Trudeau, Obama and neighbourly love

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Hannah Arendt wrote her doctoral dissertation on Saint Augustine and Love. She was taken by his concept of neighbourly love, a third category next to love as desire, and love of God.

Neighbourly love was what was on display when U.S. President Barack Obama addressed the Canadian Parliament last week. His audience of MPs, senators and invited dignitaries welcomed his uncommon eloquence with standing ovation upon standing ovation.

The U.S. president said shared values drew the two countries together and allowed for peaceful relations.

Indeed, for Obama, the values of "pluralism and tolerance and equality" that animated North American political life were universal.

The outgoing president seemed to enjoy delivering a sly rebuke to Donald Trump for expressing antagonism to Muslims and Mexicans.

In the middle of a wide-ranging speech, the U.S. president had a specific message for his hosts: approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

The U.S. president remarked on the rejection by British voters of the EU single market in the Brexit referendum. He pointed to concerns that globalization was "inherently rigged towards the top one per cent."

After framing TPP approval with a concern that open borders were in danger of being closed, the president went on with his sales job.

Rejection of economic integration through free trade was tantamount to "sealing ourselves off from the rest of the world."

In his attempt to influence Canadian decision-makers and shape public understanding, Obama resorted to the "fallacy of false choices."

Implying that Canada must chose between joining the TPP or finding itself alone in the world is a rhetorical device, not a fair assessment of current international relations.

No country attempts to restrict legitimate trade or seal itself off from the world. Playing on the irrational fear that this might be the fate awaiting Canadians if the government rejected the TPP, Obama made his poorly disguised attempt to manipulate public opinion.

The Toronto Globe and Mail needed little prodding. Its weekend editorial was entitled "In defence of free trade." To ensure attention, the title was plastered across the page in large bold type.

The Globe insisted that "virtually every study of NAFTA concludes that the deal contributed to rapid growth and higher corporate profit margins."

The anonymous editorial writers had it half right. Corporate profit margins have risen. North Americans are still waiting for rapid growth in employment, wages, salaries and social benefits, and look for shared prosperity in vain.

Citizens of all three NAFTA countries believe they are losers under the deal. That may be the most striking thing about it.

The Globe neglected to mention a poll showing only 25 per cent of Canadians viewed NAFTA positively.  

The TPP, like NAFTA, limits what governments can do to promote the well-being of their citizens. The intent of the American-sponsored deals is to tie governments down under trade rules set in secret, hardly understood by those who approve them, and poorly explained to people who have to live with them. The U.S. has been promoting the interests of global corporations to the detriment of its own citizens. Now based on what people have experienced, U.S. public opinion has turned against its trade deals, which empower corporations, and leave citizens with less protection against unemployment and poverty. 

The U.S. project Obama wants Canada to buy aims to isolate China. The U.S. wants China outside the TPP and then be made to play by TPP rules.

By not buying into the TPP, Canada and other Pacific nations expand their economic options, including how to deal with China.

The best way to civilize the U.S. and other great powers is through rejecting regional arrangements like NAFTA and TPP which they conceive and run, and induce them to participate in universal multilateral institutions. Canada once knew this.

The postwar International Trade Organization, killed off by the U.S. Congress, had the mandate to promote full employment, and the potential to build a better, fairer world economy.

True neighbourly love entails international trade agreements that promote environmental sustainability, re-distribute income from rich to poor, promote full employment, and introduce gender equity, among many worthwhile goals.

Duncan Cameron is former president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Presidencia de la República Mexicana/flickr

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