Over the last year, we’ve watched and listened as the new American president demonstrated his rules of combat.
Donald Trump is quick to anger and engage, but doesn’t like to fight in an open forum. He prefers after-the-fact actions, which mostly involve his basic vocabulary and most often find form on Twitter.
Twitter is the ideal social media platform for his style of fight: immediate, short-form and widespread. It also allows him to cast his aspersions from his bedroom, Air Force One or the 13th hole at Mar-a-Lago. The outward travel of his tweets is broad, but the tweeter is invariably hidden.
This is why one of my longtime American buddies, who hauled himself up the hard way, calls Trump “Fake tough.”
My wife’s comments zing home: “Trump has hated Justin Trudeau for a long time because he’s everything he isn’t.”
To start with, Canada’s prime minister is taller – maybe an inch or two. He’s younger, by 26 years: 46 to 72. He’s way more fit – in fact, Trump inhabits an old fat body; Trudeau is the epitome of the contemporary male physique. Trudeau has wavy, thick hair in a natural colour; Trump has a bizarre blond hair-weave glue-top. Trudeau is at ease with powerful women, is married to one and has filled his cabinet with female talent; Trump slavers after beauty contestants and porn stars. It’s natural for the prime minister to listen with respect to Theresa May or Angela Merkel; Trump sits while they stand, crosses his arms and affects a scowl. Trump begrudgingly knows that Trudeau is of now, just as he is of was.
And it’s worth looking closely at the age cohort, ethnicity and gender of the people Trump takes counsel (and demands sycophancy) from – invariably they are old, white males like himself. Amongst them he can feel at home and always dominant because, at least for now, he is the boss. Those who weary of his behaviour either resign, or overstay and get fired. Good people (think Rex Tillerson or James Comey) invariably discover that no change in attitude is coming. There are no teachable moments. Fake tough is what you see and what you get. And are going to get.
So in the international arena, how do we cope with presidential personality traits that were initially developed (and then gifted to us) by a dreadfully overbearing father, angry tenement construction crews and jilted building contractors in Queens?
How does the rest of the world (and especially the multi-generational democracies) cope with presidential conversation that European officials at the G7 characterized as “a stream of consciousness, filled with superlatives, but not following a linear argument”?
How do Canadians cope with what Max Boot, an opinion columnist with the Washington Post who on June 10 wrote of “the kind of words that normally precede military action,” when describing Peter Navarro’s comment about our PM: “There is a special place in hell for any foreign leader who engages in bad faith and diplomacy.”
We’re responding perfectly. The reported unity of support by federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, Ontario PC premier-elect Doug Ford and Alberta’s United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney is good evidence of this.
We are also gifted with a balanced, nuanced Foreign Affairs minister in Chrystia Freeland. Harvard and Oxford educated, a Rhodes Scholar from rural Peace River, Alta., she’s more than up to this task. She has kindly instructed Trump and his advisers on the fallacy of an ad hominem argument.
Our PM is no doubt drawing on an entire youth spent in a graduate level political science seminar with a father who was one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers. His boxer’s certainty, is also a gift from his old man, Pierre Trudeau, who never suffered fools easily, intellectually or physically.
Justin Trudeau is also showing an innate capacity to martial the right words at the right time. It’s refreshing in the extreme to hear that, “Canada won’t be pushed around.”
Hopefully Trump will at least realize from his experience of the past week that the broader world is more complex than, say an National Rifle Association convention or a golf game.
Should he desire more assistance, the neighbours are ready to help. Why can’t your biggest trading partner also be your favourite homework coach?
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