Canada never had chance against faithless Trump
WASHINGTON — It had to come to this. Given the man and his methods, is it any surprise?
We hoped otherwise, that with goodwill, generosity and forbearance — as well as commerce, history and geography — we could come to an understanding with Donald J. Trump.
We tolerated his fears and his facts. We ignored his assault on the liberal international order: his resentment of NATO, his withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Iranian nuclear deal. We abstained at the United Nations when he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, much as we opposed it.
We winced when he lied about his trade surplus with us. We stayed at the table when he made demands on NAFTA that no self-respecting nation could accept.
We recruited Brian Mulroney to seduce him. We established a war room in Ottawa to map strategy. We created a women’s business forum to flatter Ivanka Trump and invited her to attend Come From Away on Broadway.
We sent cabinet ministers to court governors. We imposed a rigid discipline across government: no tweets, no jibes. No one called this president “a moron,” as Jean Chrétien’s official did George W. Bush; we left that self-evident truth to Rex Tillerson.
For 500 days, this is how Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed President Trump. And after the world’s greatest charm offensive since the Khmer Rouge flirted with democracy, this was our reward: a Twitter tantrum from Air Force One.
To Trump, “Justin” is now dishonest, weak, crafty and treacherous. And Canada — the Mister Rogers of nations — is a “backstabber” and “double-crosser,” consigned to hell.
All this heavy artillery trained on little ol’ Canada?
Now Trump threatens more tariffs. Relations have not been this bad since a livid Lyndon Johnson grabbed Lester Pearson by the lapels in 1965 and hissed, “You peed on my carpet!” It takes talent to “lose” Canada, but Trump may just do it.
For Canada, this may be a watershed, inviting us to begin to diversify our trade more strategically and pivot to Europe and Asia (which we have contemplated for a generation). It may be the moment we say — with respect, of course — that enough’s enough. Three things are striking here. The first is the solidarity across politics. When Jason Kenney, John Baird and Doug Ford are “standing shoulder to shoulder” with you, you’re doing something right.
The truth is that economic nationalism sells and so does standing up to the Americans. If nothing else, we’ll defend our dignity in the face of a president who is fonder of Kim Jong-un than of Trudeau.
The second is that Trump has handed Trudeau next year’s election. The prime minister now has a cause and a constituency casting him as Captain Canada against the Americans, much as his father was against the separatists.
The third is our options are limited. We can impose measured sanctions, dollar for dollar, and hope Trump will not retaliate further. If he does, he will send our economy into recession.
One thing we know: Negotiating rationally with a studied ignoramus is impossible. More than erratic or mercurial, he is simply faithless. He believes in nothing and no one in love, friendship, business or politics.
Trump sees the world only his way. He traffics in falsehood, humiliation and intimidation. Against all that, we never had a chance. Andrew Cohen is a journalist, professor and author.