Trudeaus charisma and popularity on social media has drawn unprecedented global interest in Canadian politics but at home, the traditionalists are unamused
Its not just Kennedy himself, Guy Banister sneers of JFK in Don DeLillos Libra. Its the glowing picture we keep getting mature, energetic, Harvard, world traveler, rich, handsome, lucky, witty. Perfect white teeth.
One might find these qualities attractive in a leader. Banister does not: It fucking grates on me just to look at him, he concludes.
Last month Canada elected a leader who largely matches DeLillos description: the waggish, photogenic Justin Trudeau, his countrys 23rd prime minister and, by some measure, its most charming.
Like Kennedy, Trudeau is an exemplar of public magnetism, his wit sharp, his teeth gleaming. (He even went to McGill, the Harvard of Canada). His international reception has been duly effusive particularly on social media, where photographs of the self-professed fitness enthusiast posing shirtless aroused an unprecedented global interest in Canadian politics. At home, meanwhile, the traditionalists are unamused.
Conservative voters are irritated, indignant quite fed up, a month into his tenancy, with all that energy and charisma. With Trudeau theyre like Banister: it grates on them to just to look at him.
Trudeaus appearance has long been under scrutiny. He endured a campaign of disparagement during the recent federal election, one that seized upon his youthfulness as proof of professional inadequacy: Just Not Ready, the ads memorably chastened, and at 43 Trudeau is indeed the second-youngest leader in Canadas nearly 150-year history. But this particular line of censure never seemed directed at Trudeaus inexperience specifically.
The trouble seemed more to do with optics: the prospective prime minister looked and sounded like a young person. He boxed and snowboarded. He called himself a proud feminist. He was good-looking and stylish. His arms bore tattoos. A sensible person sees these things and thinks: that sounds like a person I might like to vote for. But among a certain class of old-fashioned conservatives, such foppish trivialities are as transgressive as a heroin addiction.
Youthfulness isnt proper. It isnt any way for a prime minister to be.
Upon election Trudeau at once confirmed the suspicions of the right. The morning after being sworn into office by tradition a private ceremony but at his behest opened for the first time to the public, a symbol of his commitment to transparency Trudeau met in private with a journalist from Vogue. The interview, when it arrived online earlier this month, came furnished with several rather stylized photographs of the new prime minister and his 40-year-old wife, Sophie Gregoire-Trudeau, quite aglow in one anothers fond embrace. Its a striking spread, if a fairly meager piece of writing, buttressing emphatically the internets sense of Trudeau as the nations new matinee idol. Or, as the Hollywood Reporter unimprovably put it: Hot Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Shares His Hotness With Vogue.
Naturally the conservative response was swift and fierce. Those who believe Prime Minister Justin Trudeau puts style over substance are directed to the forthcoming issue of Vogue, wrote a political reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, later chiding in a tweet that he wasnt elected to be a spokesmodel.
A columnist for the right-leaning National Post, meanwhile, bristled at the timing, suggesting mockingly that Trudeau could think of nothing more pressing on his time than to share his moment with an American fashion magazine. (Note the disdain lurking in the qualifier American. I suppose if he is going to squander 20 minutes with the press it at least ought to be domestic.) It takes a certain degree of vanity, the Post continued, to pose in the portentous style Trudeau struck for Vogue, perhaps preferring instead that he look less at ease or more bashful. While the Ottawa Sun couldnt quite get over the brown shoes Trudeau paired with a navy suit while being sworn in: such outrageous sartorial flair, the paper felt, had no business on Parliament Hill.
The humorlessness of the anti-Trudeau contingent reached an embarrassing zenith in the matter of selfies. Call him Prime Minister Selfie, the Sun declared after Trudeaus first week in office; hed quickly earned a reputation for obliging the requests of enthusiastic passersby and onlookers as indiscriminately as other politicians shake hands. You wouldnt believe how often this point is belabored nor how vigorously. Youd think Trudeau was the one taking the selfies, rather than simply posing for them.
While Trudeau was posing for selfies in Paris, the National Post scoffed, the dollar was falling, the stock market plunging. As though standing still for three seconds as someone snaps a picture on an iPhone is tantamount to desertion of duty.
Stephen Harper, Canadas former prime minister, was a vacuous, anodyne nothing, as magnetic on the public stage as the podium he spoke from. His occasional efforts to ingratiate himself to younger voters or rather the efforts of his staff to make their boss seem plausibly nonrobotic ranged from dismal to pathetic, such as a kitty-petting photoshoot so unconvincing that you fear for the safety of the cat.
Ironically, though perhaps not so surprisingly, this anti-talent for charm is precisely what so endeared Harper to his loyal voters: the less amiable or kind-hearted he seemed, the thinking went, the more suited to government he must be, as a position of power is one best adopted by the serious.
The appeal of Stephen Harper, I think, was founded in his apparent sobriety and stability in the colorless mediocrity that, if not exactly winsome, could nevertheless be relied upon.
Harper embodied the qualities youd look for in a bookkeeper or accountant: he didnt seem to have much personality to get in the way of the dull tedium of governing the country. Thats the source of the Trudeau costernation. Conservatives fond of Harper arent so much offended by Trudeaus earnest popularity as they are mystified by it: they cant imagine why anyone would want to take a photograph with the person they chose to run their country.
The warmth and geniality Trudeau project so effortlessly are not, at least to the incurious or unimaginative, easily reconciled with the demands of the Prime Ministers office.
But leadership isnt merely bookkeeping. And there is much to be said for galvanizing the public.
Read more: www.theguardian.com