This article first appeared in the Toronto Star on 20161113.
Just as Harper has watched Trudeau dismantle 10 years of policies, Obama will witness Trump do the same as both victors stand in stark contrast to their predecessors
There’s an adage in politics: Your successor is your legacy.
Politicians spend their lives in government advocating for policies and passing legislation they believe will form their legacy — one they hope will be a lasting one for the nation. We have no shortage of such Canadian figures; think of John A. Macdonald, Wilfrid Laurier, Tommy Douglas and the mythology that continues to exist around them.
But more than what they achieve in office, the legacy for many is defined by the leader who replaces them.
That’s something I have been thinking about this week. How Barack Obama’s legacy will be defined by his successor, Donald J. Trump.
After all, President-elect Trump is everything Obama is not. And in many ways, the fundamental differences between the two men led to Trump’s victory in Tuesday’s U.S. election.
Obama is politically correct; Trump disavows political correctness. Obama is an intellectual; Trump rails against the intelligentsia. Obama is a policy wonk; Trump policy can be described on a bumper sticker. Obama is an internationalist, in favour of globalization, free trade and immigration; Trump not so much.
This time, however, the people who voted for Trump didn’t use the criteria upon which Obama was elected. Rather, these white, primarily rural, and middle-aged voters formed a new coalition founded on disenchantment with the status quo and a belief that the system was fundamentally rigged against them.
This coalition of voters was formed because of a canyon of deep division. A divide between urbanites and rural dwellers, the educated and uneducated, the rich and poor, and whites and ethnic minorities that’s growing at an alarming rate and is creating an inescapable ‘us vs. them’ mentality.
Feeling ignored by Washington, and more specifically by Obama and his administration, this cohort of voters focused on disappearing manufacturing jobs, a porous U.S. border and their very real sense that America’s value system was shifting under their feet. And that their America was becoming unrecognizable.
Donald Trump and Barack Obama’s policy platforms run entirely counter to each other, with little in the way of overlap.
However, there is more than just policy differences at play. A successor can represent the celebration or utter repudiation of their predecessors’ approach to leadership and governance.
A Clinton victory would have cemented Obama’s policy legacy and reinforced his governing style. Rather, with Trump’s victory, the latter appears to be the case.
This is not just an American phenomenon, of course, nor is it new. In 2013, Mayor John Tory, a renowned collaborator and consensus builder, was elected largely as a consequence of voters’ exhaustion with the divisiveness of the Ford era.
In Ontario in 1995, Mike Harris replaced Bob Rae as premier. He did so based on his Common Sense Revolution and plan for smaller government and tax relief, which washed away Rae’s far more expansive government.
And more recently, in 2015, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister, skyrocketing from third place in the House of Commons to leader of a majority government.
His success, in large part, was the stark contrast Trudeau provided with his predecessor.
How gut-wrenching must it be for Harper to watch as Trudeau repeals much of the significant legislation from his 10 years of public service?
There was little common ground between the agendas of Trudeau’s campaign and the Harper government. The Liberals have decimated the previous government’s tough-on-crime legislation, climate change policy, and fiscal framework.
While Trudeau continues to enjoy an extended post-election honeymoon, the Conservative Party is about to select its next leader. Kellie Leitch — the antithesis to Trudeau — is starting to look more and more like the next Tory leader. Many among the elites, as Leitch likes to call them, are puzzled by what she is up to.
But as the 2019 federal election approaches, a case can be made that the voter base that mobilized for Brexit and Trump could manifest itself in Canada. Make no mistake: Canada is not immune to such discontent, and if storm clouds occlude Trudeau’s sunny ways, there’s a chance the next prime minister of Canada will be diametrically opposite to the current one.
Obama desperately wanted Clinton to win, for both his legacy and his country, and he campaigned relentlessly for her. Her failure is his loss, and his legacy has been tarnished because of it.
Jaime Watt is the executive chairman of Navigator Ltd. and a Conservative strategist.