This time it’s personal.
Donald Trump’s erratic and irresponsible decision to impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum products, as well as on those made in Mexico and the European Union, is an attack so hurtful as to be incomprehensible.
As a country, we have always assumed that our relationship with the United States was based on more than a collection of overlapping interests, and that an American president would not abandon common sense in his dealings with us, or deliberately hurt us. Disagreements, yes. But no shots fired.
We thought, too, that a shared history and geography could protect us from darker American instincts. And we believed that the alliances built up with the U.S. and Europe since 1945 – alliances that cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Canadians and Americans, and millions of others – would be treated with the respect they deserve. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption to make. After all, the stability and prosperity of all the nations involved depended on it.
And now Mr. Trump is throwing bombs from the White House, indifferent to anything other than his mindless and empty “America First” sloganeering and whatever else happens to be irking him when he opens his Twitter app.
He is an embarrassment, a bully and a danger. He is immune to reason or fact. As incomprehensible as his tariffs are, they cannot be said to have been unexpected – because nothing someone like him does ought to be considered outside the limits of the possible.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau knew this. He demonstrated that Canada understood Mr. Trump when he and Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland immediately announced well-thought-out retaliatory tariffs. The EU and Mexico had their weapons loaded and also fired back.
It was the only response, but it was done in sadness. All involved know a trade war centred on the U.S. is unsustainable, especially with an adversary who cares not a whit how much damage he inflicts on even his own citizens, and is already threatening an escalation of protectionist measures.
So what to do? Reasoning with the President has been proven futile. The Conservative Party fired a shot at Mr. Trudeau on Thursday, accusing him of failing to protect Canadians through his repeated efforts to woo Mr. Trump. But that’s laughable. Not even the President’s family and most unctuous sycophants are able to prevent him from acting rashly.
In a way, Mr. Trump made it clear this week just who you have to be in order to win his favour, when he pardoned a man named Dinesh D’Souza. Mr. D’Souza is a racist conspiracy theorist and right-wing polemicist who was convicted in 2014 of making illegal campaign donations, and who defends the President with the zeal of a low-level palace courtier desperate to kiss the king’s ring.
That’s who gets the President’s attention. If Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer thinks he can do a better job than Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and Mr. Trudeau at showing Mr. Trump the light of reason, he should be aware that his fealty to right-wing politics isn’t alone going to cut it, and that to succeed he will have to raise doubts about where Barack Obama was born, or have an opinion on the size of the prison cell in which Hillary Clinton should be locked up.
We leave that choice to Mr. Scheer and will let the adults do their work. Since reasoning with the President is off the table, the only options for Canada are to stand firm as long as possible in terms of retaliation, to continue to negotiate with state governors and Congress members whose economic interests align with ours, and to make hay of the fact that the U.S. is a less stable and safe place to invest when it is led by a President who changes the rules every week.
More than one person has also suggested isolating Mr. Trump. That has its appeal. By his actions this week, he has shown his country to be an adversary, not an ally, to Canada and the EU. A show of displeasure at the G7 summit this month, with Mr. Trump off to one side while those who play by the rules stand united together, would at least have the merit of displaying strength to a bully.
But isolation is not the answer, not when we depend on the U.S. for so much of our trade. Engagement and well-crafted diplomacy are the way forward. As Mr. Trudeau said, “We have to believe at some point common sense will prevail.”
Indeed. Canada must stand firm, adjust its diplomacy as necessary, and continue to insist on the power of reason to prevail over lunacy.