Image: NATO/Flickr

U.S. President Donald Trump is least irritating when he’s wrong. Take his demand this week that Canada spend two per cent of its GDP on our military. This is silly and no one, including Trump, takes it seriously. To prove he’s goofing around, he suddenly changed the demand to four per cent which even the U.S. doesn’t meet.

It’s silly since the U.S. doesn’t spend that money to defend others too cheap to protect themselves. Military spending, or spending justified in military terms, has undergirded the U.S. economy since the Cold War.

It funded research with public money in aviation, space, computers, the internet — all handed gratis to private corporations that profited by using it to make planes, airbags, iPhones. Noam Chomsky’s early research on linguistics at MIT had defence funding. So it’s amusing when Trump says others, whose economies aren’t similar, should spend similar amounts. It’s like us telling them to spend more on hockey.

Trump is far more irritating when he’s right, as he is about NATO being obsolete (which he retracted, bien sur) and being friendlier with Russia. NATO was a Cold War, anti-Soviet alliance that lost its point when the Soviet Union vanished. It’s been in Afghanistan since 2003, which is as far from the North Atlantic as you can get, trying to be relevant and delaying the inevitable, i.e., dealing with the Taliban. That would’ve happened far faster without NATO.

His claims humiliate Trump’s mainstream liberal opponents, who resort to outdated Cold War rhetoric. In fact, Russia is aggressive in places like Ukraine because NATO reneged on its promise at the end of the Cold War not to expand to Russian borders in return for the USSR letting its empire dissolve. In the process, his critics reveal how unequipped they are to bring him down.

(To put my own cards on the table, I’d give anything to be rid of Trump, even if his views are often more enlightened than his foes’. Why? Because his sociopathic instability means, to put it calmly, he could nuke us all to extinction and feel no sense of responsibility. Bring on Pence, Hillary, anyone.)

He travels beyond amusing or irritating when he enters into racism and misogyny: “Get that son of a bitch off the field right now,” about black NFL protesters; lurking behind Hillary at their debates; “very fine” people on both sides in Charlottesville. We didn’t know — especially those of us outside — how tenuous the advances toward decent behaviour in the U.S. were, how easily they could subside. But that’s mainly their problem, right?

Till, perhaps, Doug Ford. He didn’t run on race, his people are in Etobicoke and Scarborough. He botched a campaign promise to look after “our own people first,” but his handlers tucked it away as if never uttered.

We have homegrown traditions of political racism, to be sure. Mike Harris as premier wanted “the fucking Indians out of the park,” according to his own cabinet minister. Stephen Harper demonized Muslims in Canada with his barbaric Barbaric Cultural Practices Act. Kelly Leitch took a similar tack.

But Ford’s recent charge about “illegal border crossers” sounds Trumpian to me. It’s an attack on outsiders, not those already here. Trump himself said this week that he won “at least partly” due to his immigration stance. There’s a rhetorical family resemblance. Ford cited the “mess” at the border. Trump uses “disaster” often and asks “What the hell is going on?’ — about Muslims, global warming, guns in Chicago. It’s the exasperation of the perplexed common man.

It doesn’t sound like genuine Ford to me. He was insipid in debates and his handlers kept the press away. This is the ardent voice of former Harper staff, come down like guerrillas from the hills to overrun Queen’s Park and keep locals, like Christine Elliott leashed up. Even Harper was at the White House last week, like the envoy of a federal government in exile. We’re talking about Dean French, Jenni Byrne or the redoubtable Kory Teneycke with the ready snarl.

They keep an admiring eye on what works in Trump’s U.S. and siphon it to Ford. He’s not a fast study and nearly blew it in June. Any of his rivals for the leadership, IMO, would’ve done better. He’ll likely listen to what they say.

This article was originally published in The Toronto Star

Image: NATO/Flickr

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Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.