How would Trump 2.0 impact Canada (and the United States)?

Kim Nossal

If a MAGA leader is elected in the United States in 2024, what would you say are Canada’s primary concerns from a national security perspective?

The primary concerns from a national security perspective are going to focus on a non-security area: trade. We know that any MAGA Republican who comes to the White House is going to pursue an America First agenda, which essentially means slapping tariffs on goods coming into the United States. If it’s Donald Trump, we’re going to see an additional problem, very simply because Mr. Trump will come back to office with a desire for revenge. Certainly, if Justin Trudeau is the Prime Minister in early 2025, there’s no doubt at all that Mr. Trump will take out his deep-seated annoyance with Mr. Trudeau on Canada.

What alternative mechanisms or avenues exist for both countries to sustain mutual security and cooperation, particularly if the relationship at the heads of state level is less than optimal?

The major problem is that, while the heads of governments may not get along, the difficulty is going to be dealing with a changing American state apparatus or bureaucracy. Mr. Trump and the MAGA Republican wing have promised that if they come to power, there’s going to be a huge change in the deep state, as they like to call it, which means essentially, that there will be many more MAGA loyalists appointed to positions in the American bureaucracy filled with permanent civil servants. Mr. Trump, in the final weeks of his administration, in 2020, introduced something called Schedule F, which was designed to provide him with the ability to put in place loyalists deep down into the bureaucracy.

Now, Schedule F didn’t survive three days of the Biden administration. Mr. Biden revoked it after three days. But Mr. Trump and Mr. Trump’s allies have promised that if they return to the White House, Schedule F will be reinvigorated. Once they put it in place, quite literally tens of thousands of positions within the American bureaucracy, including the military and the national security agencies of the United States, will be filled with MAGA loyalists. Even today, Mr. Trump’s allies are gathering CVs together to find people to appoint to these positions. In the past, Canadians have been reasonably assured that when administrations change, and when the President changes, there is continuity of the bureaucracy. If Schedule F goes into place, that’s simply not going to happen and it will change how Canada and of course, all other friends and allies of the United States can deal with a new administration.

In what way would such an administration impact Canadian foreign policy?

Should Mr. Trump come to power, one of the first things that he is likely to do is bring the war in Ukraine to an end. We know how this will happen because he’s told us. He will abandon Ukraine to, essentially, make an agreement with the Russian Federation, and Vladimir Putin. This, it seems to me will immediately be followed by something that Mr. Trump has been seeking to do, probably for the last 30 or 40 years, and that is to abandon NATO. Mr. Trump has long had the view that NATO is an encumbrance on the United States, that America’s various NATO allies are simply free-riding, and that if he had his way, the United States would withdraw from NATO. He’s promised, at least in his first term, that in his second term as president, he would make good on that threat to withdraw.

People say, well, the United States can’t withdraw from NATO unless there is a resolution in the Senate and the Senate is filled with pro-NATO folks. But the fact is that that Mr. Trump can withdraw from NATO without renouncing the Treaty of April of 1949. All he needs to do is to stop appointing American officers to NATO headquarters in Europe, stop spending American dollars to support NATO and withdraw American forces from NATO commands. A likely impact on Canada is going to be indirect if the United States changes its position on Europe. There will likely be some impact in the Western Pacific as well. America first has real difficulty dealing with friends and allies as friends.

In his first administration, Mr. Trump demonstrated clearly, that he simply could not manage the relationship with Japan or Korea. Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan are going to be real problems for the United States under the America First MAGA administration. And that too, is going to have an impact on Canada.

How does Canada strategically position itself for a future in which a candidate with political inclinations or policy objectives akin to those of Trump may be elected, even if Trump himself does not secure re-election?

That is a question that every single government that is a friend and ally of the United States is asking itself right now. Every government has a game plan for a Trump administration or a MAGA Republican administration and there isn’t a great deal that anyone in the international system can do to actually prepare for either of those two things. There is, of course, the hope that Mr. Biden will be re-elected, so that the present patterns of American foreign policy are likely to continue. But essentially, I think that most governments will try to do what they did in 2017—try to get on with the US administration. Mr. Trudeau articulated very well in 2017, that the main job of a Canadian Prime Minister is to have good relations with the President of the United States. In the Canadian case, this means reaching out broadly within the United States, in the hope that the Canadian message resonates more broadly.

The United States has experienced presidential assassinations, including some in recent history, the Civil War, the Great Depression, and the profound impact of 9/11. Given this historical context, some may regard the United States as an exceptionally resilient nation. Do you see the United States as a political and cultural entity capable of withstanding potential repercussions from a Trump presidency and its attempts to reshape the political system?

I do think that there is something behind the argument that the United States, as a political community is fairly resilient, and that it is capable of dealing with challenges The real problem here is that the challenges go to the very core of the United States as a liberal, democratic state. There’s no doubt, in my mind at least, that if, in fact, Americans vote in a particular way that leads to an America First Republican gaining the White House, there’s going to be a huge challenge to the US as a democratic polity. The so-called Red Caesar movement in the United States is a real thing. There is a real concern about the growth of authoritarianism, about the possibility of future elections in the United States, indeed, being rigged in a way that they haven’t been in the past.

There is a certain degree of resiliency built into the American system, the system of checks and balances that lie at the core of the US Constitution, but those checks and balances only work when the various actors act as the founding fathers had anticipated they would act. Here we find a real problem. And that is that so much of the United States Congress, on the Republican side, is still in thrall to Donald Trump, and indeed fearful of their own voters. We didn’t see checks and balances at work between 2017-2021, the great fear is that they’re not going to be in place, come 2025.

Transitioning our focus to Canada, it is apparent that our current standing may be perceived by certain entities as less than reliable. In light of this, what strategic measures do you believe are imperative for the restoration of our credibility within the global framework? Moreover, how can we proactively position ourselves to exert more influence and bolster our interests in the rapidly shifting global security environment of the early 21st century?

The real problem for Canada is that we have gotten so much in the habit of not taking global politics seriously enough, that there’s no easy fix. The Canadian government could start spending far more than it does on international affairs, but that becomes exceedingly problematic when the general mood in Ottawa, politically, just simply opposes government spending. We see, for example, pressure on the defence budget, at a time when it should be going up. We also see pressure on the other side, in particular, the Conservative Party of Canada and Pierre Poilievre pushing the government on its so-called profligate ways.

Mr. Poilievre is attacking the Trudeau liberals on this issue, and not at all coming out in favour of increased government spending on defence. So, we have two political parties at the apex, both committed to trying to remain as stingy and as miserly as Canadians have always been on defence, at least during times of peace. Canadians have, generally speaking, not taken international affairs seriously nor spent on international affairs. That can’t be fixed anytime soon.

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