No issue looms larger on the political horizon in this federal election season than the ongoing problem – dilemma, actually – of how to deal with Donald Trump.
It is an issue that merits debate in the election campaign, but it surely will not get the attention it should.
Last week’s column mentioned another worthy candidate that is unlikely to be presented for consideration by the electorate – it being the idea, most recently floated by Toronto artist/activist Dave Meslin in his new book, “Teardown: Rebuilding Democracy from the Ground Up,” in which he argued it is past time for Canada to abandon the hoary Westminster precedent of “adversarial representation” in Parliament. The Commons, he advocated, should not arranged as two enemy camps with government and opposition parties confronting each other across the aisle. He proposed adopting a Scandinavian model in which MPs are seated, not by party, but by region or at random on both sides of the chamber – a system that encourages consensus and accommodation.
Donald Trump represents an undeclared issue of greater immediacy. No dossier on a prime minister’s desk is more important than the Canada-U.S. file. No relationship is more delicate than the one with the American president. And no president in living memory has been more dangerous to deal with than the outrageous and vindictive Trump.
There was another example of Trump at his worst on the weekend. It involved immigration, an explosive issue in the United States this year and one that is simmering not far below the surface in the Canadian campaign.
A news analysis by Peter Baker in the New York Times sets the stage: “President Trump woke up on Sunday morning, gazed out at the nation he leads, saw the dry kindling of race relations and decided to throw a match on it. It was not the first time, nor is it likely to be the last. He has a pretty large carton of matches and a ready supply of kerosene.
“His Twitter harangue goading Democratic congresswomen of color to ‘go back’ to the country they came from, even though most of them were actually born in the United States, shocked many. But it should have surprised few who have watched the way he has governed a multicultural, multiracial country the last two and a half years. When it comes to race, Mr. Trump plays with fire like no other president in a century.”
As Baker noted, Trump’s attack on the congresswomen came as he was threatening mass roundups of immigrants living in the country illegally and just after he had hosted “some of the most incendiary right-wing voices on the internet at the White House.” It was two days after Vice-President Mike Pence toured a migrant detention centre in Texas and saw 382 men, unwashed and hungry, crammed in cage where many were forced to stand because there was no room to lie down on the concrete floor.
Pence barely managed to shrug. “I was not surprised by what I saw,” he said.
The weekend events played well with Trump’s base, as he knew they would. The spineless Republican leadership in Congress, bereft of all principle, emulated Pence’s shrug, leaving the Democrats, torn by internal party fissures, to respond with impotent outrage to the President’s vile attack on four of their members.
Diversity is Canada’s strength, as we have been assured countless times. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau preaches it at every stop, and his government has made our national diversity a prime card in its bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
All the leaders vying to be prime minister after Oct. 21 are acutely aware that Trump’s xenophobia plays well to an element of the Canadian right. But will the leaders, the next time they are asked about immigration, publicly dissociate themselves and the government they hope to lead from Trump’s matches and kerosene?
Let’s not hold our breath. Trump would not be amused. Experience suggests safety lies in staying beneath his radar.