President Trump isn’t the first politician to underestimate Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Just ask Patrick Brazeau.
In 2012, Brazeau, then a conservative senator from Quebec, squared off with the man Trump recently called “meek and mild” in a charity boxing match. Back then, “meek and mild” might not have seemed too far off: Trudeau was a Member of Parliament best known for being the son of the former prime minister.
Brazeau was a big favorite in the fight, and it was easy to see why: He was a muscular former Navy reservist with a black belt in karate. The conventional wisdom was that Trudeau — taller, slender, aggravatingly handsome — wouldn’t be able to take a punch.
Canada has a well-earned reputation for politeness, but there is no polite way to describe what happened once the bell sounded: Brazeau caught a beat down.
Trudeau waited out a little flurry in the first round while Brazeau flailed wildly. But when the second round began, Trudeau was landing punches at will. In the third round, after Trudeau had spent several minutes pummeling Brazeau — who appeared to be bleeding from the nose — the referee finally stopped the fight.
Point is, underestimating your opponent can be dangerous — especially when it’s Justin Trudeau. He may be pretty and polite, but — as Brazeau can attest — he sure isn’t meek or mild.
“About six years ago I would have said the same thing about Justin Trudeau,” Brazeau said. “I was bigger, I had a bigger build. I came out as a bully and I was impulsive.”
“It doesn’t seem to me that every comment or tweet is well thought-out,” Brazeau said, which passes for a devastating critique in the understated land north of the border. “Maybe he’s making the same mistake that I did six years ago. Seeing a small, skinny person who might look weak. I underestimated him, and it bit me in the butt.”
The charity boxing match, which was televised live in Canada, helped launch Trudeau’s career; Brazeau’s went into a tailspin. Not long after, he was charged with financial crimes, suspended from the Senate, took a job as the manager of a strip club, and pleaded guilty to assault and cocaine charges. But after the financial charges were dropped in 2016, he returned to the Senate as an independent. He’s still the youngest member, at 43.
Canada has often been a comedic punching bag down here. Decades of jokes aboot accents and Mounties and milk that comes in bags for some reason. The 1995 Michael Moore movie “Canadian Bacon” imagined a scheming American president drumming up anti-Canadian hysteria to improve his approval rating. But the animus inspires an American militia to nearly touch off a border war. The whole movie now feels about two weeks and three-dozen idiots from becoming a documentary.
All of those jokes — received with the gentle good humor that Canadians are known for — have always been between friends. “Canadian Bacon” only works because the idea of an American president starting a cold war with Canada was so absurd.
“We’re more than just neighbors, we’re also cousins, brothers, and sisters. We’ve been the strongest allies the globe has seen,” said Brazeau. Why, he wondered, would Trump want to cozy up to the North Korean dictator while alienating allies all over the globe?
Trump went directly from insulting Canada over the weekend to making nice with Kim Jong Un. While a Trump surrogate was dooming to a “special place in hell” the leader of a nation whose soldiers have died alongside ours all over the world (he has since apologized), the president was palling around with a buffoon who starves his own people.
Whether Trump’s summit with Kim produces anything positive likely won’t be clear for a while. North Korea has broken denuclearization promises before, and it would surprise exactly no one if this ended up being a deeply weird photo op and nothing more.
For Trump to flatter a North Korean dictator and even boast about their burgeoning “terrific relationship” while alienating some of our most trusted allies suggests he’s making a mistake not so different from Brazeau’s. Trump may have been attempting to show strength in advance of his meeting with Kim by berating Canada and other Group of 7 nations on trade, but instead he seemed only impulsive.
And underestimating the importance of your allies is every bit as dangerous as underestimating your adversaries.Nestor Ramos can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NestorARamos.