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jeffrey simpson

General Electric has just announced that it will shift a state-of-the-art gas engine plant from Wisconsin to Welland, Ont.

Wait until Donald Trump gets wind of this news. We can only imagine his reaction.

"I like Canadians. I really do. I make money in Canada. Lots of it. But Canadians rob us blind. They sneak into Hollywood and take our jobs. They crawl around New York City, my town, making out like Americans. I can spot them a mile away. They smile a lot but they cheat. They manipulate their dollar to keep it low. When I'm president, they are going to stop currency cheating. Count on it," he might say.

"Regional grants for businesses. I don't believe in subsidies. I'm a free-enterprise guy. They subsidize everything up there. I'm for a fair fight but not against cheaters. Leaky border against terrorism. Snivellers on defence. Soft on crime, soft on terror.

"And that cutesy Prime Minister of theirs, Obama's buddy. Ugh. Wait till I get him face to face. He won't be so cutesy after that meeting. When a wimp meets a man, you know who's going to come out on top. When I'm president, no more Mr. Nice Guy with the smiling cheaters, okay?"

You laugh. Sure, we all do when the Donald speaks. And we wonder, as Americans' neighbours, what is going on down there?

Donald Trump is manifestly ill-equipped by background, temperament and intellect to be president. And yet, here he is as the candidate of the party of Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan (and many lesser lights, it should be said), having proved wrong every political commentator from Seattle to Miami and having mocked almost every Republican of note. His astonishing, scary story, yet to be fully explained, is not so much about the Donald but about his country, and the story is not a happy one.

The Donald, of course, has attacked Mexicans and Muslims and NATO allies and China, to say nothing of so many people and groups in his own country. Canadians might therefore be grateful that he has not yet singled out this country for scorn and warnings. But who is to say that such won't happen?

And even if targeting of Canada has not yet happened, what about the forces he has unleashed or encouraged in his own country – nativism, xenophobia, aggressive nationalism, hostility to outsiders, a sense of an American Arcadia stolen by foreigners with the complicity of the country's own leaders.

Canadians might take false solace in the Donald's insistence on building a wall along the border with Mexico and his assertions that Mexicans are taking American jobs.

Because even if he is defeated in the November election, he has made more legitimate in U.S. discourse the bashing of Mexicans, Mexican-Americans and the North American free-trade agreement (of which Canada is part), thereby showing U.S. politicians of all stripes the political profitability of beating up on Mexicans and Mexico and, by extension, further Northern American integration, which in certain instances is manifestly in Canada's economic interests.

The Donald is angry (rightly so, it should be said) that many U.S. allies spend so little on defence and get a free ride on American efforts. Wait until someone slips him the list of NATO countries' defence spending, with Canada almost at the bottom.

Wait until that same aide shows him the U.S. trade deficit, which is huge with China all right, but which is also large with Canada. In fact, Canada usually runs a big trade surplus with the United States, but a big deficit with everywhere else.

When a country is as dependent on a single market as Canada is on the United States, and a fiery protectionist arrives in the White House, having stirred up sentiments that his country has been taken to the cleaners by others for a long time, who knows where that might lead.

The nightmare of Donald Trump actually becoming president might be just that. His ascendancy would be as a horrible dream, only traces of which are remembered in the morning. Perhaps we should all calm down and enjoy the political show down there, treating it, as he does, like reality television on a bigger stage.

But what if?

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