“While Mr. Trudeau is the product of two political families—his father was prime minister—he came to politics late, after working as a snowboard instructor.” A friend in Washington ping’d me this webpage snip from the New York Times the morning after this week’s national election in Canada, together with his condolences. It captures, perhaps, more adequately than the editors realized, the mindset of our prime minister-elect.
We are in a new political era, not only in Canada I’m afraid. I think of President Obama in the U.S.; Trump and Sanders rising; Jeremy Corbyn across the water; the various “national front” and regional separatist parties now topping the polls in Europe; governments like Syriza’s reelected in Greece. What do they all have in common? Ideologically, one might say that they are all over the map. Moreover, self-serving malice and incompetence are normal in politics; it would be unreasonable to present either as an innovation. I am not looking for the kind of commonplace that applies to politicians in all places and times.
Yet we were once dealing with a class of political tradesmen who had clawed their way up the ranks. They arrived in office with some notion of how things work. In the case of Canada’s outgoing prime minister, there was some appreciation of economics, or accountancy. Much as I despised his Liberal predecessors, they also knew what a budget was, and could discern differences between large and small numbers. The elder Trudeau, genetically half-Scotch like me, was a notorious tightwad with his own money; his contrasting extravagance with the public purse showed that he was at least sharp enough to tell them apart.
By extension, these “old-style” politicians were also mentally fitted out with clues to what other departments of government did or tried to avoid doing. There was a certain “professionalism,” a painfully acquired knowledge of the ropes and how to pull them. Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, for instance, I despised as a man, in a personal way, given dealings between us; but I could admire him as a political craftsman. Many others, likewise, including outgoing Prime Minister Stephen Harper most of the time. Cynical or sleazy they might be, but some knowledge of “the system” was de rigueur. The elder Trudeau had spent most of his adult life preying at the edge of the Dominion bureaucracy; he (alas) knew what he was doing when he went in to ravage Canada’s justice system.
Now we have “airheads.” The term is perhaps over-colloquial, but I think it best expresses the quality our new leaders share, wherever they might fall on the old left-to-right spectrum. While some (like the younger Trudeau) come from political families, or have had (as Corbyn) a life-long obsession with madcap political schemes, the connecting bits are missing in their overview of governance. Mrs. Clinton’s embarrassments with email make a good example.
In addition to snowboarding, Justin Trudeau’s experience includes a stint as a nightclub bouncer, and teaching high school in Vancouver. To many (me for instance), his father was a disaster, his mother demonstrably insane, yet the lad was not really exposed to politics until it came into his head, or into the heads of Liberal Party organizers, that thanks to his family connection, he could probably get elected to parliament, in Montreal. This happened in 2007; he now has approximately eight years of bewilderment under his belt. His acceptance speech Monday night was sort of sweet; it showed him still quite damp behind the ears.
I don’t think he is especially malicious. He has plenty of old-school party advisers to surround him like bodyguards along his way. Indeed, through a leak we discovered they were already dividing the spoils of government contracts, as victory in Quebec came into view. The lad himself has the media savvy of the selfie generation, and can more or less handle the bofferball questions from a sympathetic press. His sincerity shines when it comes to a small range of policy enthusiasms, such as the legalization of marijuana and brothels, and he is visibly convinced that peace is much nicer than war. His promises of “hope and change” may be content-free, for the time being, but I’m sure he “believes” in the drivel he is mouthing. I expect he will prove more used than using, as his government agenda falls into place.
Perhaps I should explain what I mean by “drivel.” I could write “lies,” but these are only possible to those who have criteria for the truth. Drivel is what people talk who have no such criteria. The fact that what they’re saying may be true, or untrue, is of no significance to them. It is enough that it sounds plausible. The truthful man knows when he is lying; the postmodern man neither knows nor cares. He can believe himself “good,” as drivellers will do, because truth doesn’t come into it.
The old-style politician told knowing lies. The new-style politician doesn’t know what “lies” are. He uses the term rhetorically, against anything he doesn’t want to hear. The old-style politician would back down when confronted with the truth. The new-style politician doesn’t know what you are talking about. He assumes you are only trash-talking him.
“The people” believe in drivel, too, as they have just proved. As I’ve mentioned before, a growing percentage of the general voting population has been morally and intellectually debilitated—“idiotized” is my preferred term—by postmodern media and education, and by spiritual neglect within (often broken) postmodern homes. Large vested interests can lead them by the nose, even while they imagine themselves victims of conspiracy.
For his very numeracy, the outgoing Harper seemed like a Machiavellian conspirator to them. He lacked the warm, mooshy qualities that the “compassionate” politician learns to fake on television. The media told them that Harper was a manipulator, a cold-hard calculator, a baddie, a blue meanie trying to keep taxes down for his friends—even though he didn’t have any. According to polls, only a tiny minority “trust” the honesty of the media; and yet almost everyone today is supersaturated with the products of the media and entertainment industry—in which our new political order is subsumed.