Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump Are Going to Be Hilariously, Dangerously Mismatched Neighbors
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Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump Are Going to Be Hilariously, Dangerously Mismatched Neighbors

Even if the formal machinery of international North American politics holds more-or-less together, the biggest shift in Canada/US relations once Trump is inaugurated will likely be at the symbolic level.
January 19, 2017, 4:29pm

This post originally appeared on VICE Canada You know that scene in Children of Men where Clive Owen is riding the bus while a propaganda video is listing the names of world capitals over apocalyptic newsreel footage before declaring "THE WORLD HAS COLLAPSED; ONLY BRITAIN SOLDIERS ON"? That's probably how most Canadians are feeling this week now that Donald Trump's inauguration has finally arrived. This is it, folks. Zero hour of a brave new world where America may or may not have a functioning executive branch as of 12:15 PM on January 20. Fasten your safety belts and please keep your limbs inside the vehicle at all times. Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau is now the Dudley Do-Right of international liberalism, riding ass-backwards into a confrontation with an unpredictable US president bent on overturning the North American order. It's a tall order for anybody, but especially for a prime minister whose political ideas and personal style are so wildly different from The Donald's. How will this actually play out in US-Canada relations? Here are a couple of the major issues where we're likely to see some real tension.


Even if the formal machinery of international North American politics holds more-or-less together, the biggest shift in Canada/US relations once Trump is inaugurated will likely be at the symbolic level. Not only can we probably expect an awkward personal relationship between Trump and Trudeau, but both countries have staked out pretty different turf for their national identities.

It will be fun to see Trudeau's Canada facing off against Trump's America. The Liberals are in charge of the Canada 150 celebrations this year, and their branding of this country is famously tied to the Great White North being a magical multicultural land where immigrants with advanced degrees can thrive as menial laborers while Laurentian whites nod sagely to one another during Vinyl Café listening parties. Canadian charm will probably go into overdrive sometime around late June.


On the flipside, it's been barely two months since the US election and it's already having a profound impact on our political discourse (hello, Kellie Leitch!). It'll be interesting to see what happens as the Conservative leadership race wraps up and sets the tone for the next two years of federal politics, in much the same way that tracking the progress of Ebola was interesting for people working at the Center for Disease Control.

At a more elemental level, there is the basic clash of personalities. It's tailor-made for a low-budget TV comedy. Trudeau is the soft-spoken, metrosexual male feminist who cares about your feelings and will do the dishes for you and possibly also give you a foot bath if you indulge that weird sexual thing he's into that you find vaguely uncomfortable in its strangeness but not particularly threatening in any way, it's just not your thing but he's really into it so it's a bit of a give and take situation and otherwise honestly he's a pretty good catch all things considered. This is a metaphor for ethics scandals, I guess.

Donald Trump is a big loud oaf who only cares about making deals and bragging about sex crimes and tweeting rude reviews of the burrito stand across the street. What will these two wacky roommates get up to next?!

Despite their totally opposite personas, the great irony in all this is how similar they are. They're both glorified salespeople for nationalist ideas that extend beyond themselves. Trudeau is technocratic neoliberalism with a human face and Trump is chauvinism in a gaudy suit. Trudeau is the spokesman for the Ottawa mandarin class and Trump is the spokesman for the impotent American id.


They are the two-faced god of late capitalism in North America. One face sweetly whispers empowering slogans and the other hisses your most erotically violent revenge fantasies. They are the apotheosis of the politics of branding, and the worst conflicts always stem from the narcissism of small differences. Expect Canada to be thoughtlessly lionized in the liberal press on both sides of the 49th parallel and for cuckoldry to go mainstream as a Canadian conservative epithet.


Assuming Trump is not literally a Russian stooge (doubtful, but don't tell Clintonites), he has still expressed cavalier indifference for NATO. This is a stark contrast from the last six or so decades of American presidents, who have otherwise sworn up and down that they were willing to start a nuclear war with Russia over a bas-terre principality. He's on the record as calling it "obsolete" and questioning the relevance of a Cold War relic for the 21st century.

