Volume 51, Issue 1: Winter 2017

Canada in the age of Trump

Image from Bidnessetc.com

The election of Donald Trump is giving the sane world a collective anxiety attack. While we know it will turn out badly, we aren’t sure exactly how. Trump’s utterings (they lack sufficient coherence to be called a program) go off in many different directions — an expansionary economic policy combined with protectionist measures in combination with wide-ranging regressive spending and tax cuts to transfer a greater share of GDP to the wealthy. The chronic inequality that plagues U.S. society is likely to intensify. Trump’s cabinet appointments promise a full-court press of the hard right. On everything from public education to regulating corporate (mis) behaviour, the foxes are now in charge of the hen house. On environmental issues, policy-making by this band of reactionaries will have a particularly pernicious and irreversible impact.

And what of the implications for Canadians of the Trump presidency? The business press and the mainstream media more generally have been hand-wringing over the fate of NAFTA given Trump’s apparent protectionism and anti-Mexican sentiment as well as his professed suspicion of all trade agreements. This may be one of the few areas where public airing of the downside of what are basically corporate-rights pacts may put some wind in the sails of those critical of Justin Trudeau’s obvious enthusiasm for trade-at-any-cost. On issues of climate change, the Liberals’ already shaky commitments may be further undermined by a Trump presidency. The Liberals are trying to balance their support for Alberta’s petro-economy and other extractivist projects across the country with the introduction of a national carbon tax. While they at least acknowledge climate degradation as a problem, having the denier-in-chief in the White House will give traction to domestic enemies of plans to price carbon (Brad Wall and the federal Conservatives for example). They are already quick to point out the competitive advantage to a U.S. corporate sector unhindered by any such tax. On the other side of the carbon equation, we can expect a Trump administration to push hard in favour of a revived Keystone XL pipeline (nixed by Obama) with Liberal and possibly NDP support.

On the surface of it, Trudeau with his anti-sexist, anti-racist, gay-friendly and refugee-welcoming discourse seems poles apart from the misogynistic, xenophobic Trump. Trudeau takes great pains to hone his public statements while Trump is a bull in a china shop. Compare Trudeau’s articulation of high-minded aspirations to Trump’s gutter appeals.

B.C. poster for March 2015 protest against Bill C-51. Posted on Reddit.

But how much do they really differ on core issues of the economy? Trudeau’s recent moves towards massive infrastructure spending based on privatization of public assets like harbours and airports speak volumes. He has proven accommodating of any policy promising to enhance corporate-led growth, whatever the costs. His promises to listen to Indigenous, environmental and other concerns obviously does not amount to actually hearing them if they stand in the way of his corporate agenda. Having Trump in the White House can only encourage the Liberals to pursue the path they are already on, giving them one more excuse to push demonstrators aside while they push through pipelines.

Trump is a strong believer in the efficacy of repression. He believes in torture, he supported the bloody suppression of the Chinese student movement in Tiananmen Square, he admires Vladimir Putin’s heavy hand in Russia, and he appears content to let the Israeli right do what it pleases in occupied Palestine. In Trump’s U.S.A., post-truth shows every sign of morphing into post-democracy. Within the ranks of the Canadian Deep State (CSIS, the RCMP, the military) and its civilian cheerleaders, there are those who would encourage moves in that direction. The Liberals are dragging their feet on amending Bill-C-51 — the Conservatives’ draconian legislation buttressing already formidable national security-state powers. Meanwhile, protest is mounting over Trudeau’s broken promises on everything from emissions targets to electoral reform. In Trudeau’s Canada, as in Trump’s America, a treacherous course is being set.