By Mazen Maurice Guirguis
I have little interest in Donald Trump’s tweetantrums, but I cannot seem to avoid them. Like the raging contagions of times past, they erupt and spread to infect the normal lives of unsuspecting people. In this case, the method of transmission is the popular media.
Regrettably, I was exposed (along with countless other Canadians) to Trump’s recent diatribe against our prime minister. Reacting to Justin Trudeau’s post G-7 comments, Trump called him “very dishonest and weak” and unleashed his minions to continue the verbal flogging.
Apparently, Justin has earned “a special place in hell” for defying Donald’s will. I was surprised by the level of impertinence, but more surprised still to learn that a U.S. president had such leverage on the afterlife.
Louis XIV of France once proclaimed, “I am the state,” but such sentiment is unlikely to get traction in a modern society. The Canadian government is not identical to the population it serves, and an assault on one does not necessarily mean an assault on the other.
Nevertheless, by deliberately targeting Trudeau’s integrity while Trudeau was working on behalf of his people, POTUS has effectively accused Canadians of choosing an unworthy leader. In a democracy where citizens elect their representatives freely, such an accusation should be taken personally. Trudeau is welcome to forgive his part of the insult, but he has no right to remain silent on the part that concerns us.
But silence is exactly what we got in the hours following the incident. Finally, a response from Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland was offered: “Canada does not conduct its diplomacy through ad hominem attacks ... and we refrain particularly from ad hominem attacks when it comes to a close ally.”
There is a false dichotomy here, and not exactly a subtle one. A myriad of options exist between silence and insolence. Trudeau could have issued a statement condemning the language used by the American president, reminding him that any meaningful relationship between nations must be based on mutual respect, and politely warning that Canada will not tolerate future incivility. Rather than dignifying Trump’s tweets, a response like this would have gone a long way toward defending our own national dignity. Alas, it never came.
Despite claims of taking the higher road, the reason for our silence is obvious: fear of economic reprisal. A person close to me remarked, “Appeasement has had very bad consequences in modern history. Let's not be a part of it again, not only for our sake, but for that of the rest of the democratic world.”
The reference is to the strategy of making concessions to an aggressor in order to avoid conflict. We often hear the term appeasement within the context of the foreign policy of Britain and France toward Nazi Germany in the years leading up to the Second World War.
While some may view the comparison as extreme, I view it as apt. Consider Trump’s tendency to blame minority groups for the various ills of his country, the racist undercurrents behind many of his executive orders, his relentless discrediting of the media and judiciary, his self-serving use of falsehoods and hyperbole, his disdain for international norms, his inflated sense of importance, his oft expressed admiration of tyrants, and his seemingly insatiable appetite to punish those who oppose him. These red flags are difficult to ignore.
It is control that Trump craves and he uses an insidious formula to achieve it. What better way to overpower a thing than to erode its capacity for self-defence. Achieve this and the road to servitude and degradation is wide open.
In refusing to address Trump’s insults, the Canadian government has voluntarily given up the right to defend itself, and that’s what I find most troubling. Appeasing a despot never works. Doing so is not only immoral, it is counterproductive. We saw indication of this during a June 12 press conference when an emboldened American president continued his abuse of Trudeau and went as far as threatening the Canadian people.
Our charm offensive has come to nothing, and perhaps for the best. Now is the time for principled-based diplomacy, where authoritarianism is resisted steadfastly, amity is regarded as a prerequisite to cooperation, a commitment to truth forms the unyielding foundation for any sustained dialogue, and the dignity of our nation is never bartered for profit.
It will be difficult, and our economy will suffer greatly. But such is the price of our self-respect. I cannot speak for all Canadians, but it is a price that I am willing to pay.