Chairman's Desk

World leaders seem to think the Trump years were nothing but a bad dream. It’s time for them to wake up

This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on June 20, 2021.

Last week’s G7 summit in Cornwall was the very model of modern, multilateral politicking. Against the backdrop of sunny beaches and clear blue skies, leaders of some of the world’s largest economies walked and talked, posing together every step of the way.

Pre-summit hopes had been in overdrive. Cornwall was, after all, the first such summit in the so-called post-COVID era, and the first G7 attended by the new leaders of Italy, Japan, the United States and the European Union. A more civilized, internationalist approach to the issues of the day seemed to be heralded by the inclusion of leaders from Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa.

But despite all the promise of a brighter tomorrow inherent in the summit, a crippling sense of nostalgia or, more accurately, amnesia turned out to be the dominant theme.

Perhaps that’s because, to a person, the leaders onstage seemed content to pretend the last four years of contentious feuding, silly gamesmanship and embarrassing breaches of protocol and convention had been a blip. A speed bump on the otherwise open road to greater co-operation and interdependence among nations.

Indeed, apart from elbow bumping in lieu of handshakes, the summit could well have taken place in 2015 — before COVID wrought havoc over the globe; before Donald Trump walked all over the idea of unity among western allies with his grandstanding.

But no amount of self-congratulatory affection between western leaders could return us to that halcyon era. So, we were instead forced to watch as the G7 proved itself unable to grapple with reality. In the process, it became painfully obvious that the institution is not fit for purpose.

Sure, some accomplishments were achieved — but they entailed a healthy dose of hypocrisy.

The meeting agreed to donate one billion COVID vaccines to the COVAX sharing initiative — though Canada’s own contributions will only come from returning the vaccines it took from COVAX in the first place!

The gathered countries also pledged to support the education of 40 million girls globally. Sadly, this pledge has been described as an “empty promise,” given the host country’s own decision to cut its overseas aid commitments — including those aimed at girls’ education!

Although leaders reached an agreement on reducing carbon emissions, ultimately it is woefully insufficient in the eyes of climate advocates. Activist Greta Thunberg sarcastically noted that “G7 leaders seem to be having a good time presenting their empty climate commitments.”

But perhaps the greatest oversight of all was on the part of world leaders who celebrated the return of a U.S. president who is “part of the club,” to quote French President Macron.

The unfortunate reality seems to be that Macron, German Chancellor Merkel and their fellow internationalists — our prime minister included — are behaving as though the Trump years were an aberration, rather than a sign of the times. They forget that a plurality of Americans and a majority of Republicans have made it clear they’d rather blow up their club altogether.

Of course, a large part of this complex stems from the group’s disdain for Trump. Aside from Britain’s Boris Johnson, no G7 leader could stand the former president. Because they found him so repugnant, they refused to acknowledge his legitimacy or his impact on the global order. And they refuse to imagine that the U.S. may well return to his form of politics.

But given the state of the American public opinion, it is not inconceivable that a more palatable Trump minion could be sworn into the Oval Office in 2024.

And there is one leader who is wise to this possibility: Russian President Vladimir Putin. Following their meeting, Putin capitalized on political rifts in the U.S. by questioning the legitimacy of arresting those involved in the Jan. 6 uprising.

“People came to the U.S. Congress with political demands … they’re being called domestic terrorists,” Putin said.

For his part, Putin clearly understands the same fault lines that delivered Donald Trump to office are still very much active. Let’s hope his western counterparts wake up to the same.