Take a moment, please, to feel just a small a pang of pity for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau: he went to Washington, into the very belly of the beast, and, by all accounts, acquitted himself very credibly. He did not, of course, commit any social gaffes, he didn’t, by even the slightest glance or gesture, insult his host, he kept his comments properly focused … it was, all in all, a good meeting. He was, in short, the perfect guest: polite, charming, respectful and so on and so forth.
But, progressive Canadians, and I would number the Globe and Mail‘s Leah McLaren among that number, don’t see it that way … in their view Prime Minister Trudeau fawned and, therefore, failed.
“I know,” Ms McLaren writes, “what you’re thinking: Justin had to do it. He had no other option. Our economy depended upon it. Jobs depended upon it. Obviously Justin loathes the Donald – just look at his body language, the rictus grin during all that talk of “shared values,” the way he refused to be jerked forward by Donald Trump’s weird handshake-domination move. Or the way he paused, for one split second during the press conference, and regarded Trump’s limp little hand before doing the required thing and giving it a hearty squeeze. These memes were passed around obsessively on social media Monday as if they proved something apart from the obvious: That our self-declared feminist leader, a man who has stood weeping and embracing refugees in airports as the cameras clicked and whirred, is also happy – or at least entirely willing – to shelve all his high-minded political principles when necessary and dance with the devil … [and, of course] … These are the things we do for trade deals. And by “trade deals,” I obviously mean jobs and by jobs I mean the economy. This is why Justin Trudeau’s visit to the White House was politely applauded in Parliament Hill circles as a success. But you don’t have to be a naive undergraduate to feel depressed or irritated about what happened on Monday. It was a toe-curling embarrassment for anyone who has taken our Prime Minister (as I did) at his word on issues like cultural diversity and women’s rights.“
“Canada doesn’t have any royal palaces or pretty princesses to entice Trump for a visit,” unlike Britain, Leah McLaren goes on, “but Trudeau did present the President with the finest substitute he could manage: A photograph of his father Pierre listening to Trump speak at New York’s Waldorf Astoria in 1981. The implicit message here isn’t one of inclusivity or openness or diversity or any of those ideals that Justin Trudeau is always assuring us are dear to his heart. The photo says exactly the opposite: My dad was in your club and now I am too. It was a tacit endorsement of Trump’s aggressive and open brand of nepotism and an acknowledgment that power is handed down through the generations by rich white men in well-tailored tuxedos. It also nicely paved the way for the next photo op of the day, which involved Justin Trudeau sitting at a boardroom table with a bunch of women entrepreneurs, flanked by first daughter Ivanka, trumpeting empty pro-female rhetoric while conveniently ignoring the fact that Trump himself is an alleged serial sexual assailant whose much-trumpeted views on gender equality and reproductive rights are entirely at odds with Trudeau’s own.“
She sums up her diatribe against Justin Trudeau by saying that: “I’m not saying Trudeau shouldn’t have gone to Washington, but I am saying he should have planned his visit more cleverly. He might, for instance, have avoided becoming a prop in Trump’s cynical attempt to rebrand himself as “pro-women” and taken the opportunity to call the President out, on his own turf, on some of the fundamental principles on which the two men disagree. Trudeau could have shown the world that while he is prepared to continue a mutually beneficial trade relationship with Trump, he does not condone Trump’s racist, sexist and fascist tendencies. Instead it was all “sunny ways,” which didn’t feel so sunny.“
Poor Justin Trudeau … maybe the sunny ways are running into some headwinds and storm clouds. Or, more probably, Ms McLaren doesn’t understand the first, little thing about politics, diplomacy or good manners and is just having a feminist hissy fit because the prime minister’s advisors do understand diplomacy and good manners.
I’m not the only one who sees it that way. The Globe and Mail‘s John Ibbitson took to Facebook to express his dismay at the progressive reaction. It’s worth a read. I hope Ms McLaren read it and now understands how the grownups feel.