His specific complaints are that its organizational structure is ill-equipped to tackle terrorism, and that most NATO members are free-riding off American military power. Add in Trump's, uhh, enthusiasm for thawing American relations with Russia—once and future nemesis of the North Atlantic alliance—and it's likely this signals a scaling down of American involvement in NATO.

To say this would really shake things up is an understatement. Canada has repeatedly stressed its support for the alliance, and it's currently leading the charge to stack Eastern Europe with soldiers as a deterrent to Russia. But Canada also ranks 23rd out of 28 in terms of actually funding and supporting NATO, so, in the wake of a US shift, Trudeau will have to put up or shut up as far as defense spending goes. Your guess is as good as mine as to whether or not that actually happens, but given the last 40 years of trends in Canadian government, I'm not holding my breath.


Trump, rather infamously, is on record stating that climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese. He is heading a cabinet full of climate change deniers, has promised to resurrect the declining American coal industry, and mused about expanding petroleum drilling and mining operations on federal land.

Of course, to an extent, this might not matter. Even if Trump does make good on his promise to rescue coal, it may be too late to stop the march of clean energy. Renewables are increasingly cost-competitive with fossil fuels—thanks, in part, to efforts from the Obama administration.


But he will also be leading an American state that will be non-cooperative with international climate standards at best and actively obstructionist and belligerent at worst. This will be fun for Trudeau, who will have to struggle to have Canada meet those international standards (a tenuous goal for the Liberals in the best of times). He'll also have to do it while the American government is broadcasting its hostility to climate change policy. Imagine "Radio Liberty" but for the tar sands and you have the blueprint for all future fights between Alberta and the federal government for the next two-to-eight years.

Then again, if Trump does actually open up federal land to drilling and mining and floods the market with cheap American oil, the tar sands might be rendered obsolete anyway. Have fun, Justin!


Donald Trump has said he wants to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement. We should probably take it pretty seriously, since ramping up domestic protectionism seems to be the only consistent aspect of post-campaign Trump (aside from the generalized atmosphere of lunacy). If dude is chirping car manufacturers on Twitter for moving to Mexico, he might also come at Canada hard, either through threats of tariffs or promises of subsidies for American companies who stay at home.

Canada will want to be prepared to play hardball at the negotiating table, and shuffling Chrystia Freeland into Foreign Affairs suggests this is the tack they're taking. Freeland is credited with salvaging the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement from Brexit and the Belgians last year, so now Trudeau has picked her to lead the country's counter-offensive when Trump arrives at the bargaining table.


That said, there are also a lot of indications that Trump's swipes at NAFTA have more to do with Mexico than us. According to Wilbur Ross, the billionaire leech tapped to handle the US Department of Commerce, the main issues on the renegotiation table will be NAFTA's "country of origin" regulations and the treaty's independent dispute resolution panels.

Country of origin regulations dictate how much non-NAFTA origin content that commodities can contain to qualify for duty-free movement within the North American trade zone. Trump, for instance, has accused Mexico of cheating NAFTA and undercutting American manufacturers by exporting cars made with cheap Chinese auto parts. Similarly, the independent dispute panels are meant to sort out trade disputes at arms' length from the states involved. The Americans feel that these panels—where representatives of the US, Canada, and Mexico adjudicate disputes—are too unaccountable and stacked against the US (although Canada and Mexico would probably disagree).

All told, Canada probably doesn't have much to worry about on the trade front with the US. Canada is America's largest trading partner and we generally keep our heads down. Even Wilbur Ross is on record stating that "you don't hear [Trump] voice huge complaints about Canada… trade between the US and Canada is relatively much better balanced than between the US and Mexico."

In all likelihood, most of these NAFTA negotiations will probably focus on the US cutting Mexico out of its free trade deals with Canada, and the Canadian government taking credit for standing up for the middle class. Also, expect to hear a lot about softwood lumber, whatever that is.

So, there you have it. You won't need to read another article about Trudeau-Trump relations ever again because there is no possibility of President Trump doing something completely insane and unpredictable and fucking up dear Canada's thoroughly unambitious plans for the future.

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