Canada will be lucky to escape Trumpism unscathed should he actually move forward on his election promises, writes Christian Leuprecht.
By Christian Leuprecht, Nov. 22, 2016
We are witnessing a distorted vision of what the late Samuel Huntington called the “creedal passion period” of American politics: A cyclical phenomenon of homegrown utopianism rooted in the Protestant Great Awakening of the 1740s, triggered by economic or social transformations, and manifest in an “opposition to power, and suspicion of government as the most dangerous embodiment of power.”
It is embodied by recurring waves of Jacksonian individualist populism, which historian Walter Russell Mead identifies as “the sense of honour-driven egalitarianism and fiery nationalism.” In Special Providence, Mead calls the folk community of Jacksonian sentiment the source of the foreign policy instincts that American academics and intellectuals (and much of the democratic world) most deplore.
What is Canada to make of this mobilization of Jacksonian activism and consciousness?
This sense of exceptionalism has long pervaded American politics: it has always been “America First.” American presidents are at heart unilateralists even as successive Republican and Democratic American administrations have championed multilateralism and made possible the liberal-internationalist post-Second World War strategic and economic global order in which Canada and other allies found security and prosperity. If Obama was unilateralism with a smile, Trump will be unilateralism with a frown; but unilateralism is the bottom line.
As important as Canada is to the United States in North American economic and security issues, it is not important enough
Exhibit A: Keystone XL. Although the pipeline was green-lighted by the departments of State and Energy, President Obama ran interference with an executive order. Senator Mitch McConnell has urged the Trump administration to build the pipeline. At the same time, however, a Trump administration is bound to encourage more domestic gas and oil production to reduce dependence on foreign (including Canadian) energy.
Exhibit B: NAFTA. Canada only begrudgingly signed on to NAFTA. We had a perfectly good free-trade agreement with the U.S. (CUSFTA), when the then presidential administration decided (unilaterally) to bring Mexico into the fold. Canada has never been keen on a North American ménage-à-trois. Remember the Security and Prosperity Partnership under the Three Amigos? Canada was happy when it petered out. Canada has always preferred a privileged bilateral relationship with the United States. Every prime minister since Mulroney has been cognizant of the risk of Canada becoming collateral damage in a threesome with Mexico. Prime Minister Trudeau has been quick to capitalize on the opportunity to renegotiate NAFTA: presumably reverting to a Canada-U.S. agreement only. However, once NAFTA is re-opened the full weight of American power and special interests will be released and it is unrealistic for Canada to expect that it will only apply to Mexico: Washington will press hard, not just on softwood lumber and meat, but also on dairy and poultry issues. It will not accept Canada’s continued supply management protectionism. Even the Auto-Pact will not be immune.
Exhibit C: NATO. A Trump administration may pare back its commitment to NATO’s tripwire mission in the Baltics. Instead of agitating Russia, that would effectively restore the status quo ante of George F. Kennan’s policy of containment. As the U.S. scales back, so would Canada — which frees up the better part of a Canadian Armed Forces battlegroup and headquarters for Prime Minister Trudeau to redeploy in support of peace operations elsewhere. However, if Trump’s policies weaken the NATO alliance, Canada will be left with only one major collective defence relationship: the U.S. Moreover, if a Trump administration can start questioning the contribution of European collective defence arrangements to U.S. security it can do likewise for Canada. Even before the election there was already noise about new arrangements that would effectively downgrade NORAD.
The rhetoric has been omnipresent; but we have not seen true Jacksonianism in American foreign and domestic policy since before the Second World War. Even Republican administrations followed a broad liberal-internationalist tradition.
The best that Canada can hope for is that the American policy process with its checks, balances and bureaucratic complexities will temper the worst excesses of Trumpism.
Canada has actually tended to fare better under Republican administrations than under Democrats. Other states may be more adversely affected. However, Canada will hardly escape Trumpism unscathed should he, with Congressional support, actually move forward on the election promises.
As important as Canada is to the United States in North American economic and security issues, it is not important enough. Ottawa would not be in a good bargaining position.
The best that Canada can hope for is that the American policy process with its checks, balances and bureaucratic complexities will temper the worst excesses of Trumpism. But this will require an exorbitant amount of diplomatic effort in an atmosphere in which the interests of foreign states will not rank high on the American list of foreign policy priorities.
After all, one of the characteristics of Jacksonian Folk Culture (and certainly Trumpism) is that facts do not matter. As Jacksonian America takes its future into its own hands, Canada had better brace for the impending rapids.
-Christian Leuprecht is professor at the Royal Military College of Canada and Queen’s University, and a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute.