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Leah McLaren: In rush to appease Trump, Trudeau is abandoning his values

I know what you're thinking: Justin had to do it. He had no other option. Our economy depended upon it. Jobs depended upon it. Obviously Justin loathes the Donald – just look at his body language, the rictus grin during all that talk of "shared values," the way he refused to be jerked forward by Donald Trump's weird handshake-domination move. Or the way he paused, for one split second during the press conference, and regarded Trump's limp little hand before doing the required thing and giving it a hearty squeeze. These memes were passed around obsessively on social media Monday as if they proved something apart from the obvious: That our self-declared feminist leader, a man who has stood weeping and embracing refugees in airports as the cameras clicked and whirred, is also happy – or at least entirely willing – to shelve all his high-minded political principles when necessary and dance with the devil.

These are the things we do for trade deals. And by "trade deals," I obviously mean jobs and by jobs I mean the economy. This is why Justin Trudeau's visit to the White House was politely applauded in Parliament Hill circles as a success. But you don't have to be a naive undergraduate to feel depressed or irritated about what happened on Monday. It was a toe-curling embarrassment for anyone who has taken our Prime Minister (as I did) at his word on issues like cultural diversity and women's rights.

Read more: What you missed from Trudeau's first meeting with Trump

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It was the same way with British Prime Minister Theresa May, only worse. The way she rushed in to be first – zipping over on her Royal Air Force plane and doing her best Margaret Thatcher impersonation in a red dress while Trump creepily insisted on holding her hand on the long walk down the colonnade. May's eager desperation to pay court to a leader whose basic values she and most of her fellow citizens detest was sickeningly palpable. But she needed to secure a trade deal, post-Brexit, so off she went. The premature invitation for a state visit to Britain, when heartily accepted and followed up on by the White House, must have made the Queen want to chop off someone's head.

Canada doesn't have any royal palaces or pretty princesses to entice Trump for a visit, but Trudeau did present the President with the finest substitute he could manage: A photograph of his father Pierre listening to Trump speak at New York's Waldorf Astoria in 1981. The implicit message here isn't one of inclusivity or openness or diversity or any of those ideals that Justin Trudeau is always assuring us are dear to his heart. The photo says exactly the opposite: My dad was in your club and now I am too. It was a tacit endorsement of Trump's aggressive and open brand of nepotism and an acknowledgment that power is handed down through the generations by rich white men in well-tailored tuxedos. It also nicely paved the way for the next photo op of the day, which involved Justin Trudeau sitting at a boardroom table with a bunch of women entrepreneurs, flanked by first daughter Ivanka, trumpeting empty pro-female rhetoric while conveniently ignoring the fact that Trump himself is an alleged serial sexual assailant whose much-trumpeted views on gender equality and reproductive rights are entirely at odds with Trudeau's own.

I'm not clear on the behind-the-scenes machinations that go into arranging a visit like this, but was it really necessary for our feminist Prime Minister to make such an utter mockery of women's rights (which are under real threat in the United States at the moment) while he was on a social visit to casually secure broader points of the North American free-trade agreement? Couldn't they have played a round of golf at Mar-a-Lago instead?

I'm not saying Trudeau shouldn't have gone to Washington, but I am saying he should have planned his visit more cleverly. He might, for instance, have avoided becoming a prop in Trump's cynical attempt to rebrand himself as "pro-women" and taken the opportunity to call the President out, on his own turf, on some of the fundamental principles on which the two men disagree. Trudeau could have shown the world that while he is prepared to continue a mutually beneficial trade relationship with Trump, he does not condone Trump's racist, sexist and fascist tendencies. Instead it was all "sunny ways," which didn't feel so sunny.

The political pragmatism on display in Washington this week makes the debates of other liberal-minded democracies seem almost innocent by comparison. Take the Trade Minister of Sweden, who was recently criticized in parliament for compromising her feminist principles by wearing the hijab while on a trade mission to Iran. Given that it would have been illegal not to, she shot back, the only other option would have been to send an all-male trade delegation, which didn't seem very feminist at all. Now that's what I call a healthy debate about how to balance the need to trade with countries that don't necessarily share our cultural values.

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What happened in Washington this week? That was something different.

Video: While Trudeau and Trump praise Canada-U.S. trade agreements, the president adds ‘we’ll be tweaking it’
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About the Author

Leah McLaren is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. She’s published two novels, The Continuity Girl (2007) and A Better Man (2015) both with HarperCollins Canada and Hachette in the USA. The first was a Canadian bestseller, though the second is actually much better. More

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