The House of Commons returns to work today after its refreshing, one trusts, 46-day Christmas recess.
MPs will be anxious to tear into the great issues of the day in the Ottawa bubble, starting with the Prime Minister’s vacation in the Bahamas and continuing, no doubt, to the irksome question of how much, or little, the government is actually prepared to do about cash-for-access political fundraising.
But these matters, which loomed so large a couple of weeks ago, now seem trivial. The big stuff, the serious stuff, is happening south of the border, in Washington.
The crucial question when Parliament meets will not be whether Justin Trudeau should have accepted a helicopter ride from a friendly billionaire, or whether he should have answered in French a question put to him in English in Sherbrooke, but rather what he and his government are going to do – or can do – about the new bully on the block: Donald J. Trump.
President Trump is sucking all the oxygen out of politics in the United States and in dozens of other countries, including Canada. Dealing with him and his America First agenda has suddenly become Challenge Number One for political leaders everywhere.
In just 10 days in office, he managed to turn an inane dispute over a useless wall into a nasty trade confrontation with Mexico; he even provoked the president of that country to cancel his visit to Washington.
He inspired protest demonstrations by women’s groups that drew huge crowds in Washington and elsewhere.
He enraged Muslims everywhere, and precipitated airport demonstrations and court challenges in the U.S., with his Muslims-not-welcome order closing the border to visitors from Syria and six other Muslim-majority countries for a minimum period of 90 days, along with a four-month freeze on refugees from all countries.
He sent his new ambassador to the United Nations with a pledge to overhaul the world body, and a warning that she will be “taking names” of countries that do not support American policies.
He so unnerved the new prime minister of Great Britain that she scurried across the pond to meet him, reassure him of her country’s loyalty and to be photographed holding his hand as she left the White House.
It’s not just what Trump is doing, but how he is doing it – in a bewildering flurry of tweets, memos, press conferences, TV interviews, executive orders and draft orders – without taking the time to gather his facts or to consult advisers (such as those on immigration and trade) who might actually know what he is talking about.
Some of his actions will prove to be illegal or impossible. For example, he signed a memorandum to authorize construction of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline to carry product from the Alberta oil sands to the Gulf Coast. Then, after talking to an American labour leader, he added a condition: that all the steel in the pipeline be made in the United States – which would put the U.S. in violation of World Trade Organization rules. He also signed orders to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (or Obamacare) without having any notion of what to replace it with.
Some of his acts seem to be driven more by ego and childish petulance than by common sense or considered policy. He insists that his swearing-in ceremony attracted more people than Barack Obama’s first inauguration, despite clear evidence to the contrary. Incapable of conceding that Hillary Clinton bested him in the popular vote, he keeps insisting that massive electoral fraud tainted 3-5 million ballots. It’s nonsense. And it doesn’t seem to dawn on him that he is contesting the legitimacy of the electoral process that made him president.
Independent Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran for the Democratic nomination against Clinton, calls Trump a “delusional president.” Representative Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat, went on CNN the other day to claim that Trump is “mentally unstable.”
Delusional, unstable or simply childishly unpredictable? It’s no wonder that the world is on tenterhooks.