The presidency has changed amazingly in a quarter century. Donald Trump’s Twitter feed spews out like bubbling lava the sulphurous contents of his soul and although CNN devotes most of its day to his morning’s offerings, nothing much happens beyond that. By contrast, when George H. W. Bush was president, he once confessed to an interviewer he didn’t really care for broccoli and the whole world fell on him, with broccoli farmers leading the deluge.
Bush never lived it down. I was at a lunchtime speech he gave at a NAFTA retrospective a decade or so after leaving office. He spoke before any food was served, not the usual practice at such events. The reason, he explained, was broccoli. “If they serve broccoli, I’m outta here.”
NAFTA was Bush’s baby, of course. As a foreign policy practitioner since the 1970s, he saw the long-term benefit of locking Mexico into the North American orbit by helping impose external constraints on its legal system, even if that cost some American jobs. Only some jobs, mind you, not the “giant sucking sound” populist businessman Ross Perot warned of as he personally sucked enough Republican votes away from Bush in the 1992 presidential election to elect Bill Clinton.
I wonder how George H. W. would have handled Justin Trudeau’s passive-aggressive participation in Friday’s signing ceremony for NAFTA 2.0 outside the G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. Like a child miffed at having to miss playtime for the family photograph, Trudeau sulked, pointedly declining to hold up the document he’d just signed even as the presidents of Mexico and the U.S. proudly displayed theirs. “Look, no wall!” the grin of Mexico’s outgoing president Enrique Peña Nieto seemed to say.
Trudeau, by contrast, mimicked those captured sailors from the USS Pueblo who in 1968 used artful finger placements in the posed propaganda photos to make clear they were still resisting their North Korean captors.