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opinion

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Landers Center Arena, Oct. 2, 2018, in Southaven, Miss.Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

Bruce Heyman, who was American ambassador to Canada during Barack Obama’s second term, probably said it best.

“[U.S. President Donald] Trump’s attacks against America’s closest ally will cause lingering damage to the relationship,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “It has been shocking & disappointing & upsetting. I just don’t think it gets wiped away and resolved with an agreement in principle on the trade agreement.” So true.

There has always been a streak of anti-Americanism running through Canada’s political culture, dating back to the Loyalists, who fled north after the American Revolution. But the revulsion so many Canadians feel toward the Trump administration is something quite different. This President slapped steel and aluminum tariffs on Canada for reasons of “national security.”

The other half of the NORAD air-defence pact is a threat to national security?

This President openly insulted Canada’s Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister. Worst of all, this President threatened to impose tariffs on Canadian automobile exports, fully aware, as he said himself, that those tariffs would be the “ruination” of the Canadian economy. The concessions Canada made in the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement to ward off those tariffs is treaty-by-extortion, pure and simple.

Earlier this week, the Pew Research Center in Washington released a poll showing that only 39 per cent of Canadians view the United States favourably – the lowest level since the organization began measuring in 2002. Only one Canadian in four has a positive impression of Mr. Trump. (To be honest, I was surprised the number was that high.)

Canadians are even more bitter toward the United States than are other countries. A median 50 per cent of respondents in the 25 countries polled, from Brazil to Germany to Indonesia, still view the United States favourably, compared with 64 per cent who felt that way at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. That even one in two support the United States is a testament to that country’s enormous reserves of soft power.

The political scientist Joseph Nye coined the term, which refers to a country’s ability to influence others because of favourable attitudes toward its culture, political values and policies.

U.S. soft power contributed every bit as much as its hard power in winning the Cold War. The Berlin Wall fell because the people trapped behind it were desperate to enjoy the freedom and prosperity of people in the West.

But "the evidence is clear. Donald Trump’s presidency has eroded America’s soft power,” Prof. Nye wrote earlier this year. In 2016, before Mr. Trump became President, the United States came first in an annual ranking of soft power conducted by Portland Communications and the USC Center on Public Diplomacy. By this year, the United States had dropped to fourth, behind Britain, France and Germany. (Canada ranked sixth.)

“Fortunately, America is more than either Trump or the government,” Prof. Nye added. For example, the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, whose kneel of protest against racism cost him his job as an NFL quarterback, repairs a bit of the damage this President inflicts on the United States' reputation every time he opens his mouth.

But Nike ads can only go so far. When, to cite the latest miserable example, Mr. Trump openly mocked Christine Blasey Ford on Tuesday night over her testimony on the alleged sexual assault by U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, people of good will around the world just shook their heads.

The chickens could come home to roost. Mr. Trump seeks to limit Chinese exports and Chinese theft of intellectual property. One way to do that would be to sign on to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to counterbalance Chinese influence. Another would be to develop a common front with the European Union. A third would be to work with other major actors, such as India.

But Mr. Trump pulled the United States out of the TPP, he repeatedly attacks the European Union – “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade” – and on Monday, he threatened a trade war with India.

As for Canada and Mexico, under a different president the three countries of North America could work together to contain China where necessary, and co-operate with it where possible.

But the Trump administration is going to have to go it alone on China. It no longer has any friends. And that includes Canada.