Trudeau meets with Trump today
How past PMs have dealt with unpopular U.S. presidents over the years
Canada’s prime minister has to go see the U.S. president, and he’s not especially thrilled. The president is deeply unpopular in Canada — and elsewhere, since campaigning on protectionism and tariffs.
The prime minister wants to lay low. His plan: get in and out of Washington with the least possible fuss. He even pleads with photographers while entering the White House: Don’t snap my picture. He’d rather not be seen with this president.
What a stark difference from his other Washington visit — when he basked in the well-wishes of hundreds in a pompfilled festival on the White House lawn as he visited a different president, adored by Canadians. Of course the year was 1931. This week Justin Trudeau might feel like he’s experiencing the life of R.B. Bennett — only in reverse. The 11th prime minister went from juggling a political handgrenade in the form of Herbert Hoover, to sunbathing in the glow of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
That single Depression-era prime ministerial term illustrates extreme examples of how the White House occupant can shape a prime minister’s career: some presidents are locomotives pulling your popularity, others the wagon that drags.
Hoover was a human-sized heap of dead political weight. One book, Lawrence Martin’s, ‘’The Presidents and the Prime Ministers,’’ chronicles various ways Bennett avoided being seen during his 1931 trip.
‘’The ultimate snub occurred on the White House lawn,’’ Martin wrote.
‘’Twenty-five photographers prepared to take the standard picture of the president and the visiting dignitary... But Prime Minister Bennett stopped them... (He said that) since the visit is ‘unofficial’ pictures should wait for another occasion. The problem, as most top officials there realized, was that Bennett did not want to be seen on the front page of Canadian newspapers with Herbert Hoover.
‘’The meeting with the president did not go well.’’ Bennett avoided the press elsewhere. The Washington Star said media tracked Bennett to a wreathlaying at Arlington Cemetery: ‘’(But) a photographer who followed (Bennett) was requested to refrain from taking pictures.’’
Bennett issued no public statement about the trip, and wouldn’t answer questions. One reporter asked about U.S. hopes for a new seaway: ‘’What about the St. Lawrence?’’ Bennett replied: ‘’I believe it is still there.’’
The Ottawa Journal wrote that Bennett returned home, ‘’as silent as a Tammany magistrate before a grand jury.’’ The Associated Press said he passed through the train station unnoticed — U.S. secretary of state Henry L. Stimson said: ‘’(Bennett travelled) incognito consisting of the wearing of a derby rather than a silk hat.’’