So, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrived in New York (again) and is showing us how a really fearless leader of the free world does it.
Where to begin?
I guess at New York University, where Trudeau arrived at 9:30 this morning to talk to students, many of whom on the campus had absolutely no idea he was there, which blew my mind — not that American college students would be clueless about the politics of our northern neighbour and most important trade partner, but because security forces hadn’t cleared and secured the area.
When the U.S. president comes to New York, all of the streets he’s travelling are barricaded, the subway in proximity is shut down, the airspace above it all cleared.
Trash cans are removed, and snipers are all over roofs. You can’t help but know he’s here.
But the 600 of us who did figure out the prime minister is here and went to see him didn’t even have to go through metal detectors to hang out with him. Trudeau —we called him “Mr. Trudeau,” not “Mr. Prime Minister” — was casual, too.
He wore his shirt-sleeves rolled up and his tie loose. He leaned on the back of a chair while considering students’ questions.
Then, he actually said stuff — stuff that an American politician would never ever in a ba-zillion years say: “I am a liberal.” “I am a feminist.” “I have a gender-equal cabinet.” “Our health care system is pretty good.” “I have a cabinet minister who is functioning, legally blind … that's a terrible thing to say!”
On Canada's great potential for international peacekeeping, he also said this:
"Canada has an awful lot to offer whether it's bilingual officers, whether it's specialists, whether it's a capacity to engage in the world in difficult places without some of the baggage that so many other Western countries have — either colonial pasts or perceptions of American imperialism as a critique that's often out there. That challenge is something Canada is absolutely right to rise to."
Seriously, by U.S. standards that’s the stuff of utopian fantasy-cum-political self-immolation.
Just so you don’t think I’m being a condescending superpower citizen, rest assured we could all tell that Trudeau is no naïve provincial. His people — and he was traveling with four bouncer-sized guys with curly wires coming out their ears and maple leaf pins in their lapels — had set up the room for optics.
Three-quarters of the multicultural audience was seated behind the prime minister, a “Kumbaya” backdrop for the dozen or so camera people taking video and snapping photos.
Also, Trudeau was world-class at humble-bragging. After admitting, “I am resonating” around the world (he was named one of Time magazine’s "100 Most Influential People" today), the prime minister said that it's probably not fair to expect other G7 leaders to be out-and-proud progressive — they’re old… an “older generation.”
Then Trudeau made us all feel dumb (and defensive) about our antediluvian mono-lingualism by saying goodbye in English and French.
Other world leaders might have used the rest of their day to suck up to business leaders or other politicians, but Trudeau is so cool he went to work out — in Brooklyn.
Gleason’s gym is located in the shadow of a bridge on an old industrial, but now gentrified street.
A deli across the street has European-styled bagels (like such a thing even exists!). Anyway, though Gleason’s trained Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson (at another, far less chic location), the gym still feels gritty — peeling paint, crappy ventilation. Seriously, it’s far and away the smelliest political venue I’ve ever been to.
I looked out a window and some cars pulled up.
Maybe I’m just terrorism traumatized, but I’d really like to suggest that if you’re the coolest G7 leader you might want to consider a motorcade (maybe with those cute Barbie-sized flags; you can put them on your armourized vehicle and a decoy), and maybe you should consider getting an armourized vehicle and not tooling around New York in a local car-service (I could tell by the license plate) SUV. Maybe you shouldn’t just jaunt into a gym where no one has even had their bag checked!
But Trudeau did just jaunt in, carrying his own bag. He was wearing black shorts — long, kind of hip-hop style — and a red sleeveless shirt that showed off his really admirable biceps, and his left shoulder tattoos. Very few of the couple of dozen people hitting bags and each other even looked over at him.
The owner, who is apparently an old boxing friend of the prime minister’s, introduced him to Yuri Foreman, a one-time world middleweight junior champion.
Foreman taped up Trudeau’s hands. During this studly ritual, he and the prime minister ignored the dozen of us press people snapping photos and video taping. The two men got in a ring with two girls and two boys who are part of a program called Give a Kid a Chance. With Foreman barking instructions, Trudeau “sparred” with each kid for about two minutes.
The fighting looked pretty faux, though one of the boys landed a bop on the prime minster’s forehead.
After those photo ops were over and the group shots (with boxing gloves raised!) in front of the U.S. and Canadian flag someone had thought to put up, Foreman went toe-to-toe with Trudeau. I don’t know boxing, but it didn’t look like they were hitting as hard as they could.
A woman started shooing us press people out. I was actually pretty happy to go. It was super cool to be five feet from a swinging world leader, but it also really reeked.
It all reminded me of when shortly after Obama was elected.
What's charming about Trudeau — he’s pretty unguarded and says what he means … he isn’t defensive, careful to the point of blandness. But the higher his star rises the more he will be.
Even Trump is trying to reign it in.