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In UN speeches, Trudeau and Obama take aim at the politics of Trumpism

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delivers a speech at the General Debate of the 71st Session of the UN General Assembly at the United Nations headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2016.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
September 21, 2016 - 7:00 AM

UNITED NATIONS, United Nations - Justin Trudeau's first speech to the United Nations General Assembly included some less-than-subtle references to the politics practiced by people like Donald Trump, in a year where populist nationalism has made gains in different countries.

The prime minister never mentioned any names. Yet he warned three times in his speech about politicians who exploit anxiety for personal gain.

Trudeau told the convention hall that politicians have a choice to make: stoke public anxiety because it works for them politically, or try alleviating it with policies that improve people's lives.

He cast his government's spending-heavy program as the latter — with an infrastructure plan that he's convinced will create middle-class jobs.

"What is the alternative?" Trudeau asked.

"To exploit anxiety? To turn it into fear and blame? To reject others because they look, or speak, or pray differently than we do?"

His message was similar to that of Barack Obama.

Before Trudeau delivered his first UN address, the U.S. president gave his last. He defended globalization, derided walls between nations and encouraged policies that allow working people to experience the benefits of the global economy.

"Today, a nation ringed by walls would only imprison itself," Obama said — one of three references to walls in his speech. "So the answer cannot be a simple rejection of global integration. Instead, we must work together to make sure the benefits of such integration are broadly shared."

He cited several policies that might reassure working people that the globalized economy isn't rigged against them: unionization, cracking down on tax havens, and a social-safety net that allows people to retrain for new jobs.

Obama also described foreign aid as one of those tools to narrow inequality — not within countries but between them.

"A world in which one per cent of humanity controls as much wealth as the other 99 per cent will never be stable," he said. "A pervasive sense of injustice undermines people's faith in the system."

He took a shot at the notion of trade wars, a solution suggested by populists like Trump. Tit-for-tat tariff spats would only impoverish the world and increase the likelihood of conflict, Obama said.

Polls in recent weeks have shown a tightening race in the U.S., where Trump has suddenly appeared competitive in surveys nationally and in battleground states. His win in the Republican nomination race comes in a year where other anti-globalization politicians have achieved success in several European countries.

While they differ in myriad policy areas, common themes shared by Trump and parties like France's Front National include opposition to trade deals, complaints about foreigners taking jobs, and advocating a harder line against radical Islamists.

There's an active debate among American pundits about what's driving Trump's voters — anxiety about economics, as Trudeau suggests; culture and race; or a combination of factors, including frustration with run-of-the-mill politicians.

Surveys have given reason to competing theories. They indeed show Trump doing better with voters who are less affluent and less educated. They also show greater resentment toward racial minorities.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2016
The Canadian Press

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