Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump: It’s Complicated

The viral video showing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau having an informal exchange with French President Emmanuel Macron, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte has been at the center of a lot of conversations since this morning.

Seeing Justin Trudeau amused by Donald Trump’s improvised press conference is in itself astonishing. We certainly assume that behind closed doors and when the cameras stop rolling, many leaders and diplomats speak their mind. However, such overflow rarely happens in front of witnesses. Trump’s style is obviously unusual and surprising. The fact that four leaders as different as the ones involved are amused by it should not be surprising.

I don’t think I am mistaken in stating that the prime minister’s team would have been better off without that video. Not only will it monopolize people’s attention during parliamentary recess, but it will also raise legitimate questions about the incident’s potential repercussions.

Even though one might question whether the leaders involved were aware that CBC cameras were present, an exchange of that nature and in those surroundings, among witnesses, was inappropriate, regardless of the context.

My first reaction after watching and listening to the video was that for once the abyss separating Trump from other NATO allies was noticeable. After 70 years, the organization is questioning its structure and objectives. The current context is very different from when it was founded, and Trump’s repeated attacks further complicate things.

Next, I told myself that the new controversy will help postpone serious discussions on hot topics. If Trump keeps insisting on members’ financial contributions, these countries should start thinking more about Russia’s strategy and its reconciliation with Turkey. That’s what Macron has in mind when he unnerves his partners.

China’s expansion is another important topic that is postponed on a regular basis. China will certainly not wait for NATO’s or the EU’s cohesiveness, nor will it wait for the U.S. to wake up before moving on with its New Silk Road project. China is extending its economic influence, and divisions among traditional allies serve its country well.

It was only after these global considerations that I started focusing on how the video will positively affect relationships between the U.S. and Canada. We know that Trump never hesitates to attack leaders or opponents in a very personal way and spares no effect. He regularly behaves aggressively and becomes sensitive when he feels he is being disrespected or mocked.

Will Canada suffer from the fallout of Trudeau’s clumsiness? It is very difficult to argue that there will be no consequences. If we observe reactions in conservative media outlets such as Fox News, we would not hesitate to criticize the Canadian prime minister’s words and behavior, which are presented as a serious sign of disrespect toward the U.S. presidency.

However, I think that the consequences will be short lived. For now, the new free trade agreement could provide Trump with a much-needed victory, and he hopes for a vote from Congress by the end of the year. The Democrats are being reprimanded, but a vote is not impossible. Turning down that treaty just to get revenge on Trudeau would not be strategically sound or wise even for a short-tempered man like Trump.

This is not the first time that Canadian and American leaders have been at odds, but our mutual economic interests have rarely suffered for a long period. On the other hand, proximity or a “bromance” does not guarantee spectacular results either since Congress weighs heavily in the order of things, and the states also have their say.

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