Okay everyone, we’re in dangerous times right now, that’s very clear to everyone. We’re seeing the number of cases of Covid-19 and deaths from it continue to grow. We’re seeing more and more communities get struck by this pandemic, and more and more strain being put on our institutions as they try to respond. These are the times when we pull together and count on our friends and neighbours to help us all get through.
Or at least that’s normally the case, and right now normal seems to be in increasingly shorter supply. The episode of the past 48 hours, where we’ve seen the President of our neighbours, biggest trading partner and most important ally, throwing us aside as he tries to save himself. It’s been so striking that in this most important moment, when our alliances matter most, Donald Trump showed us just how far he believes “America First” goes.
The news has had an amazing galvanizing effect on Canadian politics, with leaders from across the political spectrum, from Justin Trudeau, to Doug Ford, to Jason Kenney, BC Health Minister Adrian Dix and Scott Moe. Words like “betrayal” have been thrown around with passion at this news, as everyone understands the importance of this moment.
In the past four years of living next to the Presidency of Donald Trump, we’ve become sadly accustomed to the cycle of Trump spouting insanity off the cuff, to be walked back by others, followed by more insanity and continue. But it’s been rare that we’ve seen the follow through on some of the most insane or craven things that Trump has threatened to send out way. Since last night, that seems to have changed at the worst possible time. The first clue came from a piece in the New York Times, with some quotes that blew my mind:
In this piece, we saw the usual bureaucracy try to walk back Trump’s words from earlier, putting language of exceptions that you could drive a dump truck through. Normally that’s where this story would have ended, but then Trump Trade Advisor Peter Navarro stepped up and blew that exception out of the water. Navarro went right after 3M, all but accusing them of disloyalty to their country. He went onto say “while hundreds of other large American multinationals are stepping up with pride and patriotism, 3M remains an outlier and its propaganda war must stop.” Propaganda war? What the fresh Hell? Is that what he calls calling out the Trump Administration on their B.S.?
Mr. Navarro didn’t stop there adding that the company was “operating like a sovereign profit-maximizing nation internationally.” Think of how crazy that is folks, seriously. This is a senior, hand-picked Trump Administration official trying to call 3M a war profiteer and propagandists that are disloyal to their country, all for daring to point out that they have commercial obligations to countries that are some of the US’s biggest allies. The way Navarro was speaking, you’d think that we were in the 1970’s and 3M was trying to sell nukes to the U.S.S.R.
Of course, Navarro is the same guy who threw cheap shots at Justin Trudeau a couple years ago for daring to not agree with them. But even if we put those cheap theatrics aside, we could reasonably say that we’ve still not reached a watershed moment in this yet. In that past incident with Navarro, an apology of sorts eventually came, and life went on, so surely that could happen here again right? Well that assumption took a very serious hit just this afternoon, at the latest Trump press conference, where he had this to say:
“We need the masks, we don’t want other people getting it”. “You could call it retaliations. Because that’s what it is. It’s a retaliation.” All of that coming from the mouth of the supposed Leader of the Free World, our biggest and closest ally, our biggest trading partner and all of that, in the span of a minute. With those short words, Trump made it clear that he does want us to get the equipment we need. It’s not just that, no, it’s “retaliation”. “Retaliation for what?” you might be asking yourself. Retaliation for constantly giving them more access to our market in trade deals, like the new NAFTA 2.0? Retaliation of constantly shipping millions upon millions upon millions of barrels of oil to fuel their economy, at a discount no less.
Is it retaliation for sharing air defences with them? Is it retaliation for giving them access natural resources like our minerals and forests? Is it retaliation for all the clean hydro electricity we ship to them? Or for all our medical professionals that work in their hospitals every day of the week, especially during this global pandemic? I could go on and on, but Christ “retaliation”? We haven’t done a damn thing to the United States of America that would ever come close to deserving any kind of retaliatory measures from them.
We’ve been there for them time and again in their times of need. On 9/11, we took in thousands of Americans, seeking safe harbour as their country was under terrorist attack. We had emergency responders who went to New York to help search through the rubble of the World Trade Centre. When the US invoked article 5 of NATO for the very first time, we didn’t flinch, question or whine about it. No, we were there.
And when the time came to take the fight back to those responsible for the attack on them in Afghanistan, damn it, we were there too. Our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers, went to that place, on a mission where we were never directly attacked by this enemy and fought alongside our American neighbours. And many of those who went there died in that fight, serving their country and supporting our ally, who always told us would be there for us when we needed them. When I worked on Parliament Hill, I saw the monuments to the fallen in Afghanistan there in the Centre Block, a reminder of the sacrifice that they made not just for our country, but for our allies as well. They died for them just as much for us, in the knowledge that if the time came that we needed them, the US said they would be there for us.
And that’s why the awful press conference we saw this Saturday afternoon feels like the ugliest watershed moment that we’ve seen in Lord knows how long. Today, we saw the President of the United States, that ally who has said they would always be there for us, tells us with venom and spite “we need the masks, we don’t want other people getting it.” With that statement, Trump was telling us “yeah, we’ll get back to you on that whole “being there for you in your time of need” thing”. That was Trump telling us that to him “America First” really means “America Only” and to Hell with the rest of us. Because what Trump made clear today was that he doesn’t see us as friends, neighbours or allies. No, he sees us as “other people”, with everything that means in this moment. I’ve been saying for a while that we allies will not forget this once this is all over. But if Trump keeps going down this road, he may find just how lonely “America First” can be after he’s actively tried to keep deny nations like ours access to life saving materials in a global pandemic. After getting his cold shoulder today, next time he might find that Canadians won’t be as willing to lend their helping hands.