Perp walks, plane crashes, and debating the future
On any other day, we might start our GZERO North newsletter with the housing crisis afflicting the US and Canada and what, if anything, the federal governments should do about it (they have to act, and mewling an excuse about this not being federal jurisdiction is the political equivalent of “the dog ate my homework!”).
Or maybe you’re thinking, hey GZERO, what about this ugly dispute between Canada and the big tech giants like Meta, which has already led to the banning of Canadian news on Facebook and will likely lead to a digital services tax of 3% by January. Won’t the Biden folks, in an election year, pump out some retaliatory tariffs to send a signal to other countries that says: “Don’t follow those northern syrup-suckers and Thelma-and-Louise it off the digital trade cliff! Read our lips: No Digital Tax!” So, is this the start of a nasty little US-Canada trade war?
Probably, but it’s hard to focus on all those … After all, as I write this, we’re awaiting an unbelievable sight: a presidential perp walk. Yes, former President Donald Trump is in Georgia to slouch his way toward Fulton County Jail, this time alongside 18 others. (Trump and the 18 would be a good name for a band, with a remixed single called “91 Problems”). But even that is barely the headline. What about last night?
In the land of “Laverne and Shirley,” Republicans adopted lines from the long-running sitcom’s theme tune: “Read us any rule – we'll break it” to do it their way (well, their new way, at least). Sans Trump, eight political benchwarmers got to star in the Milwaukee political exhibition game known as a primary debate. Outside of picking the winners and losers (we did that in our morning newsletter, check it out), the real message was: The Republican center cannot hold.
For every moment that former VP Mike Pence tried to defend the classic Republican stance on, say, support for Ukraine, or that former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley looked for consensus on abortion, or former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie suggested that Trump’s conduct was unbecoming of the presidency, the responses reflected a party being pulled right by the gravitational force of Donald Trump. Oops, I forgot to mention Ron DeSantis. He was stolid in that wooden-puppet-comes-to-life-kinda way but was a bit … forgettable, which is his biggest challenge. (Meanwhile, as the debate aired, Trump was over on X, formerly known as Twitter, with Tucker Carlson, rehashing conspiracy theories on how convicted pedophile Jeffrey Epstein was killed and no doubt pinching ratings).
Almost all of the candidates said they would support Trump if he becomes the nominee, even if convicted, but none more so than the human Trump pom-pom, Vivek Ramaswamy.
The super-smart, accomplished, splashy, 38-year-old is approachable, compelling, and extremely far to the right of the others. Dismantle the department of education and the FBI? Yup. Pull support from Ukraine? Yup. Climate change is a hoax? Duh. Still, the political neophyte is making the fringe fashionable, and he kinda won the night. Vivek’s debate prep, which included his inexplicably bizarre topless tennis training video, must have also included a four-course meal of Energizer bunnies because he hyperactively hopped from topic to topic, lobbing electric zingers that made him the major candidate in a minor group.
Foreign governments like Canada, which have already admitted spending a fair bit of time prepping for another Trump administration (more on that below), must now recalibrate. Trump is no longer an outlier surrounded by some corrective forces; he is the insider surrounded by sycophantic forces. Any new Republican administration would mean all bets are off for alliances, trade deals, and an American-led multilateral world.
And even that’s not the headline. I haven’t even mentioned Wagner chief Yevgeny Prigozhin’s long-expected demise two months after he mounted his mini-insurrection. Putin has not admitted he downed Prigozhin’s private plane, but give the man his bloody due: Putin is the Air Jordan of assassination, and if his logo was not on the killing, his brand was all over it.
All of this means what to the US-Canada relationship? It means the world outside the neighborhood is getting more chaotic, and so is the world inside of it. Lest you think the problem is only on the Republican right, it ain’t. Both Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau are facing angry electorates, struggling economies, and are both about as popular as a free plane ride with Prigozhin. Meanwhile, silver-spoon spoiler Robert Kennedy Jr. is sawing off the radical left flank with his antisemitic medical memes and doing weird topless training videos of his own. Progressives are doddering to find their own way forward, and their efforts don’t look too hot either.
In other words, the summer silly season of politics has come to an early end, and we need to make sense of things now more than ever.