Tuesday, December 27, 2016

They are the Walrus, goo goo ga joob

It really startles me now, how little the election of Justin Trudeau registered with me. I am a regular reader, as anybody who follows this blog would know (like maybe three people but anyway...) of Paul Krugman and of The New Yorker and both Krugman and the New Yorker wrote about the election win. I must have read both, or at least read the Krugman piece and noted the existence of the New Yorker piece, but I have no recollection of either.

And the New Yorker piece mentions Krugman:
Trudeau is now set to become, among other things, Paul Krugman’s favorite politician, since he promises to follow an economic plan that might have been hatched on the right-hand column of the Times’s Op-Ed page: raise taxes on the rich and unapologetically do some deficit spending in order to rebuild the country’s infrastructure and its middle class.
I would have remembered if I had read that. Being Krugman's favorite politician means quite a bit to me.

Via the New Yorker article I discovered a piece in the Canadian magazine The Walrus, (a magazine I had never read or heard of before) and I was really pleased to see that the author confirmed my own conclusions about the character of Justin Trudeau - and that's pretty significant considering that the author Jonathan Kay collaborated on Trudeau's autobiography "Common Ground." So he probably knows Trudeau better than anybody outside of Justin's family and close friends. Kay writes:
He’s someone who desperately wants to do the right thing. Who believes that what he does and says can set things right; that he can heal people and relationships; that he can make people like him and—a sad fantasy for many children of divorce—one another.
As I blogged a couple of weeks ago:
(I love him) also because he is always trying to do the right thing. He's super-conscious and for the most part carries it off with a fair amount of grace and not too much self-consciousness. And he almost doesn't have to - he's pretty much Canadian royalty, as the son of former Canadian PM Pierre Trudeau. The fact that he tries so hard to do the right thing makes him so admirable.
Kay made his observation in reference to a story Trudeau told about his relationship with his mother (I mentioned a couple of others in a previous blog post.) This story jumped out at me too, for its poignance and its exposure of the character of an endearing adolescent:
I spent more than thirty hours interviewing Trudeau. He told me hundreds of stories, not all of which made their way into the book. But there is one, from his young childhood—during the period after his mother, Margaret, abandoned the family—that stands out clearly.
“Whenever I knew my mother was on her way to visit 24 Sussex, I could barely contain my excitement, and began planning my welcome,” is how Trudeau tells the story in Common Ground:

On one occasion I decided to mark her arrival with a musical theme. I had received a small record player as a gift and enjoyed playing the hits of the day—“the day” being the early 1980s—especially Journey’s romantic ballad “Open Arms.” I had heard my mother say how much she liked the Journey song, and I decided that this would be the soundtrack to her entrance at 24 Sussex after one particularly long absence. I waited for her to arrive in her VW Rabbit before cueing up my tiny, tinny record player in my room upstairs. As she opened the door and entered the foyer I cranked up the volume and rushed to the top of the stairs. “Listen, mom,” I yelled down to her. “It’s our song!” Her reaction was to stare up at me, happy to see me but a little confused because she couldn’t hear the music at all. The volume on my record player was about half the level of a modern cell phone. I remember being crushed by that, so desperate was I to inject a sense of magic into every moment that we did have together as a family.
When Common Ground was published in 2014, and the Trudeau camp chose to disclose my role in preparing it, lots of friends asked me some variation on the question: “What’s he like? ” I would say, “Read the book.” And like clockwork, they would roll their eyes and reply, “No—what’s he really like? ” The underlying assumption is that books of this type are mere propaganda. Depending on the politics of the person asking me the question, there usually was some suggestion that, behind closed doors, Trudeau is either a closet socialist or a corporate shill. That he is a thumb-sucking ignoramus who is spoon-fed his lines by Gerald Butts—or a tactical genius who wears his glibness and childlike enthusiasms as a political mask. That he is a tormented scion who is desperate to rise to his father’s epic legacy—or who bitterly detests the old man’s oversized shadow. Since we have spent the last decade trying to figure out the “secret agenda” of Stephen Harper, it was perhaps inevitable that the country would become convinced that there is some “real” Justin Trudeau lurking below the surface.
You can find the real Justin right there, at the top of those stairs, playing his record player.
That last sentence especially is as perfect, concise a summation of a politician's character as any you're likely to see, right up there with another favorite of mine, the line from the New Yorker's David Remnick about Obama: His practiced calm is beyond reckoning.

Kay also addresses the phenomenon of Trudeau being considered just a pretty dummy - or at least less of an intellectual than his father. I could see that was bullshit even before I read "Common Ground" - and Kay of course spent quite a bit of time with Trudeau during the writing of the book and so is in a position to evaluate Trudeau's mind:
Pretty, yes. Dummy, no.
Trudeau probably reads more than any other politician I know. And yet you wouldn’t know this from the way he talks about ideas: His boyish, eager-to-please personality leads him to project publicly in a way that can seem intellectually unsophisticated. Political oratory always sounds best when it’s relaxed and natural. Trudeau’s hyperactive personality makes that a difficult act for him to pull off.
I admit that I am sometimes guilty of idealizing Canada, in light of the election of Trudeau vs. Trump and for other reasons, but Canada is dragged down by anti-intellectuals the same as in the United States - although perhaps not to the same degree. But I think that Trudeau's coming off as more of a regular guy and less of a brainiac serves him well. His being thought of as not-so-bright makes him much more palatable to the know-nothing slobs of Canada. Obama's and Hillary Clinton's obvious intellectual superiority were resented by many Americans and it worked against them.

Obama only squeaked into office, in my opinion, thanks to the overwhelming support of African Americans and the fact that his first opponent's running mate was Sarah Palin and his second opponent was Mitt Romney, who came off as a rich prig, and made Obama look like a regular guy by comparison. Women didn't support Clinton the way blacks supported Obama, since women suffer more from Stockholm Syndrome. But if Trump had gone up against Obama there's a good chance Obama would have lost. In spite of what Obama claims.

But I digress.

Trudeau should keep doing what he's doing.

I have to say, I was surprised by the reason given for the selection of the name "The Walrus" for this magazine. I immediately assumed it was from "Through the Looking Glass."

But no, it's a Canadian thing.