THE MAS­TER SALES­MAN

Let’s rise above pro­tec­tion­ism: Simons

Edmonton Journal - - FRONT PAGE - PAULA SIMONS Com­men­tary psi­mons@post­media.com twit­ter.com/Pau­lat­ics www. face­book.com/EJPaulaSi­mons Sub­scribe to our pro­vin­cial af­fairs pod­cast, The Press Gallery, on iTunes or on Google Play

Once, they loved us.

On Feb. 28, Gallup re­leased a poll show­ing Canada was the coun­try viewed most favourably by Amer­i­cans. Four months ago, Gallup found 94 per cent of Amer­i­cans had a pos­i­tive view of Canada. Only six per cent viewed North Korea favourably. That was then.

On Wed­nes­day, an­other Amer­i­can polling com­pany, Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling, re­leased new num­bers, track­ing Amer­i­can pub­lic opin­ion on a wide range of is­sues. The polling was done on Satur­day and Sun­day, as Don­ald Trump and his se­nior ad­vis­ers were stag­ing their post- G7 tantrums and con­sign­ing Justin Trudeau to a su­per-spe­cial place in Hell.

It would be nice to think that Trump’s Trudeau-taunt­ing Twit­ter snit wouldn’t be able to shake Amer­ica’s faith in Cana­di­ans. But it would ap­pear that where their pres­i­dent leads, many Amer­i­cans du­ti­fully fol­low.

This new poll found just 66 per cent of Amer­i­cans have a favourable view of Canada. Among those who voted for Trump, only 54 per cent have a pos­i­tive view of this coun­try.

It could be worse. When asked if they thought Amer­ica should seek to pun­ish Canada for its role in the War of 1812, only eight per cent of Trump vot­ers ac­tu­ally thought the U.S. gov­ern­ment should re­tal­i­ate for that whole burn­ing-down-the-White-House busi­ness. An­other 17 per cent just weren’t sure.

Jim Williams, a polling an­a­lyst with Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling, said they added the ques­tions about Canada to the poll just be­fore the G7 sum­mit be­gan. They hadn’t ex­pected the poll to be as timely as it was.

But Williams said this kind of Trump Ef­fect is noth­ing new.

“Be­fore 2016, when we did polls, Repub­li­can vot­ers did not like Vladimir Putin. They thought he was a despot. Then Trump was elected, and all of a sud­den, Repub­li­cans in Amer­ica now like Putin.”

It’s not en­tirely fair to com­pare the Gallup num­bers from Fe­bru­ary with the Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling num­bers now. Two dif­fer­ent polling com­pa­nies, two dif­fer­ent method­olo­gies.

But last June, Pub­lic Pol­icy Polling did ask a poll ques­tion about prom­i­nent na­tional lead­ers, which found that, a year ago, Trudeau was more pop­u­lar with Amer­i­can vot­ers than was Trump, their own pres­i­dent.

We could just laugh this off. Af­ter all, the same poll that showed Amer­i­cans sour­ing on Canada also asked peo­ple how they’d re­act if Trump shot for­mer FBI direc­tor James Comey. (The an­swer? Only 63 per cent of Repub­li­cans thought the pres­i­dent should be pros­e­cuted for shoot­ing a po­lit­i­cal en­emy.)

But there is some­thing deeply un­nerv­ing in Trump’s ge­nius for ma­nip­u­lat­ing pub­lic opin­ion. He’s the mas­ter sales­man. He’s truth-proof.

He tells Amer­i­cans the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada. He tells them a trade deficit is a ter­ri­ble thing. He tells them Trudeau stabbed him in the back. Those state­ments are man­i­festly false. No mat­ter. Trump and his staffers sim­ply re­peat them over and over, aided and abet­ted by sim­plis­tic head­line news re­port­ing that am­pli­fies their as­ser­tions with­out con­text. Hey presto! Peo­ple are con­vinced.

Trump meets with Kim Jong Un, praises him as a boy ge­nius with a great per­son­al­ity who loves his peo­ple. Hey presto! Trump’s fol­low­ers be­lieve a mur­der­ous dem­a­gogue is a dear, great leader.

Or­well wrote about a Min­istry of Truth, a sin­is­ter agency to brain­wash peo­ple. But Trump doesn’t even need the kind of co­er­cive state pro­pa­ganda that Kim uses to ma­nip­u­late his peo­ple. He just does his Jedi mind trick, casts his Con­fun­dus charm like a Harry Pot­ter char­ac­ter, and sud­denly, mil­lions ac­cept that up is down, that hot is cold, that Canada is a threat to Amer­ica and North Korea is not.

Canada’s lead­ers, across the po­lit­i­cal spec­trum, have done an ex­em­plary job of pre­sent­ing a co­her­ent united front. Sure, my own Twit­ter feed is clogged with Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives who hate Trudeau and love Trump so much that they’re now fawn­ing over Kim. But a re­cent Aba­cus poll says 80 per cent of Cana­di­ans op­pose Trump’s tar­iffs and al­most as many say they’re re­spond­ing, whether that means can­celling a hol­i­day or buy­ing a dif­fer­ent brand of ketchup.

Yet while a surge of pa­tri­otic feel­ing seems called for, we shouldn’t fall too deeply into na­tion­al­ist or pro­tec­tion­ist think­ing our­selves. A full-on trade war could have cat­a­strophic eco­nomic ca­su­al­ties. That leaves us to nav­i­gate Trump’s mine­field, never know­ing what word or ges­ture might trig­ger an ex­plo­sion.

Mean­time, rather than Amer­i­can-bash­ing, we must muster all the Amer­i­can good­will we can — if not from Wash­ing­ton, then from the or­di­nary Amer­i­cans who once saw us as their trusted friend. Right now, we need all the al­lies we can get.

Eight per cent of Trump back­ers think the U.S. should pun­ish Canada for the torch­ing of the White House by Bri­tish forces in Au­gust of 1814. This paint­ing by Tom Free­man was com­mis­sioned dur­ing the Ge­orge W. Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion, while the events took place dur­ing the pres­i­dency of James Madi­son.

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