The World Changes Today: Canada Better Change Too

Trumpism is smashing the old order in trade, war and even global health; we need a new plan.

By Crawford Kilian 20 Jan 2017 | TheTyee.ca

Crawford Kilian is a contributing editor of The Tyee.

In computers, a workaround is a technique, often improvised, to achieve a goal when the normal method isn’t working for some reason.

Canada and most of the rest of the world now need to figure out a workaround as the United States indulges in the political version of a nervous breakdown, and Donald Trump is sworn in as president today.

Love them or hate them, the Americans have held things together for the rest of the world ever since Japan attacked Pearl Harbor 75 years ago. Joni Mitchell once observed that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone, but as we watch America sink into the swamp we can make some pretty educated predictions.

No more NATO. It lost its real reason to exist when the Soviet Union collapsed. Its later pretexts, including military roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, did not impress. Still, with Trump calling it obsolete, and threatening to withhold U.S. support for NATO members under attack unless they cough up more money, it does not look like a serious deterrent to aggression against members. When Vladimir Putin’s Russia is carrying out an online coup of his old nemesis, this does not bode well.

No more United Nations. When he called NATO obsolete, Trump also called the UN a “political game.” For all its many flaws, the United Nations has kept us from a nuclear world war and saved hundreds of millions of lives over the past 70 years, and Canada did its part. We need to support the United Nations more than ever.

No more free trade. I’m not a big free trade fan, but we’re screwed if we can’t sell our stuff into the U.S. without ruinous tariffs: cars, softwood lumber, and even Alberta oil and gas. (U.S. fracking is going strong — why allow our fossil fuels into their market?) So we’d better look for markets elsewhere.

Many, many more refugees. Never mind the wall along the Mexican border. The next wave of refugees will arrive on Air Canada, flying first class, from eastern Europe, Latin America and China — plutocrats escaping post-Trump political turmoil in their own countries. They’ll bring plenty of money with them, but they won’t increase the demand for housing much. They’ll just move into the condos and mansions they bought last year. That will just make life tougher for the surge of Americans belatedly looking for a haven.

A global health crisis. If Trump cuts funding to the UN, the World Health Organization gets cut too. WHO has serious underfunding problems already, but it’s dealt with Ebola and Zika, not to mention containing ongoing horrors like malaria and HIV/AIDS. That will be just a wistful memory while we await the next pandemic once WHO is starved of funds by Trump.

And if Trump hands control of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control over to some medical crank or anti-vaccine charlatan, even measles could become the scourge it was a century ago.

A grim era in foreign relations. The onetime “slave nations” of the eastern European Soviet bloc like Hungary have reverted to neofascism, with anti-Roma, anti-refugee policies. The Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania know how easily they could be re-absorbed into Putin’s Russia. (Their neighbours the Finns, having fought two wars against the Soviets, are not eager for a third.)

Whether the election of Trump was a cybercoup or not, it poses problems for a Canada that says it’s “back” to a vanished foreign relation status quo. After a generation of prosperous reliance on the U.S. as our greatest trade partner, that partner is turning into our wicked stepmother, and Russia, which drove its refugees to settle our prairies a century ago, is now our wicked stepfather.

We’re long past the days in the 1920s when Canada’s Defence Scheme No. 1 envisaged an invasion by the U.S. countered by Canadian attacks on the U.S. as the British Empire came to our rescue. We will have to survive Trump as part of an improvised, workaround alliance of other orphaned nations, or we won’t survive at all.

Such an alliance would involve some strange bedfellows.

Stronger ties with Latin America. If Mexico and Canada can’t unite against their next-door neighbour’s wild parties and random gunfire, we’re both cooked. The Mexicans seem fed up with two centuries of turning the other cheek. Like good neighbours, we need to assure Mexico we’re supporting them.

Stronger ties with the UN and NATO. No single country can protect itself against being picked off by an American-Russian axis. Together, especially with Chinese and Indian support, we might have a chance to hang on to some independence.

New ties with China. We couldn’t ally ourselves, or the U.S. Marines would arrive at YVR next morning. But we could build stronger trade and political relationships, even at the cost of handing back some unsavoury Chinese billionaires and crooked Communist Party functionaries. If Winston Churchill, the Bolsheviks’ worst foe, could fight alongside Stalin, we can find some kind words for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Never underestimate a new order

When a new political order sweeps in, those who prospered under the old order have good reason not to accept the change, or at least to underestimate it. That’s why Anne Frank’s family moved to the Netherlands to escape the Nazis, when they should have headed for England or Mexico or Brazil.

For the first time in my long life, the country I was born in has been subverted and taken over by its enemies. (As the child of supposed “subversives,” I appreciate the irony.) It’s human nature to think that things are never as bad as they seem, and something will turn up to restore the old order.

But this time, it won’t turn up. We should heed Leonard Cohen’s lyric in his farewell album about “A million candles burning for the help that never came.” When help won’t come for us, we had better be prepared to help ourselves.

I know it’s a lot to ask of a country that’s always clung to a bigger country’s apron strings. But as that cynical old British prime minister Lord Palmerston observed long ago, “Nations have no permanent friends or allies; they only have permanent interests.”

None of our permanent interests coincide with those of Donald Trump.  [Tyee]

Read more: Health, Politics

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