Musings —01.09.2017 07:16 PM—
The diplomat didn’t hesitate.
“Set up a war room, now,” he said, tapping the table for emphasis. “It’s useless writing memos trying to guess what this guy will do next. You have to see what he does, and then respond, quickly. That’s what Trudeau needs to do.”
It was a few days before Christmas, and I was catching up with old friends. The diplomat was back in Canada to see family over the holidays, and I’d just asked him what the government of Justin Trudeau should do about Donald Trump.
The diplomat had strong opinions. They all made sense, too. He explained that he had spoken with many corporate and political leaders across the United States – before, during and after the historic 2016 presidential race. The advice he’d gotten from Republicans was the most noteworthy, he said.
“They don’t know what he’ll do next, either,” the diplomat said. “They turn on Twitter every morning like everybody else, to see what Trump has said the night before. They say they – and Trump’s own staff – don’t ever know what is going to come out of his mouth, or come out on Twitter. They find him just as unpredictable as everybody else.”
Therefore, the diplomat said, it’s a waste of time for officials at the Privy Council Office or Global Affairs to type up yet another magnum opus researching Trump’s past policy positions, and trying to guess his future views. Trump has reversed himself on so many key issues – trade, defence, human rights, the economy – that predicting the future has become a fool’s folly, he said.
The diplomat pointed a finger at this writer. “You did Chretien’s war rooms, you did McGuinty’s,” he said. “That’s what Trudeau needs – a war room filled with a group of top bureaucrats and smart political people working, 24/7, on tracking what Trump says and does, and responding to it in a way that protects Canada’s interests.”
I was sceptical. Canada doesn’t occupy thirty minutes of conversation at the White House a year, I said. And, besides, a good war room can’t protect an entire country against a monkey with a machine gun, which is what President Trump will shortly be, I said.
The diplomat laughed. “Sure,” he said. “That’s true. But you have take the rule book and throw it out with this guy. Everything you used to know? It doesn’t apply anymore.”
When you think about it – and we of course must – the anonymous diplomat is of course correct. Donald Trump is a racist, a demagogue, a groper with fascistic tendencies – but, in eleven days, he is also going to be President of the United States. The approaches Canada favoured with the 27 presidents who have ruled America during Canada’s 150-year history – from Andrew Johnson to Barack Obama – no longer apply.
Justin Trudeau, however different he is from Donald Trump, is uniquely suited to deal with Donald Trump. The things that drive Trudeau’s Canadian critics bonkers – the unremitting media focus, the glam and glitter, the (alleged) inattention to policy, the (again, alleged) superficiality and ego – are paradoxically the very things that will assist Trudeau in handling Trump. Trudeau knows Trump’s type.
Another facet of the Liberal Prime Minister’s personality will help, too: his ability to get along with just about anyone. As more than a year of polling suggests, Justin Trudeau is rather likeable. Even self-identified Conservative and New Democratic voters admit that he is hard to dislike. Expect Trudeau to deploy a charm offensive to win over Trump’s Texas-sized ego. It just might work.
The Trump War Room, however, is one good idea that should not be forgotten in the crazy times that lie ahead. When so much is at stake – billions in trade, along with our security as a nation, to cite the two most noteworthy examples – Canada must do all that it can to survive, and prosper, in the coming Trump era.
“Trump’s a maniac,” the diplomat agrees, hoisting a glass of holiday cheer, “but he’s still going to be president. We need to deal with that, and fast.”