Trump, Year One: Chaos and confusion on the Potomac

Posted on Monday, November 6, 2017

Donald Trump.

Photo: Michael Vadon

Twelve months after Donald Trump was elected president, an expert panel gathered at uOttawa to review a tumultuous year, look ahead to what might happen next and consider the implications for Canada. Below, a few excerpts from the lively discussion on November 1, presented by the Centre for International Policy Studies and the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA).

Meredith Lilly

Meredith Lilly

Simon Reisman Chair in International Affairs, Carleton University

I think Republicans, by and large, still remain generally positive about trade. However, now they see an opportunity to get more and better for the United States under Donald Trump.

When push comes to shove, Republican members of Congress voting against their own president is not something they will do lightly. They may very well be pro-NAFTA — and not be willing to stand up for it.

There will be an immediate, serious, negative impact on the Canadian economy if Trump should withdraw from NAFTA, regardless of what the law says. If he makes this a “just watch me” moment, then everybody needs to stand back and it will be very, very bad. We will see immediate border thickening and immediate problems with things getting back and forth across the U.S.-Canada border.

Colin Robertson

Colin Robertson

Canadian Global Affairs Institute, former Canadian diplomat in Washington

Post-war presidents had a view of the world that was institution-based — order-based, a set of rules. They were prepared to more or less underwrite that system — the United Nations, World Trade Organization, World Bank, IMF — and create an alliance system that the U.S. would sustain.

Trump is different. Trump shares with Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin the whole idea of spheres of influence, where it is big versus small — you use your weight in bilateral trade deals and “you’re going to have to take what we give you.” That has a profound effect on countries like Canada, which have thrived in a multilateral system.

I’m convinced that middle powers, and the like-minded, are now going to have to stand up. That means talking with other countries who have a similar interest — and fear of what the system could look like if it’s big versus small.

Sarah Goldfeder

Sarah Goldfeder

Principal, Earnscliffe Strategy Group

It is in the American DNA that we don’t trust government. Our genesis story is one of revolution and revolt, and kicking aside a government that existed.

It’s not necessarily new, what Trump is saying. He’s just saying it in such a crass way, at such a pivotal moment in time. But if you go back and look at what revolutionary leaders have said in the past about government failing — “they’re failing your interests as individual citizens” — this is all part of our story.

An entirely new, separate party may be the end result. There may be more in common in the middle of the Republican and Democratic parties than there is with the two fringes right now. I think 2020 is going to be a challenge for both sides.

Jeffrey Simpson

Jeffrey Simpson

Senior fellow, GSPIA and former national affairs columnist, The Globe and Mail

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the world was supposed to be dominated by the United States, with a compliant Russia. Well, that hasn’t worked.

Deng Xiaoping’s revolution in China was just starting to show itself in the 1990s. Now, the United States looks at China and has difficulty, as we all do, in understanding how we’re going to deal with a China of the future, with its enormous trade surplus vis-à-vis the United States, its growing military prowess, et cetera.

The combination of a changed geopolitical format, which the U.S. doesn’t dominate, as they thought they were going to 20 years ago; a security situation at home that remains troubling because of 9/11 and everything since; and economic dislocation — all of these have created a cauldron in the United States, which both parties are struggling to get a handle on. These factors are the new norm, and how the parties and the country deal with them will determine its future.


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