Preparing for the End of American Leadership

Canada is ready for a world without the United States as its global superpower

Photo by Gage Skidmore
Gage Skidmore

In her speech this morning on the upcoming NAFTA negotiations, opened with an anecdote of American failure: “In his book about the war of 1812, the historian Alan Taylor describes how, at the height of the conflict between the United States and British Canada, the US forces unaccountably held off trying to invade the St. Lawrence River valley,” she said. “Such an invasion might have dramatically changed the outcome of the war. But it never happened.” The rest of her remarks were more or less boilerplate—details about Liberal hopes for the negotiations, which mainly include increasing labour protections and environmental regulations and keeping everything else the same. The anecdote was nonetheless pointed: America has tried to bully Canada before, and failed. They shouldn’t try again. It was yet another sign of America’s waning influence. Even the Canadian foreign minister no longer finds it necessary to fawn.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the American inauguration. You probably remember it from the rioting in the streets, the burned cars in downtown Washington, DC, and Trump’s historic speech which declared that the “American carnage” would end and that he was officially going to put “America first.” The past week has seen the fulfillment of the promise of that first inaugural with the violence in Charlottesville and the inauguration of a totally unnecessary series of trade talks. Oh yeah, and the nuclear standoff with Korea. I’d forgotten about that. Who can keep track anymore? Americans voted for a batshit lunatic and a batshit lunatic is who they have in power and he is making their country batshit, as promised.

I happened to watch Trump’s inauguration from a very privileged vantage point—from the Canadian embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue. The Canadian embassy is a hot place to watch American inaugurations, and Trump’s inauguration was no exception: the place filled up with naval attachés and cultural attachés and men and women “with the steel delegation” and other vaguely spy-sounding titles. When Trump uttered the syllables “America first,” it was like every single person in the room simultaneously heard about their dog dying. Every face deflated. The bureaucrats that keep the world running collectively aged about a decade in that one moment. They knew—everyone who was paying attention knew—that the American world order, as we had known it, was over.

American insanity has forced them to deal with those they would ordinarily hate. It was, of course, in America’s interests for Brazil and Mexico to be rivals. Divided loyalties increased their power over the region. Perhaps America was more than unnecessary. Perhaps it was an impediment.

Which brings us back to Freeland’s reference to the war of 1812. The Alan Taylor book to which she referred is called The Civil War of 1812, and its argument is that, in 1812, the Americans and the Canadians were so close to one another—often blood relations—that the conflict that preserved Canada amounted to a rejection of a political order rather than the resistance to a conquering people. The book captures our unique relationship to America, which is going to serve us fabulously well in the upcoming global reorientation. Every government in the world is imitating

Stephen Marche
Stephen Marche (@StephenMarche) published The Hunger of the Wolf, a novel, in February 2015. The Unmade Bed, his sixth book, is out now.