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Preparing for a Predatory Presidency – The Consequences of Trump 2.0 for Canada

Perhaps we in Canada did not fully understand Donald Trump’s recent comments about allowing Russia to invade NATO countries that do not pay their fair defence share. But we should, in the most serious terms, as they portend a grave existential crisis for our country in the coming years – should there be a second Trump presidency from November of this year.

If the primary consequence of the first Trump presidency for Canada was the legal and reputational vassalization of our country, then a second Trump presidency would vassalize us further still – with five major consequences felt across Canadian state, society and systems.

I cannot say this more baldly – we would have to fight for our very lives as a country to survive as a going concern. For this presidency would be nasty, brutish and brutishly incoherent – and quite possibly bloody. The flippant caprices of the first term would, this time around, turn into expressive predation.

Consequence 1: Security and Defence Pressures, and Annexation Threats

When Trump speaks of a possible Russian invasion, on his watch, of low-spending NATO countries, he has in mind one or all of three countries: Canada, Turkey and Germany. All three major countries have among the lowest military spending in NATO as a percentage of GDP (1.38%, 1.31% and 1.57%, respectively). More importantly, though, all have significant land, sea or air border exposure and tensions with Russia.

In Canada’s case, our main juxtaposition is through our vast Arctic space, which comprises some 40% of our land mass but has a population size of less than 150,000 across all three of our northern territories. Most critically, our Arctic region is strategically neglected across all elements of national power.

In my professional assessment, outside of the Ukrainian theatre, Russia has no direct interest in such aggressive invasion of any of the three countries in question – although accidental skirmishes are always not to be ruled out. Instead, what Trump’s threat portends is an invented crisis, where Canada and other countries are pressed into dramatically increased military and other types of “tribute” spending with extremely elastic upper limits. This threat – and our own Canadian ill-preparation, in material and mental terms alike – will also mean that the word “annexation” (today topical on several continents already) once again becomes topical in Canada-U.S. relations, with Trump conjuring up scenarios to threaten (even if by bluff) to take parts of Canada’s gigantic and resource-rich North and Arctic on the pretext that we are not protecting (or claiming) it properly in the face of supposed Russian and – to be sure – Chinese Arctic capabilities and intentions.

On any scenario, this dynamic would deepen Canada’s vassalization and subservience to Washington’s whim, wise or degenerate. But if Trump is in fact not bluffing, then Canada could face a historical crisis of annexation of parts of its territory that would irreversibly change the face and nature of our country.

Consequence 2: New Bilateral Trading and Border Terms

A second Trump presidency would coincide, in the first two years, with the mandatory six-year review of the USMCA – the very agreement that, in my submission, vassalizes Canada at international law.

As Trump would be operating by serial decrees, we could expect huge, near-immediate economic pressure on our country from the outset of his presidency in the form of threats to rescind the agreement, enact various expressively massive tariffs, and even close the border outright. (The Covid-19 pandemic border closure put paid to the longstanding “unthinkability” of closing the longest unprotected border. From Trump onwards, we can expect that the opening of the border will be conditional on Canada meeting certain and possibly growing American demands.)

While Canadian officials have conventionally relied on rational policy arguments to demonstrate to Washington and successive Presidents and Congresses the deeply integrated nature of the Canada and U.S. economies, such a line of argument would not easily move a president who lives intellectually more in the realm of domestic theatre and pomp than in that of public administration.

Canada’s single-point vulnerabilities – all our fault, strategically! – across multiple sectors, and especially in the electronic and information space, would not help our case against a president who would be playing, vengefully and carnally, for history and domination.

If Trump is in fact not bluffing, then Canada could face a historical crisis of annexation of parts of its territory that would irreversibly change the face and nature of our country.

Consequence 3 – American Instability, Political Refugees, and a New Succession Crisis

If Trump governs along a fin de règne logic, then a new, larger succession crisis brews for the American presidency in 2028. Trump would be unlikely to accept a transition of power that might see the next president reverse his achievements and advance a revanchist agenda, both in policy and personal terms, against Trump and his team. He would also, by then, be approaching the end of his natural life. End of term and end of life would together inform all of his presidential behaviour from the moment of re-election.

Bref, Trump would govern in survival mode, melodramatically. An early refugee crisis along Canada’s border, driven by nervous American citizens, undocumented residents and those fearing ancien régime persecution, is far from impossible. (There is Canadian opportunity in this American crisis – especially in the stealing of top American talent.)

Between these bookends – the refugee crisis and the succession crisis – American internal destabilization, including outbreaks of civil violence, would loom large.

Consequence 4 – Information Space and Ideological Radicalization

The total control of American big-tech over Canada’s information space constitutes the greatest single-point vulnerability in our country’s modern history.

Meta, Google and Twitter today have effective veto power – and great disciplinary capabilities – over all Canadian communications, and most economic transactions, across our gigantic territory. Not only can they block Canadian news communications domestically (Meta), but they can also block online communication between our leaders and the population, and otherwise require Canadian conformity to their chosen terms, topics and language in order that Canadian users maintain standing and relevance. A more perfect – and strategically absurd – capture of Canada could not have been invented.

But if this capture were to be exploited by the American executive, Canada could soon be extorted for basic access “its own” information space. We could be denied it altogether, for sustained period. And in any event, Canadians could well be radicalized, swiftly, in lockstep with a growing domestic online radicalization of America under Trump.

In this informational capture, we may continue to shout “free speech” to the rafters, failing to see the disconnect between our online discourse – conditioned by America – and our deteriorating, vassalized reality on the ground here in Canada.

Consequence 5 – New, Uncontrolled Global Explosions

Trump may believe that he alone can “solve” certain wicked global problems. However, it is altogether possible that any heroic such attempt will issue in chaos that he cannot anticipate by dint of lack of experience and geopolitical understanding. For Trump simply does not appreciate the complex linkages between international problems beyond the tweet or surface-level thesis. And this means that a short-term “peace” brokered and celebrated by Trump could well issue in far larger wars in the long-run.

Consider his promise to stop the Russia-Ukraine war in very short order. In my judgement, if not extremely carefully choreographed, this could result in the collapse of one or both of those countries, with the shockwaves bleeding into Europe, the Middle East, Asia and our own Arctic space. (Today, the Russia-Ukraine war is tied at the hip with the other two great conflict plates or our time – West Asia and the Sino-American conflict.)

From the very outset of a second presidency, then, Trump’s greatest strength in action – his speed and ideological flexibility – would become his greatest weakness, among international friends and allies unlike: patent untrustworthiness.

And this degradation of basic trust across the international order would promise serious destabilization in the coming years.

Article rédigé par:

Président de l’Institut des questions du 21e siècle
Les opinions et les points de vue émis n’engagent que leurs auteurs et leurs autrices.