Richard Albert is a professor of world constitutions and the director of constitutional studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a visiting professor this term at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa. Allan Rock is president emeritus and a professor of law at the University of Ottawa.
Appalling, but true: All signs point to former U.S. president Donald Trump running again for the White House in 2024. And the conditions are ripe for another victory.
He is holding massive campaign-style rallies, a recent poll gives him higher approval ratings than President Joe Biden, and a Trump senior aide put the odds of a repeat run at “somewhere between 99 and 100 per cent.”
At the state and local levels, Mr. Trump is placing his acolytes in key positions, making an unprecedented string of endorsements in pivotal races this year and next. Republican-controlled legislatures in battleground states are rigging electoral rules in their favour all the way up to the presidential ticket.
Things are not much better at the national level. Progressive and moderate Democrats are locked in a destructive battle for the soul of the party, while the Republican Party is united behind Mr. Trump: 78 per cent of the GOP want him to run again, and 66 per cent continue to believe that Mr. Biden was illegitimately elected. Republicans need to win only five seats in the 2022 congressional midterm elections to take back control of the House of Representatives – a cakewalk given that they can rewrite the boundaries of 187 congressional districts.
Given its likelihood, imagine what a second Trump presidency would look like. Emboldened and more experienced, he would renew the awful menace the world barely survived the first time. As before, he would imperil world peace, give cover to authoritarians everywhere and destabilize the rules-based international legal order.
In the United States, his attacks on America’s longstanding constitutional norms and principles eroded trust in public institutions, led to an attempted coup d’état on Jan. 6 and resulted in the country’s demotion from “full democracy” to a “flawed democracy” on the annual global ranking of democratic governance.
Canada should be worried, too. It was not ready for Mr. Trump’s victory in 2016 – no one was – and his presidency ended up being disastrous for Canadians.
He upended our peaceful and prosperous bilateral relationship by tearing up the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), imposing tariffs on our steel and aluminum and adopting an “America First” foreign policy that undermined our shared values. His assault on the global trading market made it harder for us to export our goods and to create jobs for Canadians. And he left a legacy of hate that gave licence to bigots, drove up the incidence of hate crimes and infected our own politics with a new generation of far-right supporters here at home.
A second Trump term would make Canada more vulnerable than ever before. But there are steps we can take now to minimize the damage to ourselves and the world if he is re-elected.
First, we must buttress our trade access to the United States. That means strengthening our relationships with governors, senators and mayors in states with substantial trade relations with Canada, making the case that any future restrictions will not only harm us but their own people and products. Canada successfully deployed this strategy with the Trump administration when the president put NAFTA in his crosshairs.
Second, we must prioritize diplomacy with key allies to develop a co-ordinated and mutually reinforcing strategy to defend our multilateral commitments to environmental protection and sustainability, disarmament and non-proliferation and the integrity of international financial institutions. Canada should dispatch senior ministers to Europe and across Africa, Asia and the Americas to speak discreetly but bluntly with allies and create a united front when our shared commitments come under threat. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau should make the same case to his counterparts at global summits around the world, including meetings of the Group of Seven, the Group of 20, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie and APEC.
Third, Canada can advance both our own interests and the world’s by fashioning a collective response to the coming attack on democracy. This could take many forms, but perhaps the easiest way forward is to capitalize on the upcoming Summit of Democracies, recently announced by Mr. Biden. The President plans to convene the summit in December, then hold a second, more elaborate meeting in 2022. Canada could propose to create a new, innovative, flexible and permanent coalition of democracies that would go beyond occasional meetings.
The world’s democracies need a new forum because the ones that exist now are not structured to meet the unprecedented threat that Trump redux would present. Neither the United Nations nor its predecessor, the League of Nations, was created to protect democracy. The UN includes both democratic and undemocratic countries as equal partners. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is proudly committed to promoting democratic values, but it is oriented primarily toward mutual military defence, and its influence is limited by its narrow regional scope in Europe and North America. The National Endowment for Democracy, for its part, gives grants to non-governmental organizations fighting for democracy, but it is not itself engaged in leading the battle to defeat authoritarianism.
This new global coalition could play a unique role in promoting and protecting democracy. Unlike the UN, the coalition should not admit clearly undemocratic states. Unlike NATO, it should span the entire world. And unlike the NED, it should take decisive action to unite both allies and initiatives to reverse the tide of authoritarianism rising in the world.
Admission to this coalition would require signatories to endorse a declaration of democratic values and pledge to stand together against any threat to democracy. Members would work together to pursue objectives closely related to democratic governance, including defending human rights and the dignity of all persons, resisting autocrats, countering misinformation and disinformation, advancing the rule of law, supporting democratic movements and strengthening multilateral organizations committed to shared values.
Members would also have an eye beyond their own borders, offering incentives to non-democratic countries, provinces, states and cities to pursue democratizing objectives. Incentives could include foreign aid and assistance, favourable trade and development opportunities and conditional membership within what would eventually become a powerful coalition devoted to the public good. The overarching goal would be to create a world that rejects authoritarianism, thwarts its ability to grow and replicate and denies it air to breathe.
On a more practical level, the coalition could support and share research into best practices in democratic governance, including strategies to counter threats to free and fair elections and policy innovations to confront growing economic inequality, among other challenges.
These are only broad strokes for the coalition. Defenders of democracy around the world might differ on its details, but no one can doubt that democratic decline is an urgent problem for us all.
If Mr. Trump wins in 2024, we will be better prepared than we were in 2016 by laying the foundation now. And if he does not, we will still have advanced our own national interests while promoting and protecting the global values of democracy.
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