Trudeau could not have been sig­nalling more clearly if he had brought navy crew­men with sem­a­phore flags.

StarMetro Vancouver - - VIEWS - Paul Wells is a na­tional af­fairs colum­nist for the Toronto Star.

The photo wasn’t a small thing. It was a token of in­sider sta­tus. It was Justin Trudeau’s wrist­band.

On ar­riv­ing at the White House on Mon­day for his first face-to-face meet­ing with Don­ald Trump, Justin Trudeau brought a gift, a framed print of a photo show­ing Pierre El­liott Trudeau and Don­ald Trump at a func­tion in the Wal­dorf As­to­ria in 1981. The el­der Trudeau was re­ceiv­ing the Fam­ily of Man Gold Medal­lion Award. Trump, then about 34 years old, was of­fer­ing re­marks at the podium. Both men were in tuxes.

Justin Trudeau’s first tele­phone con­ver­sa­tion with Trump was last Nov. 9, the day af­ter he amazed the world by win­ning the elec­toral col­lege and the pres­i­dency. Trump men­tioned that he had met Trudeau’s fa­ther back in the day and ad­mired him. This was news to Justin Trudeau. But ap­par­ently de­tec­tives were put on the search, and pho­to­graphic ev­i­dence was un­earthed at Li­brary and Ar­chives Canada. Print, frame, Bob’s your un­cle.

Now here’s why it mat­ters: Don­ald Trump has spent his life di­vid­ing the world into peo­ple who de­serve to get in and peo­ple who don’t.

That’s how he be­came the tar­get, at 27, of a jus­tice depart­ment law­suit in 1973 that claimed he and his fa­ther re­fused to rent to black ten­ants. (The Trumps coun­ter­sued; the even­tual set­tle­ment in­cluded no ad­mis­sion of guilt.)

It’s what Trump seeks to do along the Mex­i­can bor­der. It’s why he keeps smack­ing his head against the courts and the U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion as he seeks to close Amer­ica’s bor­ders to visa-hold­ers from seven pre­dom­i­nately Mus­lim coun­tries.

It’s what he does with mem­ber­ship fees at Mara-Lago and other ex­clu­sive Trump clubs. It’s what he has taken great plea­sure in do­ing as he se­lects mem­bers of his cab­i­net.

If Trump de­cides you’re not al­lowed in, you get nowhere with him. He mocks you on Twit­ter, makes pol­icy just to spite you, sum­mons the sput­ter­ing ap­pa­ra­tus of the White House staff and the rick­ety ma­chin­ery of gov­ern­ment to shut you down, if any of them can man­age the task.

But if he ac­cepts you, you ac­tu­ally have some lat­i­tude with him. The most as­ton­ish­ing ex­am­ple so far is the way he let Gen. James Mat­tis do, once Mat­tis be­came his nom­i­nee as de­fence sec­re­tary, what no­body else had suc­ceeded in do­ing: per­suade Trump that tor­ture is use­less as an in­stru­ment of gov­ern­ment pol­icy.

Trump’s at­ti­tude is sum­ma­rized in the lyrics, at first comic and then haunt­ing, of Paul Si­mon’s re­cent sin­gle, “Wrist­band”: “Wrist­band, my man, you’ve got to have a wrist­band/ If you don’t have a wrist­band, my man, you don’t get through the door.”

Justin Trudeau de­cided early that he was bet­ter in­side the door than out. Two pieces of po­lit­i­cal theatre yes­ter­day were de­signed to get him in.

First, the photo. It shows that when Trump spins a ran­dom old yarn over the phone, Trudeau lis­tens and acts. And it re­minds Trump that two suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions of Trudeaus have been the kind of peo­ple who could walk through the kind of door only Don­ald Trump can open. That’s what a wrist­band does.

Sec­ond, the round ta­ble on women en­trepreneurs with Ivanka Trump.

The pres­i­dent has been in open con­flict with the Nord­strom depart­ment-store chain for a week be­cause Nord­strom dropped Ivanka Trump’s line of cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories. He has sent White House staffers out to plead her case, and cas­ti­gate Nord­strom, on the news shows. In Canada, some are call­ing for a boy­cott of The Bay be­cause the chain won’t drop Ivanka Trump’s mer­chan­dise.

And what does Trudeau do in the mid­dle of all this? His of­fice or­ga­nizes an event with Ivanka Trump, sits with cab­i­net min­is­ters and se­nior staff at a long ta­ble to hear her ideas, makes her the fo­cus at mid­day of an in­ter­na­tional sum­mit.

Trudeau could not have been sig­nalling more clearly if he had brought navy crew­men with sem­a­phore flags. Fam­ily is fam­ily. Trump’s is wel­comed and ac­cepted, in the mid­dle of a storm, just as Trudeau’s fa­ther was ac­cepted at some so­ci­ety shindig Trump at­tended a gen­er­a­tion ago.

From this ba­sis, mir­a­cles need not en­sue and trou­ble is not ban­ished. At their joint news con­fer­ence, Trump seemed plainly bored by the bi­lat­eral is­sues the two had dis­cussed, ea­ger to change the sub­ject to Mex­i­cans or ter­ror­ism or Mike Flynn, his em­bat­tled na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser — who has his wrist­band, was wel­comed in­side the perime­ter long ago, and whom Trump was there­fore in a mood to de­fend.

Trudeau’s gam­ble is that by get­ting in close to Trump — closer than many Cana­di­ans on the cen­tre and left want him to get — he’ll have voice and stand­ing in­side that weird bunker, for as long as Trump in­flu­ences our two coun­tries’ shared life.

Li­brary and ar­chives canada

By pre­sent­ing Don­ald Trump with a print of this 1981 photo, Justin Trudeau sig­nalled he has the se­cret handshake to en­ter the pres­i­dent’s ‘weird bunker, writes Paul Wells.

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