Andrew MacDougall is a London-based columnist, commentator and consultant. He was formerly director of communications to Stephen Harper.
A thin-skinned bully. An empty husk of projection. A dolt uninterested in making it past the first page of Trade for Dummies. There are plenty of rude things reasonable people can say about the tightly wound constellation of insult and insecurity that is Donald Trump.
Thankfully, Justin Trudeau avoided any nastiness in his response to the U.S. President, even though Trump had just dropped trou and deuced all over the global order the G7. Instead, the Prime Minister kept his cool and greased the meeting through to a semi-successful conclusion—albeit featuring the Miller Lite of communiqués—while noting in a press conference that Canadians are “polite” and “reasonable” people who “will not be pushed around” by the President’s tariffs on steel and aluminum.
As far as opening salvoes go, it was hardly Gavrilo Princip in the streets of Sarajevo with the pistol. It wasn’t even a fart in the President’s general direction. But, oh—the stink.
“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!”, Trump tweeted from Air Force One on his way to his rendezvous with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. For those keeping score at home, threatening auto tariffs across the Canada-U.S. border is Princip territory.
To make sure Trudeau fully understood he was under attack, Trump loosed advisors Larry Kudlow and Peter Navarro to further savage the Prime Minister. “(Trudeau’s press conference) was a betrayal,” huffed Kudlow from bended knees. Not to be outdone, Navarro declared “there’s a special place in hell” for Trudeau.
To which the rest of the world could only say: “quoi le f–k”? Getting pissed at Canada makes about as much sense as not getting pissed at Vladimir Putin. But that’s the point: none of this makes sense, because Donald Trump doesn’t make sense. Trying to make sense of Trump is to invite yourself to go insane.
Which makes blaming Trudeau for Trump’s insanity self-defeating, something the Prime Minister’s usual opponents in Canada have internalized quickly. There are no points to be scored on technique when the President decides he wants to challenge us to an all-logic-barred wrestling match. Survival is the first order concern.
So kudos to Andrew Scheer, Jason Kenney and Doug Ford for offering their support to Trudeau. Just because the Republicans have put party ahead of country—the congressional GOP’s silence on the spat is deafening—doesn’t mean Canada needs to import the trend.
READ MORE: How Canadians can boycott Donald Trump
Pace the right-wing Twitter commentariat, Trump didn’t lose his rag because of Trudeau’s focus on gender equality. He didn’t flip his convoluted lid because Trudeau said the bare minimum in his country’s defence on tariffs. Nor, for that matter, was it the climate-change text or a flashy pair of socks. Trump went ballistic because he’s a bully who only feels good about himself when he’s enacting his power on others. And right now, Canada looks to him like an easy target.
This isn’t to say there isn’t some room to improve the government’s response. In particular, the array of third-party voices in this debate need to be better coordinated. One only need watch Stephen Harper’s intervention on Fox News to see how a principled and measured right-wing voice could help tame elements of the right-wing cacophony currently encouraging Trump to cut off his nose to spite his face on trade.
There is also work to be done at home. Knocking down Canada’s internal barriers to trade can’t happen fast enough. A rethink of our cross-border tax competitiveness is due. And if supply management is the card we need to put on the table to give the President a “win” and allow him to direct his fire elsewhere, then it needs to be done, dairy cartel and their expensive products be damned.
If that sounds like capitulation, then go ahead and call me Chamberlain. The one thing Canada can’t afford is the end of NAFTA. It’s not about debating the facts on trade, which Trump will never listen to—it’s about redirecting the President’s fire, which can and must happen.
As much as is practicable, that redirection should happen offline. There isn’t any value to be added in continuing a public war of words. The less Trudeau and his cabinet say in public, the better. Trump’s continued fixation on Canada even though he’s about to sit down with a nuclear-armed dictator who poisons his political opponents abroad isn’t a good sign.
The best thing that could happen for Canada—and the world—is for this week’s Trump-Kim summit to bear fruit. It would be great for world peace, yes—but it would also give the President a masturbatory aide, one that would ease his tensions with the rest of the world.