That’s what state dinners are, mostly. They’re supper, basically, except you have to wear your best clothes and be on your best behaviour.
When Jean Chretien was still running things, I was lucky enough to be invited to some state dinners. At one of them, the best-ever prime minister was hosting Russian President Vladimir Putin. Unlike what Stephen Harper would do, much later on, I shook Putin’s hand.
I tried to exchange a few words with Putin, too, via a translator. I distinctly remember an ominous grin playing across the Russian strongman’s face as he looked up at me (he’s really short). I recall thinking he had the look and comportment of a guy who would run you over with a tank if he didn’t like what you had to say. Which, as historians will agree, is exactly the case.
Most of the time, state dinners are genteel affairs, with lots of politesse, and everyone doing their utmost to avoid sounding like Donald Trump.
But was anything actually accomplished at last week’s Trudeau-Obama bromance banquet? Probably not. But fans of The West Wing – which famously did a whole episode about state dinners way back in 1999 – will know that they can be an occasion for important things to be said. To wit:
Sam Seaborn: Toby, do you really think it’s a good idea to invite people to dinner and then to tell them exactly what they’re doing wrong with their lives?
Toby Ziegler: Absolutely, otherwise it’s just a waste of food.
Exactly. (And don’t you wish Josiah Bartlet was running for president in 2016? Me, too.)
The point, here, is that Justin Trudeau was having duck for dinner – as in, lame duck. The guy he was breaking bread with will be at a Wall Street law firm a year from now, making a bajillion dollars for speeches to Rotarians. He won’t be spending two minutes thinking about Trudeau or Canada.
The people Trudeau needs to be focused on weren’t even at the dinner: Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz or (God forbid) Donald Trump. They were chasing delegates in the mid-West.
Canada’s newly minted prime minister should consider using state dinners, and the like, to pass along a few hard truths to Washington audiences. Here are a few talking points:
- My American friends, I’m from Canada. Head to Buffalo, then turn left. You can’t miss us.
- I know the primaries probably convinced all of you that the path to power lies in tearing up trade agreements with countries like mine. That’s why Bernie shocked everyone, and beat Hillary in various Rust Belt states. That’s why Donald won everywhere – he peddles [popup url=”https://troymedia.com/2016/03/15/ramifications-of-a-trump-presidency/” height=”1000″ width=”1000″ scrollbars=”1″]anti-free trade[/popup] xenophobia.
- But don’t do it. With the world economy starting to show glimmers of hope, don’t embrace protectionism. Don’t become (even more) insular. Don’t succumb to the siren song of solipsism. It doesn’t work.
- While we’re on the subject, consider a couple things Canada is good at. Our banking system, for starters. Yours, a few years back, plunged everyone into a global recession. We Canadians did pretty well, in that sad era, because we don’t ever let bankers do whatever their tiny black hearts desire. You need to similarly restrain them, before they conjure up yet another mess.
- Guns, too. Proportionately, we have as many crazy people as you do. But we don’t like our crazy people to get their hands on assault rifles. You should do likewise. You’ll thank us one day.
- Health care. We’re not bad at it, and you stink at it. When candidates for president start promising to give U.S. citizens less healthcare, not more – when they want to let poor, sick people get poorer and sicker – well, there’s something wrong in your culture, folks. Needs fixing.
- Refugees, immigrants, newcomers: We welcome them. You should, too. They become citizens, they get jobs, they pay taxes. It’s a good thing.
- Canada has some useful tips for you to consider. Thanks for dinner.
Would Justin Trudeau ever say any of those things to a well-heeled American audience? Of course not. We Canadians are way too polite. But these state dinners don’t come along every week. The next time one happens, consider delivering a few cautionary messages.
After all, if President Josiah Bartlet thought it was OK to do so, it’s always OK to do so.
Warren Kinsella is a Canadian journalist, political adviser and commentator.