Stranger in a strange land notes optimism down south
April 25, 2017 By Keith Norbury
One the most startling revelations for a Canadian visitor to ConExpo-Con/Agg in Las Vegas this March was just how optimistic Americans we spoke with are about the new presidential administration in the U.S.
Now, most of them didn’t mention the new U.S. president by name — although one did quite loudly bellow half in jest that “It’s Trump!” as an explanation for his optimism. By and large, the sentiments ranged from expressions of simple relief that the long presidential campaign was finally over — a veiled indication that optimism would prevail no matter who won — to an expectation that Trump would follow through on his promises in three key areas.
We detected a consensus among those in the heavy equipment industries that they really like the prospect of lower corporate taxes, reductions in regulations, and an increase in infrastructure spending. Nothing else associated with Trump, such as his lack of presidential deportment and propensity for tweeting whatever thought enters his mind, seemed to matter.
With the exception of a taxi driver, now a U.S. citizen but originally from Iraq, nobody we spoke with during ConExpo volunteered that they favoured mass deportations of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Nor did anyone come out and argue that erecting trade barriers are the way to make America Great Again. A few grumbled about the high cost of health insurance in the U.S. but it was hard to tell if those were indictments or endorsements of Obamacare.
Yes, being a Canadian at ConExpo was in many ways to be a stranger in a strange land. Yet while at times ConExpo made us feel like we were on Mars, it also felt very familiar. The U.S. remains a democracy after all. And in a democracy, it’s difficult for a political movement to stay in power indefinitely. Witness the Conservatives in Alberta, not to mention the federal Tories under Stephen Harper.
Canadians no longer wanted a Conservative in charge of Canada just as U.S. voters no longer wanted a Democrat in charge — although for different reasons. Actually, in both cases it was tiny fraction of the electorate that changed their votes — but that’s all it took to effect big changes.
To say that Trump was a change candidate is one huge understatement. To date, he hasn’t effected many of the changes he promised — including repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act. But it’s still only a few months into his presidency. So his supporters have plenty of time to hope.
Such hope has made the mood of American businesses much more bullish in the last several months. And that change in mood is, for now at least, more important and forceful than any legislation that Trump and Congress can enact.
It’s so powerful that it has the potential to become detached from politics entirely. For the sake of prosperity, it will need to become detached if Trump and Congress cannot get their acts together.
The economy and industry will thrive, despite politics, once business people fully realize that they have control of their destiny because they hold the levers of technological innovation. Of course, they also need to realize that where innovation is heading isn’t necessarily where Trump is trying to steer it. Actually, indications are that innovation is going in the opposite direction.
Less than a month after ConExpo came the news that the market capitalization of Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, has surpassed that of the Ford Motor Company. That, as Malcolm Gladwell would say, looks like a tipping point. Anyone who has been paying attention knows that Tesla founder Elon Musk — can we call him the Henry Ford of the 21st century yet? — has grandiose plans to transform the transportation infrastructure from gasoline-powered to solar-sourced electrical-powered.
Musk is more than just a planner. He’s a doer — an example to naysayers of that old Chinese proverb, “He who says something cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”
This is all happening while Trump guts environmental rules in a quixotic quest to bring back coal-mining jobs. Unless Trump taxes sunlight, he’s not going to cast any shade on the revolution Musk is leading.
Of course, through his SpaceX ventures, Musk is also pursuing the even bigger prize of colonizing Mars. When that begins — not if — the adventure will need a lot of heavy equipment, including cranes. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a ConExpo on the Red planet in the not-too-distant future. That would really be out of this world.
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