A lesson for Canadians in Trump's failure - Macleans.ca

A lesson for Canadians in Trump’s failure

Evan Solomon: Political progress means trade-offs. Trump doesn’t get it, and Canadian politicians risk making the same mistake.

Vice President Mike Pence laughs as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a baseball bat as they attend a Made in America product showcase event at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria - RTX3BU9K

Vice President Mike Pence laughs as U.S. President Donald Trump holds a baseball bat as they attend a Made in America product showcase event at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria – RTX3BU9K

It was only in political theatres for 11 days, but “The Mooch,” an R-rated comedy starring the preening, inept Wall Street cockalorum Anthony Scaramucci as the White House communication director was pure box-office gold. As a follow-up to Sean Spicer, the original gabbler who was equally maladroit but somehow more likable—Spicey at least had the decency to look uncomfortable while arguing that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons—The Mooch was one of those rare events where the sequel was superior to the original.

Politics as theatre has never been better. Politics as politics—an act of governance and of social policy—has never been worse.

This was on neon display during the collapse of Trump’s great political promise: the repeal and replacement of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act. Even with the morass of the Russian investigation and his Boy Scout bloviating, Trump might have salvaged his diminishing Republican bona fides if he had done the one thing that has obsessed his party for so many years. He didn’t. A Republican president with a Republican House and Senate and still the great dealmaker couldn’t make a healthcare deal. Mar-a-Lago, we have a problem.

Why should Canadians care about this failure so much? America’s domestic politics is its business, not ours. Still, how politics is practiced in general and how expectations around social change are managed matters here too. With the shift in the political landscape in B.C., the uniting of the right in Alberta and the NDP leadership race snapping into focus, Canada is facing big political questions. Consequential natural resource projects like pipelines and LNG plants in the West and policies like a national price on carbon are suddenly very much in peril, and in some cases, like the Petronas cancellation of the $11.4-billion LNG plant near Prince Rupert, gone altogether. With that will go faith in political leadership and a rise in cynicism. But it doesn’t have to be like that.

Part of the issue has to do with understanding how political progress actually works. To a successful business person like Trump, progress is measured as the crow flies, finding the shortest distance between two points and getting there fast. That’s what the promise to “fix” Washington is all about. A political idealist of the left or right often has the same view. There can be no compromise. No side track.

The problem is, politics in a democracy doesn’t work like that. Political progress moves like a crab, not a crow. It appears inefficient, swerving right then left in an ungainly fashion, but ever so slowly, going forward. Progress means consultation, trade-offs, often making deep compromises to get things done. It is, to use the Trump phrase, the art of the deal.

Ironically, Trump has never understood this fundamental political dynamic. That’s why it was no surprise that after the health care debacle, he didn’t just avoid personal responsibility and turn on his fellow Republicans—that was predictable—he turned on the system itself. “Republican Senate must get rid of 60 vote NOW! It is killing R party, allows 8 Dems to control country,” he tweeted, citing the Senate rule that requires 60 votes to pass most major legislation.

To be fair, this threshold is a long standing dispute, but when a politician wants to quickly remake or exploit the system to expedite their political ends rather than learn to work with their opponents—like Stephen Harper’s use of prorogation in 2008 or the risible sham that was the Trudeau promise of election reform—it’s a democratic warning light. The rules protect the public from abuses of political leadership and guarantee that the opposition is more than just a symbolic position.

As the NDP chooses its own political leader, its fundamental attack on Justin Trudeau is that he is phoney progressive, at once championing action on climate change while green-lighting pipelines. Fair enough, but Trudeau’s plan has been that classic crab walk, getting Alberta to buy into his national carbon price in return for a pipeline. The NDP is struggling to maintain ideological purity federally while provincially, its governments in Alberta and B.C. are learning about the compromises of governance.

All opposition parties campaign like crows and govern like crabs. If it’s not inspiring, at least it’s democratic. The federal NDP under Jack Layton understood that, especially when he worked with Paul Martin to pass the budget in 2005. The current NDP leadership candidates have shown no signs they would do the same.

In 2010, the Brookings Institute’s Paul Light published a book called Government’s Greatest Achievements: From Civil Rights to Homeland Security, which examined 50 years of U.S. government legislation, from 1944 to 1999. As he wrote when he first published his survey in 2000, “Almost by definition the government’s greatest endeavours reflect a stunning level of bipartisan commitment, whether reflected in the minimum wage or the ongoing effort to contain communism. Great endeavours appear to require equally great consensus.”

