In 2022, Canada and its Western allies will struggle to contain three grave threats: from China, from Russia and from Donald Trump. Let’s take them in order.
The Liberal government’s decision Wednesday to join the U.S.-led diplomatic boycott of the Olympics in Beijing came as no surprise; most democracies are expected to be part of the protest against China’s human-rights abuses in the Xinjiang region and in Hong Kong. Ottawa is also likely to announce formally what has already occurred in reality: The Chinese telecom Huawei will not be part of the rollout of Canada’s 5G network.
The diplomatic boycott and other Western actions will further anger the Communist regime, which will almost certainly respond by ratcheting up pressure on Taiwan. A miscalculation on either side could turn the emerging cold war between China and the West into something hot in 2022.
On Ukraine’s border, the Russian military buildup is expected to reach 175,000 troops. President Vladimir Putin insists he has no plans to invade; Western intelligence services say an invasion is possible in the new year.
President Joe Biden said Wednesday that American military intervention “is not in the cards right now,” which is a good thing. American and Russian troops confronting each other in Ukraine could lead to a third world war.
But the U.S. will impose economic sanctions and will ask its allies to do likewise. Canada will go along. Russia will certainly respond. One question in 2022 may be whether Russia or China wins the prize for being most estranged from the West.
Both countries are acting as though they are on the ascendant and the West is in decline. They may be right, because of what is happening in the United States.
The 2022 midterm elections could produce Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, signalling the end of the Biden administration’s domestic agenda. The good news for Democrats is that much of that agenda is already in place. They were able to push both a COVID-19 relief bill and a large infrastructure bill through Congress. The US$1.7-trillion package of social measures is still in the Senate, but may yet get signed this year.
Incumbent administrations usually do poorly in midterm elections, and Mr. Biden is an unpopular president right now, according to the polls. It would be surprising if the Republicans did not do well.
But though the Biden administration has been no friend to Canada – axing the Keystone Pipeline, showing ambivalence or indifference to Michigan’s threat to close Line 5, and proposing Buy American policies that could seriously damage Canada’s automotive sector – the Republicans pose a much greater danger, because the party appears to be uniting around Donald Trump.
Mr. Trump’s supporters, about a third of the electorate, wrongly believe the last election was stolen from him. He, in turn, appears ready to do just about anything to win the next one, even it means corrupting the vote.
The erosion of democratic norms in the United States at the federal level involves a Republican Party leadership that is either cowed by Mr. Trump or that embraces him, and an increasingly politicized and discredited Supreme Court. At the state level, it includes rampant gerrymandering by Republicans in key swing states and non-partisan election officials being replaced by Trump loyalists.
The midterms will reveal how united the Republican Party is behind Mr. Trump and how much of the electorate is united behind the Republican Party.
Thomas Homer-Dixon, who studies issues of climate and global security at Royal Roads University, believes the estrangement between Republicans and Democrats has become so severe that the two sides may not be able to continue to live together peacefully in the same country, no matter who wins the 2024 presidential election.
The last time the United States was this divided, in the late 1960s over the Vietnam War and race relations, upwards of 40,000 Americans fled to Canada to avoid the draft. “If the Republicans prevail, will we start seeing Trump dodgers coming to Canada?” Prof. Homer-Dixon wonders. “Would they ask for refugee status? Would we grant it?”
But that’s down the road. Just getting through 2022 will be enough of a challenge as it is.
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