President Donald Trump has shifted his sharpest economic criticism away from the southern U.S. border and toward the neighbor to the north.His tougher talk on Canada -- over longstanding dairy and lumber disputes -- is raising concerns that a renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement could grow more complicated and affect Ottawa as much as Mexico City.
As his presidency wound down, Barack Obama visited Canada to thank the U.S. neighbor and ally for its friendship. When the Democrat spoke to the Canadian Parliament, he received a rapturous welcome, which culminated in a surprisingly loud chant: "Four more years! Four more years!"I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Donald Trump will never receive that kind of outpouring of affection north of the border.
At an event in Wisconsin on Tuesday, Trump said he's not pleased with Canada. "We're going to get together and we're going to call Canada, and we're going to say, 'What happened?'" the president said. "And they might give us an answer, but we're going to get the solution, not just the answer, okay? Because we know what the solution is, all right?"Trump didn't specify what kind of solution he had in mind. I hope he's not thinking of another border wall.Yesterday, looking at some handwritten notes, Trump said he "wasn't going to do this," but he took rhetorical aim at Canada once again. While complaining about NAFTA, which he repeatedly labeled a "disaster," the president said, "We can't let Canada or anybody else take advantage and do what they did to our workers and to our farmers.... So we're gonna have to get to the negotiating table with Canada very, very quickly."Did Trump mean of this? No one has any idea. The Wall Street Journal noted that Trump was far more gracious and complimentary towards Canada when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau visited the White House in February. At the time, the president said they would be only "tweaking" NAFTA.What caused Trump to change direction is anybody's guess; maybe he had a conversation this week with someone who convinced him to think this way. He may have a different conversation today that causes him to revert back. The fact that the president lacks a depth of knowledge in any policy area is an ongoing problem that leads to frequent inconsistencies.But in the meantime, the three countries the United States exports most to every year are China, Mexico, and Canada. Trump has now managed to pick fights with all three, all while annoying and/or offending South Korea, Great Britain, Sweden, Germany, and Australia, among others.Remember, as regular readers know, Republicans spent years investing enormous energy into the idea that President Obama hurt the United States’ international standing. The opposite was true, but GOP officials nevertheless argued, with unnerving vigor, that America had forfeited the admiration of the world.
During the Republican presidential primaries, for example, Jeb Bush insisted that during the Obama era, “We have lost the trust and confidence of our friends.” Around the same time, Scott Walker and Trump had a chat about “how poorly” the United States is now “perceived throughout the world.” Mitt Romney added, “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office.”It wasn’t true then, but it is true now.