That looks like an anachronism in present-day Trumpland, but here in Canada, where consequential debates about natural resources and the environment, Indigenous rights, NAFTA and democratic reform are ongoing, the circuitous route towards progress is still the only way to move.


A lesson for Canadians in Trump’s failure

  1. Why is it always “Donald Trumps failure”? He has not failed; in many aspects he has been very successful and has kept his campaign promises. It is a US decision to vote him is as President not a Canadian one. He has his faults, but he is not a globalist and does have skills. He is not a member of the Washington club and has new ways of doing things. Change is not failure, it is hard and contagious, Ever tried tidying a messy room? Looks like more of a mess to start with, because you have to unearth all that needs to be discarded. Trump has just started to move the piles to see what is underneath them it will take time to see how things pan out.
    Trudeau is a part time drama teacher and a trust fund baby. He is a total disaster as a PM. He is a Muslim ( having said their initiation pray out loud on camera). He hates all of us who live in Canada, he is a communist ( Fidel Castro’s son) who is more interested in curbing free speech and smoking pot than running the country. He spends tax money like water on himself and family. Canadians should learn from their failure at voting a Liberal into office.

    • Anne,

      Your comments are spot on. There is bound to be problems with a government organization that had been run so poorly for some many years. Further, I’m troubled by the complete lack of balanced journalism that is being displayed by the so called main stream media; There is a reason why so many people are turning away from the main stream media and sourcing out alternate media (Canadian viewership is not a socialist monolith).

  2. Because Hillary was so successful.

  3. Evan Solomon- You need to take at least one step back and grasp that you view Trump’s so-called failures from your relatively statist viewpoint. Part of this so-called failure narrative is wholly manufactured. Some of that comes from a media that has decided to morph from “the opposition” (bearing in mind that the bulk of America’s media has long acted as the propaganda wing of the Democratic Party) to “the resistance.” Even if a goodly amount of the criticisms of Trump are well-founded, much of America’s- and seemingly all of Canada’s- media has abandoned all efforts at being an independent fifth estate, to the great and profound detriment of the American people and the American experiment. This will not end well for any of us.
    This singular focus on the so-called failures of the Trump administration ignores real victories in the ongoing battle between the American people and Washington. Congress has appointed a special prosecutor to look into various illegalities of the Clinton/Obama cabal, such as the illegal unmasking of Americans during intelligence surveillance, various actions of AG Loretta Lynch, and further explorations of SOS Clinton’s pay-for-access schemes and her still growing illegal email server scandal.
    The Trump admin has also widened investigations of illegalities at the EPA and IRS, including the possibilities that crimes of these agencies against the American people were sanctioned by the Obama White House. Investigations into illegalities and improprieties, exposed by Wikileaks, of the DNC have brought other criminalities and breaches of national security to light. Again, these would have been buried by a Clinton White House.
    Not only has the fight against excessively burdensome (and often mind-bogglingly mindless) regulations is bearing fruit, with the repeal of a steady 4-5 federal regulations against the American people occurring per DAY, but the tsunami of illegal immigrants across America’s southern border has slowed to a trickle.
    There has to be some balance here, Solomon. It’s bad enough that most of the Canadian media are hard core NDP’ers when young, and simply morph into soft-left Liberals as they age. Most, including you, lack enough self-awareness to grasp that you have deep-left biases and fail to account for it. We Canadians lose because of it. But, this mass anti-Trump hysteria that has the Canadian media setting its hair ablaze is sickening and sad.

    • He doesn’t have deep left bias. He just realizes like most people that Trump is a misogynistic, lying, thin-skinned narcissist who won’t even pay people for the work he hired them for. Makes fun of women with small breasts, makes fun of the disabled, makes fun of women who he doesn’t think are attractive.
      And now he has plans to leave the planet in a worse mess than it already is.

  4. Despite the previous comments, I will boldly state that Evan has it exactly right. and the comments about Trudeau prove it. In the 3 western most provinces you have three distinct governments pulling in different directions. It is Trudeau’s job to try and satisfy them all. Trump says it is my way or nothing, and he is getting nothing. Politics is satisfying no one, but getting things done.