July 3, 2018, appears to this scribe as a Canadian married to a dual-citizen, (American-Canadian) sitting between July 1 and July 4, the two ‘national holidays’ that open the summer vacation so different from all the previous July 3's in this lifetime.
To be sure, there have been trade spats between the U.S. and Canada before; this one, however, seems., like everything else about this U.S. presidential term, to be driven by a personal animus. Most time in our shared history, policy differences have not been rooted in personality politics. Kennedy and Diefenbaker, back in the 1960’s had little regard for each other, the former considering the latter a trifle pedantic, aloof and rigid. (Doubtless, the latter considered the American president somewhat daunting, in his youth, Cicero-like rhetoric, and public adulation.) However, the public “justification” being deployed by the American administration, national security, is more than a little offensive, insulting and downright unjustifiable.
And then there is the latest report of some twelve letters from the Oval Office to Canada and her NATO partners, publicly scorning each for not paying their fair share towards the defence of NATO partners. While it is true that we have been laggard in reaching the 2.9% of GDP target advocated as long ago as Lester Pearson’s term as Prime Minister, public wrist-slapping, (as would characterize an obsessively controlling parent disciplining a six-year-old) does not past muster as reasonable “diplomacy”.
And as with most files, this president either conflates diplomacy and critical parenting, does not know the difference, or simply considers himself above such nuanced distinctions. Just as in his argument about tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum, (Canada is NOT a national security threat to the U.S.) so too, critical parenting is NOT diplomacy; and it will not generate a positive response from any of the targeted countries whose NATO ante trump wants enlarged.
Blurring the lines between the fact of North Korea’s continuing and perhaps expanded enrichment of her nuclear arsenal (as reported by U.S. intelligence officials) and trump’s trumpeting North Korea’s commitment to de-nuclearization, while on the surface, may be seen to be merely a different “perspective” on the same evidence, is, conversely, quite the opposite. The facts as uncovered by American officials simply defy the “make-up” the trump pastes over the truth.
Another distortion from the White House is the exaggerated yelling over a mere 2% of the trade with Canada, (supply management), an issue the Canadian government had already agreed to modify in the middle of the NAFTA negotiations. Tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on aluminum imports seems hardly like a “proportional” response.
It is, indeed, the completely disproportionate, disillusioned, distorted and extra-reality response the trump brings to every table where he sits (and all of it for the express purpose of gilding HIS lily) that so shatters the trust of all others at whatever table. So, on this July 3, 2018, Canadians read stories from legitimate news sources that our cell phones might actually be scrutinized by American border agents, in the unlikely case that we might have read something of the world’s criticism of the trump administration. (How would we possibly have access to world opinion without reading harsh, devastating and truthful criticism of this American administration?)
Conflating and generalizing about the quality of immigrants, asylum-seekers, refugees, colouring them all as potential “threats” to “law and order” is just another of the scripts being trumpeted by this occupant of the Oval Office, arrogantly, and unethically, and immorally and insecurely joining the fear-mongering of other right-wing wall-proponents. And this comes at a time when military conflict, global trade, global warming and exacerbated economic distress threaten poor and voiceless people on every continent. Rather than build walls, and thumb our nose and our compassion at these frightened individuals and families, we could be building creative coalitions to being to address what is surely going to be a wave of tsunamis of people “seeking higher ground” in both the literal and the metaphoric sense of that phrase.
Refusing to face the basic facts, and then distorting those facts into a thalidomide-distortion of those facts, in order to justify an unjustifiable personal agenda is not in the interest of the country he has been charged with leading, nor in the interest of the wider global community, whose support and collaboration all nations need now and into the foreseeable future to cope with the “monsters” already in the headlights.
American isolation, based on a distorted perception of the reality on the ground, will give way, inevitably, to the creeping incursion of both Russia and China into the cracks trump is generating with his sledge-hammer rhetoric, radioactive proposals and egomaniacal cult-building. Failing to respect and honour the institutions of democracy at home is a sure step to enhancing the replacement of fundamentally democratic governance abroad. Championing tyrants, dictators, military parades, life-long presidencies, one-sided and unbalanced foreign policy, the exaggerated emboldening of the U.S. military (at the draining expense of social programs like education, health care and poverty reduction) puts the president on his own gated island, and puts the rest of the world on edge.
Canadians too, on this July 3, are wondering what meaning and import our “friendly neighbour”, undefended border, open trade and reciprocal and respectful relationship with the behemoth to the south of the last century will become. And we are wondering in a spirit of anxiety, despair, and less hope and optimism than at any time since the second war.
We are sad; we are worried; and we are appalled. Yet, we are also more proud and confident than at any time in our history. The “old” Canada, in the stereotypical version held by millions of Americans, decent, quiet, meek, malleable, and somewhat immature and “pinko” (as Nixon described Trudeau, “that pinko Commie bastard”) is no longer appropriate. And trump is locked into his version of that stereotype…at his own and our peril.
Canada is mature, intelligent, clear-headed and somewhat better at debate and discussion than at making big decisions, preferring an evolutionary and moderate pace to change (with a few notable exceptions, like the FLQ, back in the 1970’s and 80’s).
We have a history of multiple protracted national investigative commissions whose recommendations mostly gather dust in the National Archives. And yet, somehow we manage to confront issues when the need is deemed significant, urgent and immediate. We are diffident in our public debate, honourable in our treatment of our political foes, while in private, we hold often contemptuous views of various leaders and policies.
As a middle-sized nation, (now boasting a population of some 37 million), locked between the Arctic and American elephants, we no longer get a cold when the U.S. sneezes, as was once the case. Nor do we consider hard power, the military and the penal system to be our primary adjudication processes, at home or around the world. And while we have a legacy of indecent treatment of our indigenous peoples, we have finally awakened to our responsibility and have begun to atone. Hockey, our national sport, (not lacrosse) demonstrates many of our national attributes, attitudes and values: discipline, persistence, a little “chippy” and highly energetic…
So, please do not take your northern neighbour for granted, as many of your more affluent citizens have done for decades. Smaller is not less than equal…and you are going to learn the full meaning of that soon if you have not already!