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Trump presidency will test shared values with Canada, Britain

An attendee holds a sign reading "The Silent Majority Stands With Trump" during an election night party Donald Trump in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Donald Trump promised it would be Brexit but even bigger. And he was right. The pockets of secret Trump supporters duly turned up on the day, just as they did in the U.K., when Britain voted to leave the European Union.

Having won, president-elect Donald Trump finds himself in the same boat as Theresa May, the British Prime Minister. Mr. Trump has to explain what Brexit, or in his case "Make America Great Again," really means. His policy ideas are a grab bag of hates – he is against immigration, free trade, multinationals that export jobs, expensive health care, Washington bureaucrats and whiny liberals.

It's no recipe for government but it was never intended as a manifesto. In his victory speech, Mr. Trump said his candidacy had not been a campaign but a movement. No surprise that investors are confused; instead of dumping the U.S. dollar (as they did with the pound after the Brexit vote), they have decided to suck it and see.

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Instinctively, the markets do get Donald Trump. They inhabit the same world of deal-making. Hillary Clinton, the Democrats and almost everybody outside the Trump tent didn't understand that their opponent is not a politician and doesn't play politics.

Donald Trump is a property dealer and an opportunist. His strategy in any contest is to bid up frantically until he wins the auction; then he steps aside to renegotiate the prize on his own terms. He is utterly transactional.

It is also true that congressional American politics, never mind the geopolitics of trade and international security, can never be worked like a real estate deal. Governments need long-term alliances that are capable of withstanding random events. The confrontation of Mr. Trump's "art of the deal" with the dull granite of government may in due course block and ultimately crush the Trump presidency. Meanwhile, America's long-standing friends and neighbours, such as Canada and Britain, may struggle to gain influence in the Trump White House.

Canadians and others want to know whether Mr. Trump's "U.S. exit" could lead to the isolation that now threatens the U.K. post-Brexit. Rather than such big picture stuff, the instinct of the new man in the White House will be to seek short-term wins. He won't build walls against Mexico or turn back Muslims arriving at Kennedy Airport; fighting turf wars with Congress will not appeal to him. Instead, he might strike a deal to reform business taxes, offering American companies much lower rates in return for bringing back the trillion dollars hidden offshore – lower taxes and big money coming home would be a perfect Trump deal.

But the threats to tear up trade agreements and shut out imports that kill American jobs leaves the Donald looking a little friendless in the wider world. A congratulatory message from Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, contained a veiled warning that her "close co-operation" would be based on shared values, which include "the dignity of human beings." So, Mr. Trump might have to look elsewhere for quick and easy diplomatic wins. What could be easier than a trip to London or Ottawa to rekindle some dying embers?

Both Britain and Canada now find themselves sharing a bed with a most undiplomatic partner. Britons and Canadians live by trading in a way that Americans don't and the former must somehow quell the protectionist impulses of Mr. Trump. Canada has no choice, being joined at the hip, so to speak, with the world's biggest economy. But for Britain, the Donald could prove to be the first unpleasant consequence of Brexit.

Having wriggled out from the restraint of Brussels, Ms. May may find herself trapped in an embarrassing diplomatic embrace with the new man in the White House. On the stump, Mr. Trump promised to be "first in the queue" to do a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain. She must accept his offer, but what sort of deal might Mr. Trump seek with a vulnerable ally?

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Even as fellow liberals wept into their morning caffe macchiatos, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau rushed to be the first to congratulate the president-elect. Without a trace of irony, he spoke of shared values and deep cultural ties. These are things Mr. Trudeau shared with U.S. President Barack Obama but it is unclear what common ground will remain in a redecorated White House. Millennials in Britain and Canada may find the Brexit/Trump world strange and frightening but it will be familiar to their parents and grandparents. The 1970s were a troubled time when posturing, bellicose and suspicious superpowers fought proxy wars and trade was what you did with neighbours. Britain then had yet to find its place in Europe; in geopolitical terms, the U.K. and Canada were American satellites, airstrips for the exercise of American power.

Canadians who sneer at the crudity of Mr. Trump should stop complaining and accept that the property tycoon had a better grasp of the views of ordinary Americans than anyone else. It was not just grumpy working-class white men who voted for the Donald but a great many women, and a third of Hispanic voters shrugged off the Donald's abusive comments about Mexicans and voted alongside blue-collar whites.

Keeping the door open to a more insular America is the job to be done, watching and listening while the Donald shuffles the cards in his rather small hands.

Carl Mortished is a Canadian financial journalist based in London.

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About the Author

Carl Mortished is a Canadian financial journalist and freelance consultant based in the U.K. With a career spanning investment banking, journalism and consulting for global companies, he was for many years a financial writer and columnist for The Times of London. More

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