Walkom: Trump is right. He doesn’t always get a square deal

Donald Trump likes to portray himself as the victim. The purveyors of “fake news,” he says, undermine him because they cannot accept that he won the U.S. presidency.

His paranoia isn’t entirely misplaced.

Trump doesn’t always get a square deal. Actions that would be little-noticed in other presidents can be blown out of proportion if Trump is involved.

Those that fit the dominant narrative – that he is a racist and a boor who won office only because of help from the Russians – are emphasized.

Those that don’t fit are downplayed.

Last week, the president made news twice on the immigration front. First, he was chastised for throwing his support behind a bill that would cut legal immigration into the U.S. in half over 10 years and give priority to well-educated English speakers.

His critics accused Trump of bias. A Washington Post analysis noted that Trump’s German-speaking grandfather might have been barred from entry to the U.S. had these criteria been in place when he first arrived in 1885.

In fact, the immigration bill Trump supports is modelled on Canadian legislation that is generally regarded to be free of racial bias. It would assign points to would-be immigrants for certain skills, including the ability to speak English. Those who pass the point threshold would be eligible to enter.

The aim is to give priority to immigrants who can adapt quickly and who possess skills the country needs.

In Canada’s case, the move toward the points system in the 1960s was seen as removing a bias that favoured white European immigrants. But when Trump supports the idea, it is treated as loony nativism. Is that fair?

Later in the week, Trump made news again. His tough line on immigration has been blamed for the surge of Haitian refugee claimants entering Quebec from the U.S.

Here, too, the reality is more complicated.

Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, both Canada and the U.S. gave temporary refuge to displaced citizens of that country. In the U.S., close to 60,000 Haitians took advantage of this so-called temporary protected status. In Canada, the numbers were much smaller.

In both countries, the program was to be only temporary. Canada ended its version in August 2016, leaving 3,200 Haitians facing possible deportation. The U.S. was to have ended its version this May, but the Trump administration extended the deadline to next January. Some Haitians affected by this decision are crossing into Canada to try their luck here.

Does the president’s decision to end a temporary humanitarian program make him a monster? Perhaps. But if so, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is equally monstrous. Yet that is not the rap he faces.

Finally, another Trump story. This one, from the Washington Post, featured what were said to be transcripts of Trump’s phone calls earlier this year to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The Post refers to Trump’s comments as “jaw-dropping.” In fact, most are not. A full reading of his conversation with Pena Nieto shows the American president acting firmly but politely.

The leaders admit candidly that Trump’s insistence that Mexico pay for a wall along the U.S. southern border has put both presidents in a political bind. Pena Nieto cannot agree to pay if he is to have any credibility with Mexican voters. Yet if Trump is to remain credible with his, Mexico must pay.

The solution they reach is classic: They agree not to talk about the wall. They also agree that other issues, including trade between the two countries, are far more important.

Is this nuts?

Trump’s conversation with Turnbull is more fraught. Turnbull raises the issue of the 1,250 migrants from Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan detained by Australia that former president Barack Obama promised to resettle in the U.S.

Trump replies that he is still against the deal, which he says will make him look like a “dope.” But, he grudgingly says, he will honour it anyway. The two argue. At one point, Trump notes that his conversation with Turnbull is the “most unpleasant” telephone call he has had all day.

Still, it ends politely. Turnbull thanks Trump. Trump thanks the Australian leader. The two hang up.

Certainly, it is not the friendliest of interactions. Yet it doesn’t hold a candle to the 1965 confrontation between then president Lyndon Johnson and Canadian prime minister Lester Pearson.

That’s when Johnson, angered by Pearson’s public criticism of America’s Vietnam War, grabbed the Canadian leader by his lapels and shouted: “Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug.”

Trump, for all his many faults, didn’t go that far.

Thomas Walkom is a national affairs columnist.

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