Mexico, Canadian Cities and—gulp—President Trump

by Gord Hume

I arrive in Mexico seven hours after Donald Trump has become the President-elect of the United States of America.

There is a stunned silence from the Mexican people that I talked with and questioned. "OH MY GOD!!!" followed by eye rolling and head shaking is the most common reaction. In tourist area it seems obvious that hospitality employees have been instructed not to issue opinions about this political tsunami. That is probably wise.

Chatting to Americans from Oklahoma, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Minnesota and several other states draws sharply different responses. "I work hard for my money so I can enjoy a nice vacation down here," drawls one good-ol'-boy from Oklahoma as he settles onto a stool at the pool bar and announces he's there for the day. "And Washington is really *%#@-up. We need somebody from outside," he comments between sucking back an adult beverage or three.

"I'm pretty happy. So are my friends," a couple from Minnesota tell me. "Never trusted her," they say bluntly, which turns out to be a more common theme than expected. They have what seems like a rather naïve view of what the incoming President can and will do.

"It is a national embarrassment!" That's according to an older couple from Ohio who are shaking their heads in shock and disbelief. They despise Mr. Trump and his bombastic pronouncements, particularly his comments about Hispanics and women. "He makes my skin crawl," pronounces another man.

A couple from Illinois are divided he likes Trump, she can't stand him. They will have an interesting family conversation at Thanksgiving around the turkey.

Three things become evident to me. First, there is utter disgust with Congress, Washington and the way things have been done for years in the national capital. This is not an uncommon feeling right now amongst western democracies. Politicians have brought that on themselves.

Second, the economy is not in wonderful shape. People are fearful, threatened and worried about their jobs and future. They are seeking a magic bullet' and the promises of Trump appealed to many. People running in elections often forget that the economy is still a fundamental concern to voters. In this US election, older, white and middle-class male voters spoke very loudly.

Third, there was a deeper dislike and distrust of Hillary Clinton than most Canadians understood. She was respected as Secretary of State, but as soon as she entered the political arena again the knives came out and the attacks began. She was never able to galvanize her base and appeal to the uncommitted.

There is also the role of the media, and particularly social media in the campaign, but that is a subject for another column another day.

It is impossible to know right now what impact the new president will have on Canada, and on our towns and cities. Certainly there will be impacts, from immigration to trade to energy to the border. Environmental issues seem vulnerable. Cities should be starting a conversation quietly now to review this dramatic new context in which they will have to do business.

Mr. Trump is going to learn the one huge lesson that all politicians learn and that is there is an enormous difference between campaigning for office and governing a city or a nation. Rhetoric soon gives way to hard political reality. While he may well enjoy a long honeymoon with a Republican majority in Congress, global truths and economic practicalities will temper some of his most outrageous statements and promises. What he can't do is un-ring the bell of things like modern manufacturing techniques such as robotics and computers, or the global economy.

Regardless, though, we are entering a new era of political hardball. How much of that trickles across the border into leadership campaigns or election strategies remains to be seen. But after the success of his negative, attacking and vicious approach to politics, I worry that some Canadian people at both the local and national levels will find that technique appealing. 

I have never liked attack ads or negative campaigns. I hope we are not going to see that in local government elections in the next few years, but I fear the tone in politics across this nation and around the world could see a baser tone, lone-wolf campaigns and a rise in narrow protectionism.

Municipalities and candidates all have some deep thinking and soul-searching ahead as a reality TV star meets reality.

Gord Hume


Gord Hume is recognized as one of Canada's leading voices on municipal government and is an articulate and thoughtful commentator on civic government and community issues. He is a very popular public speaker, an advisor to municipal governments, and a respected and provocative author.

Gord was elected to London City Council four times. He has had a distinguished career in Canadian business, managing radio stations and as Publisher of a newspaper. Gord received two “Broadcaster of the Year' awards. He is now President of Hume Communications Inc., a professional independent advisor to municipalities.

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