Donald Trump, Populism, and What it Means for Canada

An Interview With Lakehead’s Dr. S. Islam

By Gregory McGrath-Goudie, Orillia Bureau Chief

Dr. Islam-PC: McGrath Goudie/ TheArgus

Dr. Islam-PC: McGrath Goudie/ TheArgus

The recent victory of President-elect Donald Trump has generated a variety of polarizing reactions. His populist rhetoric and proposed economic policies bring hope to a disenchanted American working class, much to the chagrin of a political elite seeking global integration and reduced economic barriers. In order to make sense of Trump’s rise to power and what his victory means for Canada, The Argus spoke with Dr. Syed Islam, the former Chair of Lakehead University’s Political Science Department.


Q: First of all, what would you say are the major factors that contributed to Donald Trump’s victory?

A: Well, it’s Machiavellian tactics, basically. Machiavelli, as you know, proposed that the ends justify the means. [Trump’s] goal was to get elected and, therefore, the most popular way to get elected was by bringing populism. A great majority of Americans, maybe 70%, are of European descent, and maybe 30% are immigrants in the sense that they are Latino, Muslim, or other [minorities]. The fact remains that the majority of Americans believe that he’s going to meet their expectations.


Q: Building on that—is the disenchanted working class (which formed a large part of Trump’s voting base) accurate in any of its rage? Are they right in being angry at the establishment, and can Trump actually solve their problems?

A: This is what I talked about in class today: Institutional decay—when you have broken promises, and the common people expect their leviathan demands to be met, and then [Trump] comes up with a slogan promising to fulfill these promises and high expectations. Although he has no track record of administration […] his whole idea that he will bring better trade, and pursue the national interests of the United States by bringing jobs back from China and Mexico—the lower class population thought this was great. It is an opportunity for them to get their jobs back, but the reality is different than this.


Q: So why is it that sexism, racism, and economic isolation have to be tied into Trump’s plan for growth?

A: A great majority of people in the south are strongly conservative in their morals, religion, and ideas, so the education of the people—people in general think they are educated—does not reflect reality. The people are still very traditional, very conservative—therefore, all these ideas on sexism, racism, same sex marriage […] are very appealing to the conservatives. [Trump] targeted a specific part of the American population, and he knew what those targeted voters wanted to hear. That’s all he did. One thing this election shows, very clearly, is that the Americans are not ready to elect a female president.


Q: Concerning his economic policy, Trump has said he plans to renegotiate NAFTA and withdraw completely from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a free trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations, including Canada and the U.S.). For Canada, will Trump’s plans have any drawbacks? Any benefits? For example, an article by Maclean’s claims that the Trans-Pacific Partnership would boost Canada’s overall economy by 0.1%, but lose money in other areas, such as a $3.6 billion loss in automotive exports to the U.S.

A: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is multidimensional, but as you said—if you look at it from a ‘plus-minus’ point of view—it may not be very profitable. At the same time, we are living in the 21st century, in which it is very difficult to avoid any type of global partnership. In the case of NAFTA, when Trump is saying that he will repeal it, I don’t think he is talking sense. These are all disjointed, incoherent ideas that he has. He really is not tested in government, and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. The reality is that this dimension of his platform is impossible.


Q: Will Trump’s brand of populism occur in Canada in the same way, in such differing economies? A Toronto Star article states that, between 2003 and 2015, jobs for those with high school educations have decreased by 6% in America, while increasing by 8% in Canada. This might contribute to the political stability we see here, relative to America, for example.

A: No, it will not occur in the same way. Canadian political, economic, and social premises are not the same as the United States. Yes, there are some people [who support Trump], the majority being of European descent, but also the Canadian population total is only 36 million, so I don’t think it can emerge similarly to America.


Q: Will Trump’s immigration policies create a tense Canadian-American border?

A: Yes, sure. On his first day, I heard that the Canadian immigration website crashed, which tells you how much pressure we will have on the border if his immigration policy is put into place.


Q: Do you think Canadians will have a harder time getting into America because of Trump? Particularly minority Canadians?

A: It is possible.


Q: Because of the proximity of our cultures, along with the fact that America is a great power, is it possible that Canada’s immigration policies will change under a Trump presidency? Will we become less accommodating?

A: It depends which government is in power. Under a Liberal government, we may have some effect, but not a tremendous effect. Under a Conservative government, there will certainly be an effect.


Q: So, in other words, our next federal election may be imperative to preserving our immigration policies?

A: Yes, it is.


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