Trade War and the Nationalist Exchange: Trudeau Trails Trump

“These tariffs are totally unacceptable. For 150 years, Canada has been America’s most steadfast ally. Canadians have served alongside Americans in two world wars and in Korea. From the beaches of Normandy to the mountains of Afghanistan, we have fought and died together. Canadian personnel are serving alongside Americans at this very moment. We are partners in NORAD, NATO, and around the world. We came to America’s aid after 9/11—as Americans have come to our aid in the past. We are fighting together against Daesh in Northern Iraq….That Canada could be considered a national security threat to the United States is inconceivable….these tariffs are an affront to the long-standing security partnership between Canada and the United States, and in particular, to the thousands of Canadians who have fought and died alongside American comrades-in-arms”—Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, May 31, 2018

So we now see the launch of a trade war between the US versus Canada, Mexico, and the EU. Focusing on the place of residence of the writer, Canada, one can argue that this trade war is very good news, if one knows how to read this development properly. Justin Trudeau’s visible anger is a testament to the good news: his anger is that he is now required to perform in the role of an economic nationalist, something for which he was not trained. All of his apprenticeship under globalist mentors—such as the Center for American Progress, the Aga Khan and George Soros—only prepared him to play a supporting role as part of a now wounded and cornered neoliberal elite. Trudeau was only meant to be a builder of “team spirit” in service of the technocrats who facilitated neoliberal globalization. He was there to cheer “Canadians” (whatever that word means now) that they were becoming like everyone from everywhere: they were a bit of everything, and nothing in particular. Trudeau thus pranced at the front of gay pride parades, pushed legislation on transgender pronouns, introduced a gender quota for his cabinet, a gender budget, sorted out cabinet ministers according to skin colour and headwear, welcomed everyone to an open Canada, and chided citizens for saying “mankind” instead of “peoplekind,” because the latter is “more inclusive”. And what does he have to show for his efforts? He is now the one to speak of illegal border crossers who should stay away, and imposes counter-tariffs.

Trudeau opened his remarks on the national security front—a big mistake. It was a big mistake for two reasons. One reason, of lesser importance than the next, is that it shows the literalism that is at the heart of moral narcissism and virtue signalling—that you take your opponent’s statements to be literally true, at face value, and no contextualization is necessary. Trudeau thus took great offense at the suggestion that Canada somehow undermined US national security—as if our purpose as a sovereign nation-state was to always serve the Americans better. President Trump, however, is merely using the available tools—he does not think that Canada literally threatens US national security, but he has to invoke that notion because it permits him to use a particular instrument—and that’s all. Back in March, if one was paying attention, one of the arguments Trump used to defend US steel and aluminum industries is that they were vital to US national security and its weapons industries. The Trump administration cited Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. I predicted this would be the justification in 2016, when the media floated arguments dismissing the prospect of Trump’s protectionism, insisting he would need Congressional approval. Others instead advanced the murky argument that the “deep state” would prevent him. Some tried to cover their lack of insight by saying Trump invoked “a rarely used law”. The constant refrain—inexplicably maintained despite its obvious contradiction—was that Trump was a threat and yet Trump would also have no real power. Almost all instantly forgot the meaning of executive power, and how it has increased under the imperial presidency. President Trump proved he could take such action, especially when the action is declared an “emergency” and a “threat to national security”. The only “mystery” here was why Trump suddenly decided to return to a nationalist posture, after a full year of reversals that favoured the continuation of neoliberal globalization. Gary Cohn, Trump’s chief economic adviser and former president of Goldman Sachs, promptly resigned from the administration after Trump announced the tariffs. Some thus saw economic nationalists regaining the upper hand in the Trump administration. It could be that Trump is now reconciled to the realization that his family’s business empire will never become properly transnational, and is even having to pull back from simply experimenting with being international. Trump family fortunes have returned home to roost—that is one possible explanation, and it’s a side issue for now. What we do know, even so soon, is that there is in fact some evidence that jobs are returning to the US steel industry, thanks primarily to Trump’s protective tariffs.

The second reason it was a mistake for Trudeau to use national security as an entry point is that it now opens a valid question for Canadians: what good is our alliance with the US? Why are we in all those wars? Why are we always tagging along with the Yanks? What were we doing in Afghanistan? It’s not like Toronto was attacked on 9/11. Why should we be members of NATO and NORAD? All of it really does not count for anything in the end. Trump has played Trudeau, repeatedly, and is now forcing Trudeau to substantively and effectively call into question Canada’s subservient role as an upholder of American empire. This is an example of the indirectly, quietly subversive outcomes of Trump’s “America First” program, as I argued in “What Happened to the American Empire?

As for virtue signalling, Trump can do that too. With an absolutely phony earnestness, which neither Trudeau nor anyone else correctly read, Trump would pretend to be enchanted with his Canadian guest, lavishing warmth and praise on him…and look, here’s my daughter, she’s so charmed by you too! All smiles, handshakes, and exuberant lyrics, and it was all deliberately calculated bullsh*t, like you would expect of an expert dealer. Meanwhile, Trump does not forget who his adversaries are, and quietly and indirectly at first—and now loudly and directly—he set about destabilizing Trudeau’s Canada. First there was the mysterious push of illegal border crossers toward Canada, with the US amply admitting Nigerians on visas when their only intention is to enter the US to cross into Canada illegally. Trudeau said Canada would remain open and welcoming, in a direct rebuke aimed at Trump, and now Trump would make him pay for his words—and he has, in spades. More on that in a future article. Then Trump imposed tariffs on Canadian dairy products, softwood lumber, newsprint, massively crushing tariffs on Bombardier passenger planes, and then the renegotiation of NAFTA itself, with the threat of simply tearing up the deal.

