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Canada woefully unprepared for second Trump presidency

Laxer: We’ve gone from early overreaction when Trump first became president to over-complacency now

Canadian PoliticsUSA Politics

US President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the White House, June, 2019. Photo courtesy the White House/Wikimedia Commons.

Don’t cosy up to a dictatorial neighbour. Japan and Europe have learned this lesson, but not Canada. This country is woefully unprepared for a Trump election victory in November. If elected, Trump said he will become dictator for a day. Is it his usual bluster or should we believe him?

Many assume that Trump would be as chaotic, unfocused, lazy and incompetent as last time. But key players from the old Republican Party disagree. In his first presidency, several Trump cabinet members held office in previous governments and believed in a US-led international order. But, according to David Frum, former speech writer for Republican President George W. Bush, that wouldn’t happen with Trump’s second coming. He would arrive with a much better understanding of the system’s vulnerabilities, surround himself with willing enablers, retaliate against adversaries, and grant himself impunity.

Other Republicans share Frum’s assessment. The US is “sleepwalking into dictatorship in the United States,” stated Liz Cheney, former prominent Republican congresswoman and daughter of former Republican Vice President Dick Cheney.

In his first term, Trump didn’t understand what he was doing, maintained Adam Kinzinger, former Illinois Republican congressman. He actually listened to people around him until the end. Next time, he will put people who share his views in charge. Some are pretty smart and know how to work around the Constitution and the law to bring in authoritarian measures, Kinzinger stated.

We’ve gone from early overreaction when Trump first became president to over-complacency now. What should Canada do? Heed what other democracies have done when faced with economic over-dependence on a neighbouring dictator.

After quarrels with China over disputed islands and experiencing supply-chain vulnerabilities during COVID-19, Japan loosened economic dependence on nearby China. Europe reduced its dependence on Russian natural gas after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, despite threats to sever natural gas supplies if Europe supported Ukraine. Europe countered the threat by conserving energy, expanding its own energy supplies, and importing gas from elsewhere.

But Canada is not planning to reduce dependence on the US if Trump wins again. Instead, Canada launched a charm offensive to convince Trump’s congressional allies to exempt Canada from his promised 10-per-cent worldwide tariff on imported goods. Trump is running on the credible idea that globalization cut US manufacturing jobs, making the US dependent on China for everyday goods.

Team Canada’s refrain that US trade with Canada supports many jobs in the US likely won’t match such a powerful appeal.

Canada is unprepared for life beside a dictator because geographic isolation long protected us from invasion and war. Canadian governments simply assumed that the US will protect us from foreign threats. But if the US becomes dictatorial, where would that leave Canada?

Progressive Canadians ignore this prospect and hope the nightmare will disappear. But instead of magical thinking, we need to prepare in advance by reducing economic dependence on the US. Don’t leave a cudgel for a second Trump presidency to beat Canada into submission.

The existential question is whether democracy can thrive or even survive in Canada if Trump wins in November?

Canada should prepare by becoming more economically self-reliant, deepening economic and political ties with other democracies, and allying with American opponents of dictatorship.

How can Canada be more economically self-reliant? When COVID-19 hit, President Trump banned the export of masks and other critical medical supplies. Producing vaccines and a range of health products and services in Canada are obvious places to start.

After the pandemic, supply chain shortages pushed many countries away from globalization and production shifted from just-in-time to just-in-case, where goods are stockpiled in case of disruptions. Canada should join this shift and bring crucial industries and services back home.

Doubters of the economic feasibility of such a project should look at how Canada developed impressive domestic manufacturing production during the Second World War. We had only 11 million people then compared to over 40 million now. With determination, why could we not do something similar today?

Even if Trump loses in November, returning production to Canada would lessen our vulnerability to future supply troubles, shield our democracy from future threats and create more manufacturing jobs.

Canada is not deepening economic ties with China, Russia, or North Korea. Why on earth would we do so with a Trump-run United States?

Gordon Laxer is a political economist and professor emeritus at the University of Alberta.

This article originally appeared in the Edmonon Journal.

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