Donald Trump held a joint press conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau that went as might be expected, with Trump rambling incoherently and lying about his unpopular election victory, and Trudeau demonstrating admirable openness to the refugees whom Trump has punished with his cruel and racist Muslim ban.
The meeting between Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump was a study in stark contrasts and palpable discomfort, apparent right from the beginning.
Prior to their workday, the two men sat together for a brief and noticeably forced photo op. The sound of the press pool’s cameras snapping photographs was the only thing filling the awkward silence, except for Trump offering a meek “Hello” to the crowd, and then eventually turning to Trudeau to note, “I think they might want a handshake” — a handshake which lasted all of two seconds.
Well, that was awkward pic.twitter.com/NdF8k5tHVa
— Tommy Christopher (@tommyxtopher) February 13, 2017
Following a working lunch and a roundtable with women entrepreneurs, Trump and Trudeau held a joint press conference, which had developed some suspense around the expectation that Trump would be asked to comment on the fact that National Security Advisor Michael Flynn lied about his contacts with Russia.
Instead, Trump called on two reporters from two conservative outlets, The Daily Caller and Sinclair Broadcasting, neither of whom asked about Flynn, although someone did shout a question as Trump left the room at the end of the presser.
The Canadian press, though, did challenge Trump on his Muslim ban, contrasting his policies with Trudeau’s embrace of Syrian refugees. Trump responded by seeming to answer a different question entirely, and bragging about his election along the way:
REPORTER: President Trump, you seem to suggest that Syrian refugees are a Trojan horse for potential terrorism, while the prime minister hugs refugees and welcomes them with open arms. So, I’d like to know, are you confident the northern border is secure?
TRUMP: You can never be totally confident, but through the incredible efforts already I see it happening — of formerly General Kelly, now Secretary Kelly, we have really done a great job. We’re — we’re actually taking people that are criminals — very, very hardened criminals in some cases, with a tremendous track record of abuse and problems — and we are getting them out. And that’s what I said I would do. I’m just doing what I said I would do when we won by a very, very large electoral college vote. And I knew that was going to happen. I knew this is what people were wanting. And that wasn’t the only reason. That wasn’t my only thing that we did so well on. But that was something that was very important. And I said, ‘We will get the criminals out, the drug lords, the gang members. We are getting them out.’ General Kelly, who is sitting right here, is doing a fantastic job. And I said, at the beginning, ‘We are going to get the bad ones, the really bad ones. We are getting them out.’ And that’s exactly what we are doing. I think in the end everyone is going to be extremely happy. And I will tell you right now a lot of people are very, very happy right now.
Aside from the lie (Trump’s Russia-aided unpopular electoral victory ranked 46th out of 58 U.S. presidential elections), Trump appeared to be answering a question about the recent ICE raids and the southern border, not the northern border and Syrian refugees. As every recent poll shows, a lot of people are not very happy with Trump right now.
Trudeau handled the question very differently, calmly explaining that values of openness do not need to be abandoned in the name of security, and in response to a later question, none-too-subtly explained that he would not “lecture” Trump on his approach, but would continue to set “a positive example in the world”:
TRUDEAU: Canada has always understood that keeping Canadians safe is one of the fundamental responsibilities of any government, and that certainly is something that we are very much focused on. At the same time, we continue to pursue our policies of openness towards immigration, refugees without compromising security. And part of the reason we have been successful in doing that over the past year, welcoming close to 40,000 Syrian refugees, is because we have been coordinating with our allies — the United States and around the world — to demonstrate that security comes very, very seriously to us. And that’s something that we continue to deal with.
There have been times where we have differed in our approaches, and that’s always been done firmly and respectfully. The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose to govern themselves. My role, our responsibility, is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world.
Trudeau’s remarks are as direct a rebuke of Trump as one could expect in a setting such as this, and they took courage. More than that, they did set a positive example for the rest of the world, one which sadly contrasts that of the current United States government.
As for Trump, he managed to escape commenting on Flynn for now, but with pressure mounting, it likely will not be long before he is forced to reckon with the tough spot in which these revelations have placed the White House.