De­cod­ing Trump very im­por­tant for Canada

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - JOHN GORM­LEY

Ever po­lar­iz­ing, U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump typ­i­cally evokes one of two re­ac­tions: con­tempt from his de­trac­tors or, among his sup­port­ers, praise for be­ing the anti-politi­cian “drain­ing the swamp.”

This week, as Cana­di­ans jumped to the de­fence of our coun­try’s trade in­ter­ests as they were be­ing sav­aged by Trump — com­pelling many of us to align our in­ter­ests with an oth­er­wise in­ept Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau — it was per­verse.

The same Don­ald Trump, months ago, spoke only of “tweak­ing ” trade with Canada and even en­ter­ing a bi­lat­eral agree­ment if it be­came nec­es­sary to wind up NAFTA be­cause of con­cerns about Mex­ico.

Now, he has Canada clearly in his sights, hits us with steel and alu­minum tar­iffs and then goes bal­lis­tic when Canada re­sponds.

Plan­ning to re­tal­i­ate with a World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion com­pli­ant set of coun­ter­mea­sure tar­iffs and stat­ing that we will not be pushed around — some­thing any re­spon­si­ble Canadian leader would do — Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau was la­belled as “dis­hon­est and weak” by Trump and then sub­jected to even worse name calling from a Trump min­ion who later apol­o­gized.

A cou­ple of days later, Trump threat­ened that Trudeau’s com­ments in de­fend­ing our coun­try would “cost a lot of money for the peo­ple of Canada.”

While Trump’s be­hav­iour, which is sus­pect at the best of times, jus­ti­fi­ably angers Cana­di­ans, the en­tire saga brought to mind a pas­sage from Sun Tzu’s Art of War.

The Chi­nese mil­i­tary strate­gist and philoso­pher wrote that “he who ex­er­cises no fore­thought but makes light of his op­po­nents is sure to be cap­tured by them.”

Although Pres­i­dent Trump’s ego and hubris seem to bor­der on nar­cis­sism and at the same time a no­to­ri­ously thin skin leaves him fre­quently slighted, he is, at other times, crazy like a fox. Wit­ness his tear­ing up of the du­bi­ous Iran deal, do­mes­tic tax pol­icy changes and re­fusal to con­tinue block­ing the re­lo­ca­tion of Amer­ica’s em­bassy to Jerusalem, which ev­ery mod­ern pres­i­dent has done.

Sim­ply dis­miss­ing Trump’s en­tire po­lit­i­cal char­ac­ter as a pro­fane par­ody or farce may over­look some dis­tinc­tions be­tween sig­nal and noise.

Re­flex­ive Trump haters — well rep­re­sented in Canada and over­whelm­ingly pop­u­lat­ing the news me­dia — only frus­trate them­selves when they ful­mi­nate an­grily from the side­lines and don’t take the time to un­der­stand who they are deal­ing with.

As the Amer­i­can elec­tion’s final chap­ter was be­ing writ­ten in the fall of 2016, writer Salena Zito coined the now fa­mous state­ment about can­di­date Trump that “the press takes him lit­er­ally, but not se­ri­ously; his sup­port­ers take him se­ri­ously, but not lit­er­ally.” This was all any­one needed to know about the U.S. elec­tion and where it was head­ing.

Now — within a hand­ful of days — as we wit­ness the pres­i­dent’s im­pa­tience at the G7 Sum­mit, churl­ish treat­ment of Canada on trade and then per­for­mance with North Korea’s dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un, another writer has come up with a use­ful Trump primer.

Jef­frey Gold­berg, ed­i­tor in chief of The At­lantic, try­ing to de­ter­mine a “Trump Doc­trine,” sug­gests that three char­ac­ter­is­tics un­der­lie all things Don­ald Trump.

First, “No friends, no en­e­mies” ex­plains how the pres­i­dent does not be­lieve in any al­liances with any other coun­tries.

Sec­ond, “Per­ma­nent desta­bi­liza­tion cre­ates Amer­i­can ad­van­tage” is where Trump — like he’s done in our weird trade fight — strives to keep al­lies and en­e­mies alike al­ways off-bal­ance, which ben­e­fits the U.S. and Trump’s short-term goals.

The third de­scrip­tion is, “We’re Amer­ica, B--ch,” a crude ex­pres­sion sig­ni­fy­ing that the U.S. is un­apolo­getic and ev­ery­one else can take it or leave it.

To be sure, th­ese hall­marks of Trump’s rule are harsh, un­help­ful and may ul­ti­mately harm Amer­ica more than any­body else.

But th­ese are good lessons to learn for watch­ing the most un­ortho­dox and un­pre­dictable pres­i­dent in mod­ern his­tory.

Gorm­ley is a broad­caster, lawyer, author and for­mer Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tive MP whose ra­dio talk show is heard week­days from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on 650 CKOM Saska­toon and 980 CJME Regina.

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