A brief history of the PM and the POTUS

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Politics, the saying goes, makes strange bedfellows … and you don’t get any stranger than Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau.

Sometime this month, the U.S. president is expected to meet with our prime minister. There could be long, embarrassing silences when they meet, like when you go to a party where you don’t know anyone. These two have only two things in common: inherited wealth, and hair.

I suppose their respected coifs could make for a conversational icebreaker. Trudeau has a splendid head of hair. He has perfected the look of a guy who only quickly runs his hands through his hair and forgets about it, a look that in reality requires a skilled hairdresser and copious amounts of ‘product’. Trump’s hair is something entirely different, a bird’s nest carefully spun from his what appears to be about 100 individual strands of hair. It’s really a triumph of American engineering.

But once they get over comparing favourite hair care products, they’ll be long silences, unless Trump decides just to talk about his greatness. In this case, all Trudeau has to do is nod.

It wasn’t that way with Barack Obama. Trudeau clearly adored Obama, and Obama, I suspect, say Trudeau as a kindred spirit, wondering why there weren’t more politicians like Trudeau in the U.S.

Trudeau, and other world leaders, will just have to get used to the new way of doing business in the Republic of Trumpistan. There has always been a period of adjustment as the two countries have changed leaders over the decades. In some cases, genuine friendships have developed. More often, genuine animosity was the result.

In the 1950s, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent were similar in temperament and background – both older, slightly aloof leaders – but they never became close. It was different when John Diefenbaker became prime minister; Ike and Dief went fishing together, and Dief wrote in his memoirs that he and Eisenhower were “from our first meeting on an ‘Ike-John’ basis.” Or at least according to Dief; Eisenhower’s thoughts on Dief are unrecorded.

Not many people could tolerate the mercurial and paranoid Diefenbaker, certainly not the next U.S. president, John F. Kennedy. Dief and JFK were as alike as, well Trudeau and Trump. Dief was 65 when JFK was elected, an old-school orator, a western firebrand who was never wealthy. Kennedy was a pup at 43, wealthy, smooth and handsome, everything Dief wasn’t. After their first meeting, Kennedy told aides he “never wanted to see the boring son of a bitch again.” Dief complained (privately, of course) that Kennedy was “a hothead, he’s a fool – too young, too brash, too inexperienced, and a boastful son of a bitch.” Safe to say they had a bitchy relationship.

With the election of Liberal Lester Pearson in April 1963, the dynamic changed; the brainy Kennedy and the scholarly Pearson got along famously. Pearson and Lyndon Johnson, however, did not. After Pearson unwisely suggested the U.S. stop its bombing of Vietnam — and said so in a speech in the U.S. – LBJ was enraged. When they met the next day, Johnson grabbed Pearson by the lapels and shouted: “Don’t you come into my living room and piss on my rug.” Apparently, that’s some kind of Texas thing.

The mismatches continued with Pierre Trudeau (the hip, cerebral liberal), and Nixon (the paranoid conservative). After meeting Trudeau in the Oval Office, Nixon turned to his chief of staff and called Trudeau a “pompous egghead”, adding that Trudeau was (you guessed it) “a clever son of a bitch”. In one of his taped Oval Office conversations, Nixon called Trudeau “an ass—-“. Trudeau responded that he had been called worse things by better people.

Trudeau liked Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, but not surprisingly was not a fan of Ronald Reagan. But Trudeau’s successor, Brian Mulroney, was. The two men got along like a doting father and son. When Reagan died in 2004, Mulroney became the first and only foreign leader to give a eulogy at the funeral of a U.S. President.

Mulroney and the first George Bush were, and still are, buddies. Jean Chretien and Bill Clinton got along well, and for the most part Chretien was OK with George Bush the Lesser, although Bush was mighty peeved that Canada did not join the war on Iraq. By all reports, Stephen Harper got along well with Obama (they called each other by their first names at a press conference), which is surprising in that Harper has all the personal warmth of a snowman.

Now we’re about to enter the Trump-Trudeau era, and who knows how it will go. The best we can hope for is that Trump will be so busy putting up walls around the U.S. that he might not even notice his quiet neighbour to the north. The best thing for Trudeau to do is smile for the cameras. He’s good at that.

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About Author

Maurice Tougas is editor of Edmonton and Calgary Prime Times. He is the former editor of the Edmonton Examiner, and served for one term as MLA for Edmonton-Meadowlark.