Beyond handshake diplomacy
author: ruben deason | contributor
“Canada isn’t going to distance itself from America, but it certainly isn’t going to be trifled with.”
It’s been a hot minute since newly-elected President Donald J. Trump met with our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, at the White House in Washington, D.C. There has been enough time for approximately eighteen developing scandals for the extremely controversial and divisive president, and enough time for Canadians to take a sober breath, reflect on how the meeting went, and consider how our relations with our neighbours to the south will shape up for the remainder of this wholly antagonistic administration.
Setting aside the meme of a dreamy-eyed Ivanka gazing lovingly at Trudeau, contemplating risking it all, the first impression many Canadians had of the meeting between the two statesmen saw Trudeau and Trump shake hands. A deceptively innocuous gesture at first glance, amateur pundits and partisans hailed Trudeau’s actions as a victory.
How, exactly? The understanding is that Trump often employs a tactic lifted straight from his decades-long career as a businessman: a handshake combined with a yank, one designed to throw the recipient off-balance and establish Trump as the man in control. Trudeau’s counter couldn’t have been better-coached: merely by placing his hand on Trump’s shoulder, stepping forward into the gesture, and invading the President’s personal space, he effectively neutralized a power-play that may just have set the stage for Canadian-American relations.
It isn’t too much of an extrapolation to draw a conclusion from this reaction on Trudeau’s part: Canada isn’t going to distance itself from America, but it certainly isn’t going to be trifled with.
Ever since the longest Canadian federal election in a lifetime (that was still overshadowed by the volatile and seemingly-endless one belonging to the Americans), and still today, NDP leader Tom Mulcair repeatedly called on Trudeau to denounce Trump at every opportunity. Trudeau refused to take a stance, repeating the same line: that Canada and the United States share a relationship that is bigger than any two leaders, and no matter what the outcome might be, Canada would continue to be the United States’ most steadfast ally.
To say that Trudeau will be tested to honour that commitment would be a colossal understatement.
The historical importance of the close relationship between our two nations should be emphasized – Trudeau himself quoted British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who spoke of the “long frontier from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, guarded only by neighbourly respect and honourable obligations,” who hailed it as “an example to every country and a pattern for the future of the world.” Trump, as per usual, was nowhere near as charismatic or well-spoken as Trudeau, but it seems Trudeau’s charm proved successful, and his first impression upon Trump was certainly the positive one many Canadians were hoping Trudeau would be able to convey.
It’s staggeringly clear that Trump and Trudeau disagree on much, from refugees, to environmental policies, to merely how one conducts business as a world leader. The press gathered at the White House, as one might prod an alligator with a stick, and continued to question both leaders as to why they weren’t at each other’s throats. Instead, both Trump and Trudeau recalled joint efforts that Canadians and Americans can work together upon: the multilateral fight against terrorism being one, and a new task force towards the promotion of women in the workplace being another.
Going forward, what should Trudeau’s stance be toward Trump? It should be one of the utmost caution, I argue, and so far, Trudeau has given us no reason to doubt his strategy here. The various figures Trudeau has tapped and surrounded himself with, from Freeland, to Sajjan, to former prime minister Brian Mulroney, all seem up to the task at hand – just holding on for dear life, until the Trump rollercoaster comes to its eventual careening halt.
Finally, if we can take any lessons from the dumpster fire due south, as the American people were completely unable to effectively call out Trump for all the bull he spewed, we should remind ourselves to be vigilant, and not let any moosecrap – peddled by anyone from O’Leary to Trudeau himself – fly by unchecked.
Don’t forget about Trudeau’s promises – and yet, thank your lucky stars that the true North still is strong and free.