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Trump’s NAFTA bluster all about him, not us: Tim Harper

It’s tough to keep focus and negotiate with a bully banging on a pot in the hallway, but Ottawa must keep its focus.

On Friday, as Hurricane Harvey began lashing the Gulf Coast, and throughout the weekend, Donald Trump posted regular updates on the status of the storm. On Sunday, Trump took jabs at Canada and Mexico over NAFTA.

Tom Brenner/The New York Times

On Friday, as Hurricane Harvey began lashing the Gulf Coast, and throughout the weekend, Donald Trump posted regular updates on the status of the storm. On Sunday, Trump took jabs at Canada and Mexico over NAFTA.

What do you do if you are the U.S. president and one of your major cities is under water?

Well, you’d want to start your day promoting a book by a Milwaukee county sheriff who has called Black Lives Matter a hate group, is a known racial profiler and, naturally, a big Donald Trump supporter. The book foreword was written, of course, by your best bud forever in the media, Sean Hannity.

Then you would turn your attention to tropical storm Harvey, congratulating yourself on how you saved so many lives — a victory lap even as the water kept rising in Houston and area — but you wouldn’t want to dwell on that, so you would move on to your 2016 electoral success in Missouri, take a shot at the crime rate in Mexico and again vow that it will somehow pay for border wall, then move on to trade negotiations.

“We are in the NAFTA (worst trade deal ever made) renegotiation process with Mexico & Canada. Both being very difficult, may have to terminate?”

Oh, oh. Trump’s thumbs are now typing “Canada” on Sunday mornings.

Last week, in an infamous stream-of-consciousness meltdown in Phoenix, he said the same thing, telling supporters he would probably end up “terminating the deal at some point,” because “we have been so badly taken advantage of.”

One can get permanently lost down a rabbit hole trying to make sense of the various tweets and pronouncements from Trump, but the shout-out to Sheriff David Clarke, his coming rally in Missouri, his ongoing fantasy about a Mexican-financed wall and his continued threats to tear up NAFTA actually do have a common thread.

They are all campaign preoccupations from a man who has never stopped campaigning and never really become president.

The Trump tweet is the cyber equivalent of the boss walking past the negotiating room banging on a frying pan with a hammer and squeezing an air horn.

But it is nothing more than that. This is no Art of the Deal. This is the Rant of the Attention-Seeker.

It’s not about us. It’s all about him.

Texans, at least those not scrambling atop their homes to save their lives, may want to be reminded that almost 50 per cent of their exports go to their top two trading partners, Mexico and Canada, and they import about 42 per cent of their goods from their NAFTA partners.

While you’re trying to stay above rising flood waters, it’s good to know your president is musing about ripping up a trade deal so vital to your state.

At least a couple of Canadian politicians couldn’t help themselves Sunday.

“The only thing that needs to be terminated is your presidency,” Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger wrote. “Save yourself and your country. Resign and you will be popular everywhere.”

NDP leadership candidate Charlie Angus was somewhat more poetic: “A poor player struts/frets his hour on the stage and then is heard no more. A tale told by an idiot full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”

He moderated his comments later in the day, pushing the government to keep its eye on the ball.

That’s what it’s doing.

Adam Austen, a spokesperson for Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, is becoming quite practised at tossing out the political equivalent of Xanax.

“We will work with our partners at all levels in the United States to promote Canada-U.S. trade, which support millions of jobs across the continent,” he said.

“As we have said before, trade negotiations often have moments of heated rhetoric. Our priorities remain the same, and we will continue to work hard to modernize NAFTA, supporting millions of middle-class jobs.”

Even if Trump did, in a fit of pique, seek to terminate NAFTA, it’s not certain he could do it.

Congress is ultimately responsible for giving a thumbs up or thumbs down to any renegotiated deal, not Trump. There is also legislation on the books that enshrines NAFTA and there could be enough pro-trade, had-enough-of-Trump Republicans to decide the 24-year-old legislation overrides any presidential attempt to kick the pact into the ditch.

All three countries have agreed to fast track talks, but the first negotiating session has just ended and the second, in Mexico, doesn’t begin until Friday.

They have to ignore the bully in the corridor banging on his campaign-era frying pan.

If you’re Canadian and Trump thinks we’re being “difficult,” there’s only one sane reaction: Good. And pack a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.

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