THE VIEW FROM HERE – Why do meetings of heads of government require such overt extravagance?

Tom Henihan

Smoky River Express

Much has been made of Prime Minister Trudeau’s March 10 state dinner at the White House and like all excess and pageantry, it is the fanfare rather than anything of substance that commands the news. It is easy to dismiss this state dinner overture from the US as superficial but we live in a time when so much gains traction and becomes established through overt, superficial spectacle and that includes political ideas and relationships between nations.

It is seldom that matters gain attention because of their gravity or value; it is more often a matter of scale. It must be oversized and glittering to get the moths from the media to hover and take notice.

This ritualizing is now essential, it is an indispensable first move in launching all concerns in the same way that conferences on climate change, the economy etc. must take place on the highest summit or the most lavish, idyllic seafront.

We can only pronounce on the serious business of state and international affairs in the context of excess and opulence.

Considering all that is going on in the world: unmitigated acts of terror, refugees stranded in Greece and elsewhere in deplorable conditions, the high cost of food worldwide and high unemployment, this feasting and feting in Washington might be deemed offensive and vulgar.

It appears like rampant indifference by the very people tasked with addressing these problems. On the other hand, in light of almost ten years of rancor in Canadian politics and a somewhat desultory relationship with the US, and now the imminent rise in American public life of a debased, racist thug, to witness an overt expression of goodwill and civility as we did on March 10, is by contrast more hopeful and constructive.

The one important, tangible outcome, at least here in Canada, of the Trudeau visit to Washington is establishing greater ease of movement across the Canada-US border.

Of course, this is contingentwith Canada giving the US greater access to the information and data of Canadians.

It is fair to ask if negotiations over a quiet lunch rather than the dripping fanfare of a state dinner could have accomplished as much. However, it is probably not entirely just to dismiss the state dinner affair, as the degree of extravagance with which the host entertains the guest is a measure of the esteem in which the guest is held. However, to my mind that approach is indicative to an earlier time in our social and political evolution and it now appears regressive and archaic.

Canada loves attention and becomes giddy as a small child when given that attention.

Judging by the CBC coverage of Trudeau’s visit to Washington, this certainly holds true, especially in light of Peter Mansbridge’s sycophantic approach to interviewing National Security Adviser Susan Rice.

A dynamic and cooperative relationship with the US is important and vital, especially for Canada. However, with the imminent election and the volatile state of American politics in general, it is hard to measure what enduring value the prime minister’s recent visit may have for Canada.

With only months left in Obama’s mandate, and the high profile state dinner being largely his initiative, it would be unreliable to speculate too far into the future. For now, the moral implications of pomp and ceremony aside, Trudeau’s time in Washington was a success for the prime minister and for Canada-US relations.

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