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Can Trump really make America great again? [Bob Collins]

In global terms, Canada’s political reality can be likened to living in the attic of a large house with a family of boisterous neighbours on the main floor who aren’t getting along well with the folks in the basement. The residents below us have just spent more than a year arguing and bickering about who should call the shots on their floor and we couldn’t help overhearing every word of it. Though the choosing was none of our business, the consequences of it most certainly will be.

Donald John Trump is now the 45th president of the USA. He is unlike any we have seen before. Although there have been four presidents before him whose arrival in the White House marked their first election to public office, three of the others (Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight D. Eisenhower) were preeminent military leaders, and Herbert Hoover had served as the US Secretary of Commerce and director of the US Food Administration.

Despite his lack of political experience, Mr. Trump has managed to couple numerous controversial statements with an often belligerent campaign persona to sell the promise to “make America great again.” The promise to make America great again implies that it is not currently so. We may fairly wonder when Mr. Trump thinks it last was and how he intends to manage the return trip.  It promises to be a daunting task.

Two of Mr. Trump’s ambitions may give us a clue to the last time America was great: the repatriation of American industry and the blue collar jobs that go with it, and energy self-sufficiency. To bring them both together historically, we must look to the 25 years after the Second World War. American industry was tooled up and flexing its muscle. It had a big jump on the anemic competition in Europe and Japan, struggling to rebuild from the post war rubble.

If we were to hazard a guess on an exact year, we could make a case for 1957. Why ’57? It was the height of the post war baby boom, there were jobs for nearly everyone, a new Ford cost $1,800 and you could fill it up with domestic gasoline that cost 24 cents a gallon. The Korean War was over and the first casualties in Vietnam were still two years off. Elvis moved to Graceland, a new house cost $12,000 and you could mail a letter for three cents.

1957 is also the year that Dwight D. Eisenhower became the last US president to deliver a balanced budget. In the 60 years since, there hasn’t been a single president who has balanced a single budget. Eisenhower used a booming economy to pay the national debt down to $270 billion in 1957; Donald Trump is taking the helm with a national debt of more than $19.5 trillion, no cheap domestic oil, a vastly shrunken industrial sector (now commonly referred to as the rust belt) and an economy lurching along on 0% interest rates.

While there is much glad-handing about a resurgent economy, the cold reality is that former president Barack Obama  increased the federal debt by nearly $8 trillion (68%) in the past eight years. Is it any wonder that Mr. Trump’s lack of political experience was seen as a positive by so many voters?

Mr. Trump has his work cut out for him. There are a lot of people taking him at his word and expecting some sort of economic miracle. It is hard to imagine how he will be able to deliver in four years but there is little doubt that his efforts will impact Canadians.

Mr. Trump’s plans to make America great again include increased military spending (including “greatly strengthening nuclear capability”), imposing tariffs on imports, re-negotiating trade agreements, opposing climate change regulations, achieving energy independence and building a 3,200 km-long wall along the US-Mexican border.

Tariffs on imports, closed borders and re-negotiated trade agreements should be of particular concern to Canadian farmers.

Just how we might be affected remains to be seen but given the depth of the hole that Mr. Trump has promised to dig his nation out of, expect anything and everything to be on the table.

CLBC March 2017

Vol.103 Issue 1

CLBC February 2017