Col­umn / Lisa Van Dusen Canada-U.S. Re­la­tions: Trumpol­ogy 201

Policy - - In This Issue - Col­umn / Lisa Van Dusen

Among the many ways in which Don­ald Trump de­vi­ates from pre­vi­ous norms— not just of pres­i­den­tial be­hav­ior but of po­lit­i­cal com­port­ment gen­er­ally— is in the opac­ity of his mo­ti­va­tion. Much of the time, the is­sue isn’t just with the man­ner in which he com­mu­ni­cates his de­ci­sions but with the un­fath­oma­bil­ity of their ra­tio­nales based on all con­ven­tional mod­els of po­lit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tion.

Part of this can be at­trib­uted to Trump’s doc­trine of un­pre­dictabil­ity, an ap­proach to gov­ern­ing whereby the desta­bi­liz­ing and dis­con­cert­ing pub­lic be­hav­ior of the leader of the free world is framed as a wily ruse adopted to fool the en­emy. Also known as the “mad­man the­ory”, it was im­mor­tal­ized by Richard Nixon, a man who, by most mea­sures of san­ity, wasn’t al­ways fak­ing.

For Canada, the bi­lat­eral mine­field of Trump’s per­sonal be­hav­iour and geopo­lit­i­cal dam­age tally might be more eas­ily nav­i­gated by an­swer­ing the ques­tion “Who’s he try­ing to kid?” In other words, if he’s try­ing to fool the en­emy, who, pre­cisely, is the en­emy?

Since the po­lit­i­cal and pol­icy jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for Trump’s more baf­fling de­ci­sions are rarely ob­vi­ous be­yond the fre­quently cited ex­pla­na­tion that he’s “ap­peal­ing to his base”—which, given the size and ex­otic com­po­si­tion of his base would only make sense in a world where he doesn’t have to rely on the ac­tual votes of ac­tual homo sapi­ens in what will pre­sum­ably be a Clin­ton-free elec­toral en­vi­ron­ment to get re-elected—it may help to con­sider who, to put it in Trumpian terms, have been the win­ners and losers of his pres­i­dency. The most ob­vi­ous loser of the past nine months has been, by any ob­jec­tive mea­sure, Amer­ica. In par­ti­san pol­i­tics, there are al­ways al­lowances to be made for the “One man’s health care sys­tem is an­other man’s night­mar­ish labyrinth of de­hu­man­iz­ing de­nials, ar­bi­trary ob­sta­cles and po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic out-of-pocket med­i­cal ex­penses” per­spec­tive fac­tor. At the same time, any pres­i­dent who sys­tem­at­i­cally de­grades the of­fice, uses his Twit­ter ac­count as a weapon of mass de­struc­tion and con­ducts for­eign pol­icy like, as Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver re­cently put it, “A scared monkey in a sub­ma­rine, ran­domly push­ing but­tons,” is, em­pir­i­cally speak­ing, BAD!

In­deed, Ira­nian For­eign Min­is­ter Javad Zarif told CBS’s Liz Palmer in an in­ter­view fol­low­ing Trump’s at­tack on the Iran nu­clear agree­ment that, after Trump’s se­rial with­drawals from mul­ti­ple mul­ti­lat­eral trade, en­vi­ron­men­tal and other com­mit­ments, “No­body else will trust any U.S. ad­min­is­tra­tion to en­gage in any longterm ne­go­ti­a­tion.”

Trump is the first pres­i­dent in U.S. his­tory whose words and ac­tions make it ter­ri­bly awk­ward to en­gage with the White House in any mean­ing­ful way be­cause, for geopo­lit­i­cal play­ers of good faith, it means po­ten­tially risk­ing not only your own coun­try’s best in­ter­ests but Amer­ica’s and the world’s.

On NAFTA, his be­hav­ior, in­clud­ing the re­peated pub­lic threats to liq­ui­date the 23-year-old con­ti­nen­tal trade deal, has essen­tially placed Canada in a po­si­tion of hav­ing to de­cide whether to ne­go­ti­ate with a trade ter­ror­ist. It is, to say the least, a diplo­matic and po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge. The major win­ners of Trump’s pres­i­dency so far have been the ag­glom­er­a­tion of po­lit­i­cal, geopo­lit­i­cal and other in­ter­ests who’ve found com­mon cause in at­tack­ing democ­racy. Their great­est vic­tory so far has been the dis­cred­it­ing of democ­racy by virtue of it be­ing the sys­tem that in­flicted Trump on the Amer­i­can peo­ple and the world.

More specif­i­cally, China, which is overtly seek­ing to re­place Amer­ica as a unipo­lar su­per­power in part to pre­empt any sparks of democ­racy that would threaten or­der, sta­bil­ity and the ex­ist­ing power struc­ture within its own borders. China has ben­e­fited from the thwart­ing of the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, the eco­nomic ad­van­tages pro­vided by Trump’s rewind­ing of Barack Obama’s clean en­ergy poli­cies and the re­volt­ing daily chaos be­ing gen­er­ated in a coun­try that had pre­sented an as­pi­ra­tional al­ter­na­tive to Bei­jing’s re­pres­sive and in­creas­ingly dig­i­tally weaponized re­la­tion­ship with its own peo­ple.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­flects the norms and po­lit­i­cal cul­ture of the me­dia-de­mo­niz­ing, au­to­cratic, oli­garchy-en­meshed Putin regime. Yet the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Trump’s chaos will be not just Rus­sia but any regime, in­sti­tu­tion or in­di­vid­ual who sees the ac­count­abil­ity, over­sight, open­ness and free­dom of democ­racy as an ex­is­ten­tial threat. Which re­ally makes the losers ev­ery­one else.

Lisa Van Dusen is As­so­ciate Ed­i­tor of Pol­icy Mag­a­zine and writer of our weekly digest, The Week in Pol­icy. She was a Wash­ing­ton bureau chief for Sun Me­dia, a writer for Peter Jen­nings at ABC News and an ed­i­tor at AP in New York and UPI in Wash­ing­ton. lvan­dusen@pol­i­cy­

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