Where has Trudeau’s leadership been in all of this? With less people than California, the US market matters a lot more to Canada than vice versa. How has Trudeau prepared Canadians for possible job losses, perhaps in the tens of thousands, as a result of an abrupt trade shock? How will social services suffer in provinces most affected by a diminished export market? Today the Canadian media like to boast that Canada will hit Florida orange juice, so—hint, hint—good luck winning Florida in the next elections. They should be thinking about Canadian elections instead, rather than taking the attitude that only the US will suffer, or that it will suffer more than Canada. But that is what we get: instead of a plan, a program, just amateur cockiness.

How has Trudeau’s government coordinated with local and national industries to realign production to domestic suppliers and domestic consumption in the event of a trade war? Where are the “innovative” and “smart” plans now? Canadian ruling elites have been funding the training of a generation of students to think in globalist terms, and shun nationalism—when what they should have been teaching students is not just to start loving nationalism, but to love their nation. What nation is that, you ask? Writing from Quebec, but as someone raised in Ontario, my very strong impression is that it is Anglo-Canada in particular that has the real identity crisis—that is, not having an identity. We can forget about Aboriginal peoples planting the seeds of a new Canadian creolization, as I argued elsewhere; instead, Aboriginals are being effectively put back in their cultural ghettos, shielded by a paranoia over phony “cultural appropriation,” thus sequestered, contained, and removed from the Canadian conversation. Instead the model we have in Canada sounds like it was imported from everyone in their appropriate box, and every box on its appropriate shelf.

“We’ll see what happens”. “Maybe this will be big, maybe it won’t. Who knows?” However, it is still worth raising the possibility that if the trade war continues, and lasts, it’s Canada that might not last. The Trump transfer of costs will have achieved its maximum effect. Part of that Trump transfer is that Canadians are being taught—forced—to become nationalist Trumps in their own right, or lose. Let’s see what happens.

A final thought: having lived for a few years in Cape Breton, one of Canada’s long-standing and primary centres in the production of steel, I saw first hand the degree of economic destruction and social devastation wrought on Canadian production by foreign competition, among many other factors. Real leadership would seek to maximize the benefits of protection that (counter)tariffs now offer us, a chance to make sure not all of Canada experiences the kind of econocide witnessed by Cape Breton.

7 thoughts on “Trade War and the Nationalist Exchange: Trudeau Trails Trump

  1. Michael Major\\

    wow, just as I was giving up on anyone in Canada comparing how national policy versus neoliberal globalization would address our problems, this article shows up. I guess we also have to discuss fake canadian national policy now such as the $5 billion gift to the smartest guys in the room (and the richest guy in Texas) for dumping the KMX (Enron’s daughter) pipeline travesty into the federal lap. Canada murdered national policy and embraced neoliberal ideology with the election of lying Brian Mulroney in 1985 on behalf of US investors. Since then neoliberal ideology has become neoliberal theology and the Canadian brand has been usurped by faceless global banksters rich from the killing fields of Indonesia and malaysia. If we returned to independent national policy, maybe we could sour the milk and poison our blood enough to get our country back and hang the neoliberal priests who’ve infested our universities and corporations –or just let them get a job in and drink the water of indonesia.

  2. Karl Kolchak

    I’m an American who hates Trump with a passion–but as someone who grew up in the Rust Belt, I hate the neoliberal world economic order even more. If Trump manages to destroy Trudeau, he’ll have accomplished exactly one thing for the betterment of the world more than his predecessor did.

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  4. Eric Blair

    @Michaal Major Trudeau is a privileged elite tool who has never had an original thought in his life. His photogenic good looks and lack of brains make him the perfect neoliberal poster child (pinup?). All he has to do is repeat “diversity is our strength” ad nauseum, signal his intersectional cred by reminding wayward and delinquent youth that “peoplekind” is so much more inclusive than “mankind” and tell everyone how “feminist” he is….and NYT and Guardian readers will offer him their first born.

    Meanwhile he sells military equipment to the war criminal al-Saud family, unconditionally supports Israeli apartheid and war crimes…and, in true Canadian style, solemnly promises to address the shameful disregard this country has for its indigenous people and then promptly forgets he ever said anything. Thankfully, his humanitarian concern for peoplekind shines through and makes everything ok.

    A rather despicable individual, yes, HOWEVER his sycophantic grovelling and inability to advocate for Canada’s economic interests is what Canadian PM’s do. Ironically, the last Canadian leader to have a spine was JT’s father Pierre who refused to blindly follow American foreign policy. That was in the late 1960s (before my time) and since then all of our PM’s have been spineless yes-men. So TrueDough Jr. is continuing a proud tradition here.

    And you, Michael, despite your laudable antipathy towards the hopeless Trudeau Jr. show worrying signs of having caught the neoliberal disease. You said something about the Canadian “brand” and that, Mike, is classic neoliberal market speak. Neoliberalism seeks to create a global market society in which the market is front and centre and is the only thing that matters. Forget shared values and notions of nationhood and citizenship….we are all consumers whose lives consist only of buying and selling stuff, including ourselves (aka our “brands”) in the “vibrant” and “diverse” global marketplace.

    So for neoliberals the country known as Canada is now a “brand” called Canada. See where I’m going with this? Neoliberal lingo (brand, diversity, innovative, transparency, creativity, governance etc etc) is insidious and stealthily creeps into our day to day language. I hope you will forgive my affected pretentious style, Mike, and reflect deeply on this important matter.

    All kidding aside… global neoliberalism, by subjugating the entirety of human society to the market, is dehumanizing and destroying the fabric of our societies and leading us to a very dark and sinister place. It encourages selfishness, competition and tribalism, which is fine in appropriate doses, but as a template for life and civilization it brings out the worst in people and eventually leads to war.

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