As I noted the last time I took to this platform to express my views on the meaning of President Donald J. Trump for Canada’s relationship with the United States, there were at least a few reasons for optimism, amid the general sense of gloom and doom that descended upon Canadians in the immediate aftermath of the November 2016 election. Chief among those reasons was my expectation that, just as earlier Canadian forebodings about Ronald Reagan’s meaning for Canada and its relationship with its great neighbour to the south would turn out to be wildly misplaced in the years following the November 1980 American election, so too might the most recent bout of national neuralgia disappear, once Canadians got to know more about the new president, and grew, if not to like him more, then at least to dislike him a bit less.
Donald Trump’s election will be “the biggest f**k-you ever recorded in human history,” predicted the film-maker Michael Moore in the summer of 2016. He reminded his Midwestern audience that it was Trump who had the audacity to meet with CEOs of Ford Motor Company and warn them: if you move your factories to Mexico, I will slap a 35% tariff on all your imports to the United States. We laughed. Trump won. Moore became a prophet.
The H-Diplo/ISSF Policy Series asks, among other questions, what diplomatic history and international relations theory tell us about the future of the U.S. in the world. I attempt to answer from the historian’s side, by focusing on economic nationalism in the 1930s. The Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930 represents the most famous case of trade protectionism in American history, and President Franklin Roosevelt’s rejection of the World Economic Conference three years later added to the U.S. economic nationalist response to world affairs. Both issues inform us of the possible consequences of Donald Trump’s approach to the global economy. I think history offers some dismal lessons.