Image Courtesy of Wikimedia.
A Portrait of Justin Trudeau
“Can we finally admit it? The world really does love Justin Trudeau.
When he first proclaimed, after his 2015 election victory, that “Canada is back,” global audiences reacted with political optimism and fawning approval. Prominent media outlets like the New York Times, VogueandParis Match ran glowing features about the celebrity prime minister and his famous family, their political legacy now firmly entrenched. From the world of public diplomacy to the fashion world the buzz only grew louder. We’re now even talking about Trudeau’s sock diplomacy.
Part of Trudeau’s appeal is his willingness to be available to international media. He appeared on the cover of an airline magazine. He was interviewed on a baseball podcast. When host Kelly Ripa of Kelly and Ryan, the popular American daytime television show, asked Trudeau what it was like to be the sexiest politician alive, he expressed no shock or outrage. His wife, Sophie Grégoire, “knows what I look like when I get up in the morning,” he quickly joked. Trudeau, comfortable in pop culture and the public world of social media, seems to know that just being “out there” enhances his appeal.
I am writing this column from Switzerland. When I tell Swiss I meet that I am Canadian, their first question is often about Justin—do I like our young and exciting prime minister? I ask what they know about him, apart from his age. Normally they simply say he is unlike old politicians, and that he helps people abroad see Canada apart from the U.S. and its current president. When I probingly ask what Trudeau and Canada stand for, they inevitably admit they don’t know. He just seems interesting, exciting and different.
While anecdotal, such reactions are instructive, for they put the global media’s love affair with Trudeau into context. For a great many people outside Canada, he appears to embody the cool, hip, young and progressive politician the 21st century needs. To be fair, this impression is not pure superficiality. Whereas the Harper Conservatives in 2015 unsuccessfully tried to paint Trudeau as an inexperienced neophyte with nice hair, the Liberal election platform addressed serious issues like inequality and climate change, proposed novel policy changes for addressing them, and proclaimed firm stances and a clear value set that voters assumed would guide future policy actions.
In the beginning, that’s what seemed to be happening. At the UN climate summit in Paris in late 2015, Trudeau said that Canada would become an engaged actor on climate change in contrast to his predecessor. In a visit to London, and later at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he declared that diversity was a Canadian strength and a key ingredient of future prosperity. In another context, this would be a boilerplate Liberal talking point. But when ethnonationalism was threatening many European countries, and at the time putting a mark on the 2016 U.S. presidential election, it was a bold statement.
By early 2017, when a newly elected President Trump issued his executive order restricting migration from seven Muslim-majority countries, Trudeau tweeted, “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” When Trump announced that transgendered Americans would be banned from the military, the Canadian Armed Forces, channeling a prime minister who strongly supports LGBT rights and marches in Pride parades, promptly tweeted, “We welcome Cdns of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Join us!”
It is no doubt because of these outward expressions of socially progressive values that the international media continue to pump up Trudeau. German newspaper Bild called him “the new Kennedy and the anti-Trump.” Rolling Stone put Trudeau on its cover, asking “Why can’t he be our President?” and “Is he the free world’s best hope?” As much as it made Canada’s national media cringe at the time, perhaps “Canada is back” was more than an empty political slogan.
Not so fast.”
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Written By Richard Nimijean