Scott Gilmore at McLeans has an article on Canada making an effective response to the new trade tariffs decreed by US President Donald Trump. This is an idea being floated by a commentator in an ally of the USA. Here’s the gist of it: Nations founded on the rule of law and having anti-corruption laws or policies can’t follow the example set by China, Qatar, etc., with their direct bribery of Trump via his properties or family. However, according to Mr. Gilmore, they *can*, and immediately *should*, sanction Trump by assessing penalties on Trump business interests and his family’s business interests, actions that would be justified under various existing laws on dealing with corrupt governments.
America’s erstwhile allies must also recognize that the President has adopted previously unimaginable new rules, and play accordingly. But, instead of bribing him with personal carrots, I would suggest we consider applying personal sticks. Instead of asking ourselves how we can help the President or his family, we should ask: How can we hurt him? And, Trump has already given us an answer.
Until this President, every previous modern occupant of the White House divested their assets upon assuming office. This eliminated the possibility personal business interests might benefit from political decisions. Conversely, it prevented others from threatening the President by attacking those assets. Trump, by refusing to give up his businesses, and by flagrantly violating the emoluments clause, has inadvertently handed us the perfect stick.
I propose that instead of taxing the import of American serviettes, we tax Trump. In the spirit of the Magnitsky Act, Canada and the western allies come together to collectively pressure the only pain point that matters to this President: his family and their assets. This could take the form of special taxation on their current operations, freezing of assets, or even sanctions against senior staff. Canada could add a tax to Trump properties equal to any tariff unilaterally imposed by Washington. The European Union could revoke any travel visas for senior staff in the Trump organization. And the United Kingdom could temporarily close his golf course.
Mr. Gilmore is pretty optimistic about the outcome if this should happen. I’m not sure I share his optimism. He is certainly clear-eyed about the futility of the retaliatory trade tariffs that, while they are targeted to cause political pain, are likely to be written off by Trump as collateral damage that he won’t care about. Trump’s comments on farmers being up for some sacrifices for the good of the country when China announced policies on imports of agricultural products certainly validates this latter concern: other people experiencing hardship is of no moment to Trump. However, simply assuming that direct aversive stimuli will work on Trump ignores Trump’s history of behavior when such approaches have been tried before. While that’s mostly been in business dealings, the pattern is clear: when a personal attack is recognized, strike back harder, threaten extravagantly, and carry a grudge forever. The punitive possibilities before involved things like having Michael Cohen yell at you over the phone, but now Trump has at his disposal a bunch of tools of more consequence, and even better for Trump, other people are paying the bill for making them available and using them. I don’t know exactly what Trump, the Trump Organization, and the White House Sycophant League will come up with as retaliation for an ally sanctioning Trump personal assets, but I’m thinking meek capitulation is not going to be an option they even consider.