My, oh my! Such an explosion of invective from U.S. President Donald Trump and his backup vocalists against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Saturday and Sunday!
Mr. Trudeau was "dishonest and very weak," Mr. Trump tweeted as he winged his way toward Singapore after leaving early from the G7 summit at La Malbaie, Que. "Really kind of stabbed us in the back," Trump’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow said on a Sunday morning talk show. "Special place in hell" for Mr. Trudeau, Peter Navarro, Trump’s trade adviser, said in a Fox News interview.
Mr. Trump is prone to explosions of rage when he doesn’t get his way. He had just spent a day and a bit not getting his way with the heads of government of Japan, Canada and the top European countries at the G7 meeting. Since Mr. Trump has not explained in what way Mr. Trudeau was either weak or dishonest, this may just be the disappointed toddler lying on the floor kicking and screaming.
Or it may be a calculated bit of political theatre. Mr. Trump was preparing for a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, whose predecessors have fooled one U.S. president after another with unkept promises of disarmament. The president may have wanted to scare the wits out of the North Korean leader by publicly blasting America’s closest trade partner, friend and ally for no reason at all.
Whether it’s tantrum or calculation, the stream of invective tells us nothing about the merits of Canada’s trade policy or about the road ahead for trade among Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. It suggests, however, that Mr. Trump has neither facts nor reasons to support his protectionist policy and is reduced to kicking and screaming to get his way.
Mr. Navarro, he of the special place in hell, has said his job is to provide the underlying analytics that confirm Mr. Trump’s intuition on trade, "and his intuition is always right in these matters." Mr. Navarro works in the White House, where his job is to make Mr. Trump’s economic ideas sound rational — a special place in hell if there ever was one.
Until recently, the Trump administration wanted to renegotiate the three-way trade treaty tying Canada to the United States and Mexico. Since the U.S. proposals have not, on balance, seemed advantageous to Canada or Mexico, that effort has stalled. Lately the U.S. has announced tariffs on steel and aluminum — and maybe autos — to bully the rest of us into submission. No sign of that working either, up to now.
Mr. Trump seems to think Canada should eliminate its tariff protection of dairy producers. That could be a good point to bring up in negotiation of a trade treaty where U.S. protection of farm products could also be discussed.
If he really wants to reduce trade barriers, Canada and Mexico should be right there with him. His reasoning lately, however, is the U.S. should raise trade barriers and everyone else should lower them, and that plan will not win support.
In time, with or without Mr. Trump, the United States will recover from this episode of protectionist fever as it always has in the past. In the meantime, Canada should keep putting the case for freer trade to the many Americans, Mexicans and Europeans who already understand it. And Mr. Navarro should make the most of his special place in hell.
Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.