World leaders have always had to walk a perilous path when it comes to dealing with United States President Donald Trump.
It’s been a long time since anyone as impetuous, thin-skinned or as capable of rash and often irrational actions over perceived slights has held the office of the president. Which is why dealing with the man, or commenting on anything circulating in his orbit, is so fraught.
This week, Canadians got a taste of just how delicate an affair that can be. At his daily news conference on Tuesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by CBC’s Tom Parry what he thought of Mr. Trump’s call for military support to quell the racial-discrimination protests taking place in his country, and what kind of message it would send to Canadians if he didn’t want to respond.
Talk about your pregnant pauses. Given the length of time it took Mr. Trudeau to respond, you’d think he was having triplets.
The 21 seconds it took before he began offering his opinion has been analyzed like no pause in Canadian political history. It made news around the world. Was it deliberate? Was it a statement in and of itself? Surely, he must have known that a question about Mr. Trump and what was taking place in the U.S. was coming. So the pause must have been strategic, yes?
But on the other hand, it did appear as though he was really working hard to come up with the kind of precise language that is always necessary when commenting on anything to do with the U.S. President. So maybe he was caught a little flat-footed, no?
“We all watch in horror and consternation at what’s going on in the United States,” the Prime Minister finally said. “It is a time to pull people together, but it is a time to listen. It is a time to learn what injustices continue despite progress over the years and decades.”
He never mentioned Mr. Trump by name.
Admittedly, my initial response was one of profound disappointment. I was hoping for something more forceful, a statement that laid some degree of accountability at Mr. Trump’s feet for the violence being instigated by police against often peaceful demonstrators. Maybe even some non-threatening commentary that put a little onus on the U.S. President to do something about, say, I don’t know, members of the free press being attacked by law enforcement officers. But there was nothing.
The more I thought about it, however, the more convinced I became that Mr. Trudeau did the right thing, even though I, and many other Canadians, would have loved to have heard him go off on his U.S. counterpart for exhibiting the tendencies of a not-so-benign dictator.
But there is fantasy and then there is reality.
It’s why you haven’t heard other world leaders sticking their nose in U.S. business, beyond voicing general concern over what they are witnessing. You call out Mr. Trump at your peril, especially this close to a U.S. election when he might do anything if he suspects his time in office may be coming to a close.
Bob Rae, the former Ontario Premier and Liberal MP and all-around veteran politico, said on Twitter that it is not the job of the Prime Minister to offer a running commentary on U.S. politics and Mr. Trump. “He has to advance Canada’s interest and that is what he’s doing,” he tweeted.
And he’s right. As much as we’d love to see some political leader, somewhere, step forward and challenge the kind of politics Mr. Trump stands for, it’s not likely to happen. There is simply far more to be lost than gained by getting into any type of fight with a leader as temperamental and unstable as this president. Especially one that wields the kind of political and economic might that he does.
Mr. Trudeau is likely to be challenged again and again to comment on events transpiring in the U.S. He does not have the luxury of being a world leader far away from what is taking place there. It is happening in Canada’s backyard. Consequently, it’s always been difficult not to acutely feel the tumult and turmoil occurring south of us.
Given the severe ideological differences between the two leaders, and given the heightening level of domestic strife we are observing in the U.S., I would imagine that holding his tongue will be increasingly difficult for Mr. Trudeau.
But until Donald Trump no longer sits in the Oval Office, that is precisely what we should expect the Prime Minister will do.
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