Photo: Justin Trudeau back in 2013. Credit to Taha Ghaznavi via Creative Commons
Last week, the media swooned over holier than thou Trudeau’s meeting with that evil orange monster Trump. Eoghan McNeill takes a look behind the quiff and glistening smile of the liberal’s favourite head of state.
I’ll say this for Justin Trudeau: he is a very handsome man. And I’ll say that unreservedly. He has the smile, hair, gait and charm of a West Wing character. He also has the cut of a man who’s practised walking to the West Wing theme tune while home alone, and jokingly-yet-seriously talked with college friends about which West Wing character best mirrored how his political trajectory would look.
He’s a BuzzFeed superstar thanks to his bromance with Barack Obama. He’s the kind of guy whose declarations of feminism are taken at face value, while his government arms the misogynist government of Saudi Arabia. His Twitter feed is the place to go for anyone looking for vague liberal platitudes about immigration:
“To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength. #WelcomeToCanada,” he tweeted following the announcement of Trump’s proposed Muslim ban.
I’m sure that much was expected of the Woke Bae of the Western World during his first meeting with Trump this week: the defender of all that is good and right and proper coming face to face with his antithesis – the misogynist and racist that is Donald Trump. Surely Trudeau, given this platform, would act as a conduit for the anger and desperation of the 428,269 who retweeted that message of solidarity with oppressed peoples.
“The last thing Canadians expect is for me to come down and lecture another country on how they choose they govern themselves. My role, my responsibility is to continue to govern in such a way that reflects Canadians’ approach and be a positive example in the world,” he said.
It’s been interesting to see liberal reaction to the meeting, which essentially appropriated the far-right’s obsession with traditional masculine stereotypes, and went to great lengths to paint Trudeau as the dominant man, despite his failure to make a statement of any substance. I’ve seen articles talking about Trudeau’s reaction to Trump’s attempted alpha male handshake – ‘biggest display of dominance in the history of Canada’, says the Telegraph – and tweets about the apparently thirsty looks Ivanka Trump shot at the dashing Justin. Trudeau’s propagandists-in-chief, BuzzFeed, decided to focus on an already-”iconic” picture of the Canadian prime minister seeming to reject Trump’s offer of a handshake. Trump cucked by Trudeau, is it?
I haven’t come across any publication calling his statement for what it was: a total capitulation to capital and conscious decision to suppress his supposed principles, save for the BBC’s mention that “you could almost hear anxious Canadian businesspeople breathing a sigh of relief”. This capitulation should perhaps have been expected, given Trudeau’s previous welcoming of the Trump’s administration revival of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that was rejected by Barack Obama while in office and opposed by environmentalists in both the US and Canada.
Speaking on Trump’s decision to bring the project back to life, Trudeau said: “Millions of good middle-class jobs on either side of the border depend on the close trade relationship we have. That has really been at the centre of all of our discussions.”
Good middle-class jobs and close trade relationships. There’s the fallacy in believing that people like Justin Trudeau will take a concerted stand on behalf of the weak. Solidarity with the Muslims who stand to be denied entry to the US under the terms of Trump’s ban will come second to good middle-class people with good middle-class jobs. Incidentally the trade agreement to which Trudeau refers, the North American Free Trade Agreement, is routinely cited as a factor in the Democrats’ loss of voters in the Rust Belt and subsequent election of Trump in November.
Trudeau fanboys and fangirls can be filed next to the people who worked themselves up into a lather over Aodhán Ó Ríordáin’s anti-Trump Seanad speech, glossing over Ó Ríordáin’s proud complicity in locking up refugees our direct provision centres. Or the people patiently waiting for Daddy David Miliband to give up his $600,000 salary at a US NGO to return to reclaim the working-class Labour heartlands. The people who passionately believe that a handsome man in a nice suit, a committed technocrat, is going to save the 21st century from further descent.
It may come as a surprise to these people that when it comes to fighting the fascism of Trump’s proposed immigration policies, or rising xenophobia and racism across Europe, it will be people like Cédric Herrou, who looks more like a lad who’d ask you for a spare filter in Sweeney Mongrel’s than Rob Lowe, whose voices will be heard loudest.
Herrou faced a possible €30,000 fine and five-year prison sentence when he this week stood trial in France, accused of helping migrants cross the French-Italian border, housing dozens of migrants at a time at his organic olive farm. He was found guilty and given an eight-month suspended sentence and a €3,000 suspended fine. He makes €600 a month from farming, and will have to pay the fine and face prison if caught again. And yet he remains unbowed, becoming something of a symbol for the opposition to anti-immigrant feeling in France.
“I’ll carry on helping people, papers or not, until they put me in prison. Because I care about life and I respect it. I won’t bow to threats or pressure. I refuse to be complicit through silence or inaction.”
Herrou may not look like a statesman: the kind of man we can imagine enjoying a beer with Barack Obama or in the credits of a glossy political television show. He may not have the platform of someone like Justin Trudeau to affect change, but his obstinate refusal to stray from what he knows to be right shows true resistance: an example to follow.
Trudeau’s admirers can valorise his handshake or explain his decision to “not lecture” as realpolitik all they like: the Canadian premier’s silence is complicity with the worst of Trump.