Justin Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister, may be the “wokest” politician of all mankind. Sorry, make that “peoplekind”. He interrupted a woman at a town hall last week to issue a correction, cutting her off when she mentioned “mankind”. “We’d like to say ‘peoplekind’, not necessarily ‘mankind’, because it’s more inclusive,” Trudeau said. Many in the audience applauded or laughed, including the question-asker. Many right-wingers on social media did not. Trudeau was cruel to chastise a constituent, they said. He cares too much about political correctness and too little about common decency.
In Trudeau’s defence, he was teasing. The prime minister has since called the mishap a “dumb joke”. On the other hand, it should be “personkind” if it should be anything, and Trudeau was mansplaining.
But enough groaning over grammar, and enough scrutinising Trudeau’s semantics. This is more than a case of performative allyship falling flat. It’s a lesson in a broader trend of performative progressivism obscuring illiberal policymaking.
Trudeau’s forays onto the social-justice battlefield have distracted us before. Trudeau has earned accolades for penning an essay for Marie Claire about how “our sons” can change sexism, shouting out #MeToo at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, and assembling a half-female Cabinet. He won hearts when he apologised to victims of Canada’s so-called “gay purge”, offering them $85 million (Dh312.63 million) in compensation, and when he welcomed to his country those immigrants whom United States Presdient President Donald Trump swore to keep out.
Also, he’s really, really handsome. Much of this swooning comes not from his constituents, but from Americans, who hail the Canadian prime minister as a hunky liberal hero.
Trudeau has his charms, but even his victories come with caveats. On the gender front, Trudeau has promised legislation closing Canada’s pay gap time and time again, but none has materialised. And he has backtracked on his open invitation to the refugees of the world. Still, far too many in the US are content to cheer Trudeau on for his sometimes surface-level commitment to liberal causes — and look how cute he is with these baby pandas — while ignoring the ways he isn’t liberal at all.
Though Trudeau has served up some stern talk on Chinese repression, it hasn’t stopped him from cosying up to the country as he tries to open trade talks.
Then there’s climate change. Trudeau, as usual, says all the right things about the threat of a warming Earth. But he also loves oil and he wants oil executives to love him. “No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and just leave them there,” he told a group of moguls in Texas last year. He touts a plan to pivot towards clean energy, and he’s imposing a carbon tax, but when it comes to constructing pipelines it’s drill, drill.
Trudeau has also noted the ways Canada has failed its First Nations people (those reported to have Aboriginal ancestry) — and then, at least as far as their representatives are concerned, continued failing them.
American progressives can’t seem to get enough of Trudeau, but they also don’t bother to learn enough about him. He’s not Trump, after all, and he has adorable dimples. It’s the same way with other world leaders, from French President Emmanuel Macron to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
These politicians are miles better than the far-right alternatives. They’re miles better than Trump. But that doesn’t place them beyond reproach. Americans who call themselves progressives should hold politicians accountable to the code they keep so close, even from thousands of miles away. At the least, they shouldn’t blindly celebrate leaders who miss the mark. Think these are really liberal heroes? Come on, man — or women, or people.
— Washington Post
Molly Roberts is a senior columnist and social commentator.