The Group of Seven, named for its small number of member nations, had more than than an image problem on its hands when U.S. President Donald Trump alienated the other leaders and insulted the current chair, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
The fracture lines between Trump and some of the United States’ staunchest allies were evident well before the gathering, reflect bitter differences over trade, climate change, NATO, Iran, Russia and North Korea. The list goes on and on. But Trump’s standoff policies and major differences with the rest of the West, and his brash willingness to undermine old alliances, gained new notoriety as the news media branded the G-7 as the “G6+1.”
By the end of the G-7 summit in Canada, Trump had not only blown up the final accord but accused Trudeau of being “dishonest and weak” and making “false statements.” Trump waited until he was departing aboard Air Force One to disavow the summit’s traditional, final communiqué, negotiated over two days of meetings.
The attention showered on Trump’s disruptive, mercurial presence also detracted from Canada’s progressive agenda for its leadership of the G-7 in 2018. Its agenda was to find agreement on “real, concrete solutions to promote gender equality, women’s empowerment, clean energy, and economic growth that works for everyone.”
Instead of finding solutions, the group’s dynamics were captured in a single photo from Quebec: Trump seated with his arms folded, as others stood around him appearing frustrated. It was snapped by German government photographer Jesco Denzel and released by Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Isolation among the elite
The informal moniker used in headlines and news articles to describe the G-7 meetings in Quebec from June 8 to 9 reflected Trump’s isolation. It also brought into focus the makeup and elasticity of an exclusive club of wealthy, industrialized democracies that meet annually for informal gatherings on hot topics ranging from economics and trade to security, energy and climate change.
“Welcome to the G6+1: Trump reps an isolated America at the G-7 summit,” NBC News declared in a headline. “The G6+1” was the New York Times headline for an opinion piece on June 8 from op-ed columnist David Leonhardt. Financial Times used the phrase “G6+1” for a piece about Trump’s unpopularity in Canada.
The Washington Post reported Trump privately discussed sending Vice President Mike Pence instead of him. It quoted France’s finance minister, Bruno Le Maire, saying preparation for the talks were “far more a G-6 plus one than a G-7.”
Trump’s schedule had called for his departure from Canada even before the G-7 meetings with America’s closest allies were over. He was flying on to meet with North Korea’s isolated dictator Kim Jong Un at the planned June 12 summit in Singapore, where Trump, ironically, might have been expected to find a much friendlier reception.
— Financial Times (@FinancialTimes) June 8, 2018
Not putting up with it
Trump, the odd man out at the G-7, even suggested that the international organization reinstate Russia, which was expelled in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea.
Brooking Institution, the Washington think-tank, tweeted that the tensions Trump created could “overwhelm” the G-7 gathering that, for now, includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.
“What we’re seeing Trump do this week — bashing allies, imposing tariffs, cozying up to dictators and reaching out to Russia — is all four elements of his ideology in practice. It’s a feature, not a bug, and was evident well before the election,” Thomas Wright, a senior fellow at Brookings who directs its Center on the United States and Europe, said on Twitter.
French President Emmanuel Macron and his fellow French-speaking host, Trudeau, used the platform of rich, industrialized nations to lash out against the new U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. “A trade war doesn’t spare anyone,” Macron told a news conference. “It will start first of all to hurt U.S. workers.”
Trudeau said Canada also would “defend” its industries and workers, but that Trump’s actions would hurt American and Canadian workers alike. “If I can get the president to actually realize that what he’s doing is counterproductive for his own goals as well,” he said, “perhaps we can move forward in a smarter way.”
Trump resorted, as usual, to Twitter to vent some steam in a series of tweets, in which he accused Trudeau and Macron of imposing massive tariffs and creating “non-monetary barriers” on U.S. products.
Looking forward to straightening out unfair Trade Deals with the G-7 countries. If it doesn’t happen, we come out even better!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2018
Prime Minister Trudeau is being so indignant, bringing up the relationship that the U.S. and Canada had over the many years and all sorts of other things…but he doesn’t bring up the fact that they charge us up to 300% on dairy — hurting our Farmers, killing our Agriculture!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 7, 2018
Why isn’t the European Union and Canada informing the public that for years they have used massive Trade Tariffs and non-monetary Trade Barriers against the U.S. Totally unfair to our farmers, workers & companies. Take down your tariffs & barriers or we will more than match you!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2018
Having the last word
At a closing press conference, Trudeau announced all of the nations’ leaders, including Trump, were in agreement over a basket of trade and climate policies that sharply differed from Trump’s approaches. Trudeau said five of the G-7 countries also had agreed to non-binding measures to reduce single-use plastic products like drink straws that often wind up polluting the Earth’s oceans.
Trudeau criticized the U.S. decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum from the European Union, Canada and Mexico. “Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we also will not be pushed around,” he said. “Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs on our steel and aluminum industry.”
Trump’s stated reason for the tariffs — national security — did not go over well, Trudeau said. For Canadians, who have “stood shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in far off lands in conflicts from the First World War onward, it’s kind of insulting,” he said.
Trump has now attended two G-7 meetings, which also include the participation of the European Union. Unlike his U.S. predecessors, Trump championed an agenda based on disruption and protectionist trade. He argued the United States has been getting a raw deal under pre-existing trade deals, and they should be renegotiated.
But he has remained averse to taking up the issue through the conventions of the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He has played to his political base with an “American First” mentality that incurred Macron’s tweeted threat to exclude the United States from the G-7’s final communiqué.
Trump had the last word, however, after having departed aboard Air Force One. While Canada released the joint statement, Trump said on Twitter that he would not endorse the G-7 statement after all.
“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies, I have instructed our U.S. Reps not to endorse the Communique as we look at Tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. Market!” Trump said in the first of a pair of stinging tweets.
The American President may not mind being isolated, but neither do we mind signing a 6 country agreement if need be. Because these 6 countries represent values, they represent an economic market which has the weight of history behind it and which is now a true international force https://t.co/UA86fcjozs
— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) June 7, 2018
PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our @G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, “US Tariffs were kind of insulting” and he “will not be pushed around.” Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 9, 2018