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This article was published 5/12/2019 (297 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the course of normal social interaction, such a description would likely be perceived as a deep-cutting insult, a stinging rebuke or some unevenly measured combination of the two. The term suggests behaviour that is dishonest and/or duplicitous and/or disingenuous, and a person whose outward actions and words can’t be trusted.
Somebody called our prime minister two-faced. And based on the available facts, the leveller of the accusation, U.S. President Donald Trump, seems to have just cause. After all, Justin Trudeau’s public display of collegial politeness and diplomatic deference toward the complainant was quickly undone by a surreptitiously captured video in which he and other world leaders appeared to be mocking Mr. Trump with laughter and derisive comments.
So, two-faced? Guilty as charged. But the gravity of the offence must be measured against the fact the aggrieved party in this exchange is someone whose own capacity for verbal nastiness and dishonesty — both spoken and Twitter-unleashed — seems to know no bounds.
The incident(s) in question occurred at the 70th-anniversary NATO summit in London, during which Mr. Trump was his usual unhinged self, turning planned photo-ops with other world leaders into rambling off-the-cuff press conferences and creating uncomfortably tense interludes for all who found themselves in his orbit with the international media looking on.
Mr. Trudeau’s meeting with the U.S. president went as well as could be expected; certainly, it was less tense than the photo-op debacle involving French President Emmanuel Macron, who absorbed a couple of verbal broadsides before slamming Mr. Trump with a "Let’s be serious" rejoinder after a flippant remark about sending captured IS fighters to France.
It’s worth noting that Mr. Macron — along with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Princess Anne and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte — was also part of the conversation that produced the Trump-taunting video clip. And while Canada’s PM was the one most directly facing the phantom video camera and whose words were most clearly captured by its microphone, what the video really displays is a favoured strategy for dealing with Mr. Trump in the international arena — enduring the discomfort of unpredictable public encounters with an ill-prepared and serially impulsive president, and then debriefing them in (what is hoped to be) private with the only other people who have had similar experiences and understand the nature of the ordeal.
Mr. Trump — who, despite his combative public posture, is known to have a rather fragile ego — followed up his "two-faced" jab at Mr. Trudeau by promptly packing and leaving the NATO summit before its closing press conference. The video of Mr. Trudeau and the others sharing laughs at what is assumed to be Mr. Trump’s expense remained prominent in the 24-hour news cycle after Air Force One’s departure, and quickly became the centrepiece of an attack ad from Democratic presidential front-runner Joe Biden.
What remains to be seen is whether there are consequences for the two-facedness. The president has demonstrated an impressive knack for holding a grudge, and there are tariff threats to be considered, a Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade deal to be finalized and a sticky situation to be resolved involving a detained Chinese executive and a couple of unlawfully imprisoned Canadians.
Mr. Trudeau need not be concerned about being called two-faced by the likes of Mr. Trump. But we should be a bit worried about what comes next from a clearly peeved POTUS with a penchant for payback.
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