Don’t worry, be happy. It’s not us, it’s Mexico, right?
That’s the basic message that the head of Donald Trump’s business advisory board, Stephen Schwarzman, presented to the Trudeau cabinet during their Calgary retreat,days before the president opened up his full-blown “Wall War” with Mexico and then followed up with his shattering immigration order banning immigration from some mostly Muslim countries. Set aside—if possible—the fact that the president wants to rip up NAFTA, hire only American workers, punish companies that move outside of the U.S. and generally kickstart an age of protectionism that would make his political antecedent Andrew Jackson blush, but apparently Canada will be the exception. “Canada is very well-positioned for any discussions with the United States,” Schwarzman said, looking so placid and reassuring. “I don’t think [Trudeau] should be enormously worried because Canada is held in very high regard.”
Well, not “enormously worried,” anyway. Should these words reassure the Trudeau government? Lay them over the political mantra that Canada’s ministers and ambassador have repeated since the election—that 35 U.S. states and nine million Americans depend on trade with Canada, that we don’t have a sizable trade deficit with the U.S. or that Canadian workers are not paid less than U.S. workers—and you really start to believe the Trump era will disrupt the whole world … except us. Exceptional Canada.
But as the man himself likes to say: Wrong.
Before you buy the Canadian case for the mutually beneficial status quo, it might be wise to take a closer look at folks like Schwarzman, the CEO of the massively powerful Blackstone Group. He has a net worth of almost US$11 billion. Forbes ranks him the 113th richest man on the planet. In a profile of him published in the Guardianback in 2007, when Schwarzman was known as the “King of Wall Street” and lived in a 35-room Manhattan apartment with 13 washrooms and 11 fireplaces, writer Andrew Clark quoted an interview of Schwarzman describing how he approaches a big negotiation. “I want war, not a series of skirmishes,” Schwarzman said. “I always think about what will kill off the other bidder.”
War. Kill off the other bidder. That’s how you become the King of Wall Street. That’s how you become the chief of the business advisory board for President Donald J. Trump. That’s how you approach a “big negotiation,” like, say, NAFTA. You are a predator atop the financial food chain. To believe that people like Schwarzman or Trump, or Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross (net worth US$2.5 billion) or Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (the former CEO of ExxonMobil whose net worth is a modest US$150 million), will leave Canada alone, that they will look for a better deal with everyone except their second-largest trading partner, is not just naïve—it’s like jumping into a pool filled with great white sharks because you’ve convinced yourself they’re vegetarians.
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