, if necessary, to discard old alliances, old allies and old values.
The radicals and Jacobins, led by the rumpled Steve Bannon, are now running the show. If their executive orders are slapdash and illegal, they invite the courts to restrict them. If they remember the Holocaust without mentioning the Jews, they brazenly defend that omission. (The Prime Minister’s Office did the same in 2016, an honest mistake.)
Donald Trump’s threat to Canada is not only tearing up longstanding trade agreements. Or imposing punitive measures like “buy American” bills and a border tax.
This we can manage with the artful diplomacy and resourcefulness we have practised with our elephantine neighbour for 150 years. It has worked, and we’ve survived.
Where things will fall apart is on a host of issues challenging the principles of Canada’s liberal internationalism. The first of these is Trump’s promise to deny funding to organizations that counsel family planning. Or, his threat to deny financing to agencies of the United Nations.
It will get worse. Trump will try to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change. If he cannot, he will spend four years undermining it. Expect the same on the anti-nuclear agreement with Iran – unless he accepts the view that it is working.
With every act, he will outrage Canadians, a moderate, progressive people who are ready to join the global opposition. With every statement, he will champion a dark and unorthodox view of the world on migration, refugees, collective security, human rights and Russian expansionism. It will challenge our beliefs, and force us to take a stand.
Over time, he will alienate friends, including Angela Merkel of Germany, a pivotal relationship he is already wrecking.
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