For U.S. progressives and Canadians, hope that Trump will break his promises

There is a sense, even among some Republicans, that there really is no idea what will happen to the United States — and the entire planet by extension — during the impending Trump presidency.

The unpredictable president-elect has changed his stripes before - is it naive to expect he will again?

Republican president-elect Donald Trump has vexed Canadians with statements about NAFTA, NATO and climate change. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

During the wee hours of Wednesday morning — some time between when Pennsylvania fell to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton called him to concede defeat — a traffic cop pulled over a CBC News van heading west a little too quickly from downtown Fargo.

The very polite young officer asked what a Canadian news crew was doing in North Dakota. We explained we were covering the U.S. election.

"Is it true your immigration site crashed?" he chuckled before he graciously wrote us a warning ticket. "Drive home safe. There's probably a lot of traffic heading that way."

The election of Donald Trump means there's no shortage of Americans joking about moving to Canada. The Fargo police officer was merely the first to make a nervous crack in the vicinity of CBC Manitoba reporters on their way back north along the Red River Valley.

"Take me home with you," pleaded the bartender in the Grand Forks restaurant when he saw our Canadian credit cards.

"Is there room in that van?" asked the gas-station attendant who sold me a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels in Pembina.

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The widespread unease about a president Trump is not inconsistent with the fact the putative Republican emerged as the decisive victor on Wednesday morning.

There is a sense, even among some Republicans, that there really is no idea what will happen to the United States — and the entire planet by extension — during the impending Trump presidency.

At a gathering of Republicans in downtown Fargo on election night, there was widespread shock when it became clear Trump was beating Clinton.

But there was no big celebration, mainly because of the slow manner in which the presidential results emerged. The large crowd that arrived early to see governor-elect Doug Burgum continue the GOP's 24-year rein in North Dakota had thinned considerably by the time Trump claimed North Carolina and Florida.

A Fargo real-estate agent, who called himself more of a Republican than a Trump supporter, said while he was thrilled to see Clinton lose, he really had no idea what to expect from the new president in the coming months and years.

A university student from Perham, Minn. who described herself as a big Trump fan suggested the reality-TV star amped up his campaign rhetoric merely to remain in the media spotlight and will now moderate his tone.

Wednesday morning's relatively thoughtful victory speech provided some evidence that President Trump will in fact be a lot more moderate than Candidate Trump, who promised to deport illegal immigrants, ban Muslim immigration and build a wall across the Mexican border, among other draconian measures.

Among some progressive Americans, there is hope that the entire Trump campaign was one big act, with The Donald courting extreme elements simply to garner headlines. 

"Is it really too outlandish to believe that he would give up some of his most controversial ideas to win approval of other proposals?" the Sacramento Bee asked in a Thursday editorial, noting Trump is a serial bandwagon-jumper who has a long track record of switching political allegiances and positions.

This is not just a Hail-Mary hope for the American left. Canadians are concerned about Trump's pledges to rewrite or cancel NAFTA, cancel the Paris climate-change accord and overhaul NATO, which he's called "obsolete and expensive."

As even the least engaged voter knows, politicians have a tough time following through on their campaign pledges. Trump may be the first U.S. president who would be cheered for abandoning most of his platform.

Such a hope may simply amount to naive idealism, as there is no evidence Trump is motivated by anything other than a desire to win. It's far too soon to say whether President Trump will behave as rationally as president-elect Trump appeared to behave during his victory speech.

So it makes sense to hear cops and bartenders and gas-station attendants joke about Americans moving to Canada. Nobody knows what Donald Trump will do — and if anyone claims to know, it's merely bluster.

The scariest possibility is that Trump himself has no idea.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.