Just like the pollsters and the pundit class, most of the western world reacted with shock to the Trump victory on November 8. The streets of some major U.S. cities have been the sites of demonstrations and protest against Donald Trump who, while winning a decisive victory in the Electoral College, lost the popular vote against Hillary Clinton. Imagine what the president-elect would have said had the opposite occurred.
In Canada, a large part of our concerns stems from what he has said against the NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), free trade generally, softwood negotiations, and our Canadian government’s approach to carbon pricing. The only welcome reaction came from the fossil fuel industry as the Keystone XL project seems to have been given a new life.
Since his victory, Trump has sent mixed messages. He was gracious toward Hillary Clinton on election night, but he has not indicated as yet that he intends to rescind his vow to name a special prosecutor once he is sworn as president. The meeting with President Obama went well from all indications. While he has not reneged on his pledge to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, he has indicated a desire to keep some positive aspects dealing with coverage for insurers with pre-existing conditions and those staying with family until age 26. His nomination of Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff seems to send the signal that he wishes to work with Speaker Paul Ryan, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and the entire Republican Congress. However, his appointment of Steve Bannon, seen as a white nationalist, as chief strategist raises flags.
The domestic agenda proposed by the Trump campaign seemed all about rolling back the Obama legacy in healthcare, financial reform, taxes on the rich, gay rights, transgender initiatives, the environment, immigration, and ensuring a long-term conservative bent on the U.S. Supreme Court. What is, however, of greater concern to the rest of the world is the future of U.S. foreign policy and the various international agreements that have been largely created and supported by the American government.
Closer to home, in his congratulations message, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau seemed open to taking a new look at NAFTA to see ways to improve it. It was a smart gesture that seemed to want to establish a dialogue with the incoming president. While there is worry about the rising tide of protectionism in the United States (after all, Canada exports over 70% of our goods and services to the U.S., making it our number one commercial partner and part of the North American supply chain), Canadian policymakers know that over 9 million jobs in the U.S. depend on NAFTA and that Canada is the number one trade destination for American exports for 35 states. The hope is that economic good sense should ultimately prevail.
End of Pax Americana?
To Canadians, America is seen as the major international player for peace and progress in the world, and it remains our major ally. We are often reminded of President Kennedy’s characterization of the Canadian-U.S. relationship: “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature hath so joined together, let no man put asunder. What unites us is far greater than what divides us” (1961 Address to Canadian Parliament).
Without America, democracy would have never triumphed in WWII. Without America, Europe and Japan never would have been rebuilt after the ravages of the war. The United Nations, NATO, NORAD (North American Aerospace Defense Command), and winning the Cold War are all part of what many call Pax Americana. Clearly, there were missteps along the way by successive U.S. presidents, but overall America has been a force for good and hope in the world.
In recent years, expanding NATO membership, encouraging trade with the European Union, the opening to Cuba, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal, and the Paris Accords regarding Climate Change would never have occurred had it not been for American leadership. The election of Donald Trump and his campaign proposals seems to convey a more isolationist, and at times, mercantilist view of foreign policy. As he said in his 60 Minutes interview, “America first” will be his leitmotiv. This can only result in uncertainties for traditional U.S. allies.
In the presidential campaign, much was made about the potential relationship between Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin’s preference and possible Russian interference in the election process were very much a part of the political debate. A reset of the Russian-American relationship should always be welcomed, but it may only add to the uncertainty should a Trump Administration appear to appease the Putin regime on the Ukraine, Crimea and Syria.
Possible withdrawal of America’s more traditional international role will certainly send alarm signals to allies both economically and politically. Allies depend on certainty.
As the transition and transfer of power complete its course with the new Trump administration taking form, we can be assured that the Inaugural Address and the first 100 days will attract much attention way beyond America’s borders.