Politics·Analysis

Trump delights supporters, alarms trading partners with inaugural speech

U.S. President Donald Trump's inaugural speech was tonic for the crowd that flooded Washington from those blue-collar, rust-belt states that turned on the Democrats last year when Trump offered them the brash guarantee of better days ahead.

U.S. president does it his way in speech that doubles down on putting America first

U.S. President Donald Trump and his wife, Melania, walk along the Inauguration Day parade route on Friday. (Evan Vucci/Pool/Associated Press)

Donald Trump, we're told, wrote Friday's inaugural speech on his own, and there's little reason to doubt that.

It was, for the most part, a rehash of the themes he's set out ever since he got into the race to be president back in 2015.

Standing before tens of thousands of the people who voted for him and his promise to create good, high-paying manufacturing jobs starting, well, right now, Trump repackaged all those now familiar promises: America will be great again.

It was tonic for the crowd that flooded Washington from those blue-collar, rust-belt states that turned on the Democrats last year when Trump offered them, not the audacity of hope promised by Barack Obama eight years ago, but the brash guarantee of better days ahead.

For Canadians who remain concerned that Trump's anti-trade, America-first stance over that time might not be toned down once he took office, let's just say there's no reason to feel any less anxious today.

Trump summed up his promised new vision for the future like this: America first.

It's catchy, if a bit hackneyed. But by saying it Trump made it clear that he thinks previous presidents, including the four who were seated directly behind him as he spoke, had some other goal in mind when they occupied the highest office in the land.

Supporters line the parade route as Trump passes in his motorcade after being sworn in as the 45th president of the United States. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

He said his policies — on trade, taxes, job creation, and immigration — would be built around two simple rules: Buy American. Hire American.

"America will start to win again, and like never before," he said. "We will bring back jobs … and our dreams."

Buy American is a policy brought in by the Democrats during Obama's first term to give preferential access to U.S. firms bidding on government contracts. Hire American needs no explanation.

Trading partners take note

This relentless focus on better days ahead, of restoring America's proper place at the top of the heap in the global pecking order, are themes intended to resonate with Trump's voting base, says Kyle Kondik, managing editor of  a political newsletter published by the University of Virginia's Centre For Politics.

"It was a speech, as his rhetoric normally does, that delights his supporters and horrifies the people who don't like him."

It's also a reminder that Trump, the deal maker, is only interested in outcomes where he's the clear winner. His speech, for all its blunt, take-it-or-leave-it-ness, could hardly be described as an opening offer.

If you're a U.S. trading partner, take note.

The Trans-Pacific Trade deal that Barack Obama tried to push through with Pacific Rim nations — gone.

The North American Free Trade Agreement will be renegotiated to win concessions that provide better protection for American workers. In Canada's case, that means a change in country of origin requirement, and a revamped way to resolve disputes that the U.S. has had an unhappy tendency to lose.

Buy American is back.

Trump's offering in return is, so far, nothing.

Tim McMillan, the CEO of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, was in Washington to hear Trump's address. He got the message.

"They are going to look at ways to put American jobs ahead of those of their trading partners. As Canadians we have a long-standing relationship. It is beneficial in both directions, but we have to continuously prove the value."

Protesters rally against the inauguration at the state Capitol in Sacramento, Calif. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr insists there's a difference between Trump's political message and what his government will enact as policy. Carr was one of a handful of ministers at the Canadian Embassy's well-attended party Friday, pushing the line that Canada is different from every other U.S. trading partner, friend and ally.

"What we're looking for is where our interests coincide," he says in an interview airing on CBC Radio's The House. "So when he talks about jobs, American jobs, we say, well, there's an awful lot of jobs for Canada and the U.S. in the energy sector where it's highly integrated already."

Carr and other ministers have already been reaching out to Congress and state governors to make the case that Canada and the U.S. benefit from their close ties.

Every guest at the Canadian Embassy's inaugural bash left with a handy flyer setting out the value of the trading partnership in key sectors of the economy on one side, and Canada's role in North American defence, environmental stewardship and the fight against ISIS on the other.

Canada U.S.A., it says. Friends. Partners. Allies.

Friends across the border

The good news for Canadian businesses and cabinet ministers is that Trump has to get much, but not all of what he wants through Congress. And that is not guaranteed.

The Inaugural Day parade route is seen from the Canadian Embassy in Washington on Friday. (Alex Panetta/Canadian Press)

Brian Higgins says members of Congress, on both sides of the partisan divide, understand the value of the Canadian relationship.

Higgins, a Democrat from Buffalo, N.Y., co-chairs the Northern Border Caucus.

"I represent a community … that's highly dependent, highly dependent, on reliable, predictable access to and from Canada. Our quality of life in western New York is enhanced by our close proximity to the Niagara region."

The other co-chair, North Dakota Republican Kevin Cramer, is an early Trump supporter and adviser. He understands that the America first theme is off-putting in Canada. But he says Canadians should remember Trump made his fortune in the hospitality industry, and he intends to be hospitable to his closest neighbour.

"We are a lot more alike than we are different. I come from a state that produces a lot more product than we can consume. We have to sell to our neighbours."

And that means jobs, says Cramer. Lots of jobs in the U.S. that depend on trade with Canada.

Trump might want to remember that the next time he writes his own scripts. The easiest way to create jobs, is to build on the ones Americans already have because of the country's close ties to Canada.

About the Author

Chris Hall

National Affairs Editor

Chris Hall is the CBC's National Affairs Editor and host of The House on CBC Radio, based in the Parliamentary Bureau in Ottawa. He began his reporting career with the Ottawa Citizen, before moving to CBC Radio in 1992, where he worked as a national radio reporter in Toronto, Halifax and St. John's. He returned to Ottawa and the Hill in 1998.

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