Recent polls indicate a tightening U.S. electoral race, with Republican nominee Donald Trump actually taking the lead in some surveys. However, analysis of the polls has been shallow; rarely do reporters or analysts talk about the methodology of the surveys, and few commentators point out that the next president will ultimately be chosen by the electoral college, where certain states have greater importance than others. In that analysis, Trump’s supposed gains are far less certain. Regardless, Trump’s apparent rise in popularity has a number of us in Canada deeply worried.
Whatever the polls may reveal, one thing has become obvious: the American electorate, partly in anger against the Washington political class, is dissatisfied with the emerging choices. To some pundits, this election (between Donald Trump and presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton) will be about whom the American voters dislike less. We are far from the 2008 contest where the voter seemed to be guided by his or her better angels. Choosing the first African-American to sit in the White House promoted a feel-good sentiment both on election night and on inauguration day. Right now, with insults flying and unfounded allegations dominating the general course of the campaign, this election looks more like a race to the bottom. While Hillary Clinton can dish it out with the best, Canadians generally attribute the current negative tone to Donald Trump and his intentional political incorrectness.
With Trump’s recent climb in the polls, Canadians are well advised to pay closer attention to what it would mean for us should the real estate mogul win the November 8, 2016 contest. To fully appreciate the stakes, we should examine more carefully Trump’s views on trade, security, pluralism, and how this will affect the relationship between our two countries.
To his detractors, Trump is seen to make hyperbolic statements with unsubstantiated assertions that fail the test of most fact-checkers. In reality, there have been some consistent policy approaches that seem central to his candidacy. He opposes existing free trade treaties and future attempts at trade liberalization; he questions existing security arrangements such as NATO and America’s military role in Europe and parts of Asia; and he trumpets and stokes xenophobic attitudes toward Muslims, Mexicans and undocumented immigrants that run counter to the values of a majority of Americans.
It is hard to imagine the Justin Trudeau-Obama bromance of late morphing into one between Canada’s “Justin” and “The Donald.” While the Canada-U.S. relationship is far more complex and deeper than individual leaders, the existing synergy won’t last long if the U.S. President takes the attitude that what will “Make America Great Again” is to place “America first” above all other considerations in our bilateral relationship.
Some of Trump’s arguments are worth noting. While NAFTA has been a general success in terms of jobs created, new markets on both sides of the border and a more integrated supply chain, it is clear that job displacements have left some in the working classes in both countries more vulnerable, as jobs move elsewhere and lackluster retraining programs have served an inadequate substitute. Some trade deals may need adjustments over time, but Trump’s remedy will lead to trade wars: tearing up long-term existing agreements (in the case of NAFTA, in effect for over 22 years) is counterproductive and can be, to use a favorite Trump term, disastrous.
The argument that NATO partners need to make a greater monetary and military contribution is not a Trump invention. Canada has heard this argument from previous U.S. administrations and, if we are to play a greater role with more influence on the world stage, more resources will have to be provided. But Trump is questioning NATO’s viability and seems to favor isolation, even at the expense of allowing potential nuclear proliferation in the Korean peninsula. This could be very dangerous.
Where I believe the greater concern lies is pluralism and tolerance. Canada’s recent acceptance of 25,000 Syrian migrants over a period of four months contrasts sharply with Trump’s promises to build a wall along the U.S.–Mexico border (and have the Mexicans pay for it), to issue an edict banning Muslims from entering the U.S., and to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, many of whom have U.S.-born children that have American citizenship. These promises are contrary to the very foundations of America and, I can assure you, the very opposite of the beliefs of most Canadians.
Next month President Obama will come to Ottawa to participate in a meeting of the “Three Amigos,” including Prime Minister Trudeau and President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico. These three comparatively young leaders—modern and progressive thinkers—will deal with outstanding issues between the countries and search for constructive ways to enhance cooperation and build mutual accommodation. Finding solutions to existing problems is never easy, but all will share a desire to work together as neighbors and friends. It’s unlikely the same could be said of a future Trump presidency.
The next president will either build on this or choose to isolate, antagonize, and divide the shared continent. The fact that this is even a possibility according to recent polls goes a long way in explaining the current concerns north of the border with the Trump candidacy.