observations and opinion
Canada’s Prime Minister catches a verbal grenade, and fumbles it.
Having recently been “caught” on vacation with people even richer than he is, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau quickly rigged up his skip and sailed out onto the frozen landscape to “listen” to Canadians. Which in his case, as with all politicians, entails a good deal of talking. It’s not his strong suit.
The PM is a likeable guy and irreducibly sincere in his fondness for, well, most things. He’s a fond fellow – his instinct is to be liked and to like you back. He has perfected that with individuals, small groups, large rooms and TV cameras. He’s good looking, reasonably earnest and the firm possessor of his talking points. When he gets to them.
Of course, a “listening tour” will occasionally mean listening to less than friendly fire from the crowd. To his credit, he has taken a minor faceful of crap and generally spat it out, wiped off his handsome face and kept talking. He blew his stack at a bunch of cat callers the other day, and told another guy to “sit down or get tackled” (by security, the PM is a good boxer but a doubtful tackler). Justin holds his own.
But January 27th, while walking around the gym of a Manitoba grade school, Canada’s Prime Minister got smacked with a question that literally threw him – he looked kind of stunned and, as he prattled out an answer, he sounded kind of stunned too. He lost this round to someone who looks to be in grade 4. And to be fair to the PM in judging his performance, it was an incredibly unfair fight.
Standing before the gym full of squatting kiddies and their shining-faced teachers, Justin pointed to a waving hand and heard a little 9 year old voice pipe up:
“Why did your dad give everyone in western Canada the middle finger?”
When the question was asked, the room seemed to swirl. Many of the other kids, who probably don’t know who Justin’s father was or for that matter, know what a “middle finger” is, immediately sensed danger (see their faces above). There were gasps (watch the video, it’s priceless). You can hear the “Oh my Gods!” You can just imagine the school Principal losing bladder control, in an effusion of humiliation and rage. The school’s priceless moment with Justin had been, well, truly and royally effed.
The PM looked a little shocked too – he kind of rocked on his toes for a minute (good boxer) but then, started talking. And talking. And talking. All about how his father loved Canada, made hard decisions, couldn’t please everyone, etc. It was a drippy and rather feeble flurry of harmless motions, compared to the 9 year old’s suckerpunch.
One’s initial reaction to this is probably a small ripple of glee: it is great to see politicians befuddled and struggling, especially at the hands of kids. Kids say the darnedest things, yadda yadda. But as Justin burbles on, kind of physically sags and staggers to the end of his weirdly apologetic answer, another feeling begins to rise: fury.
Fury first at the PM, for being such a sad sack. Is he really so liberal that he has to say he’s sorry for EVERYTHING? Surely there are limits to the self-abasement we are required to endure in any occupation, even politics.
Fury next for the PM again, for failing to give an answer that actually makes sense. An answer like “You know, that’s not true. My father didn’t do that.” Many westerners subscribed to the view that Pierre Trudeau was less interested in their concerns than other Canadians’ worries; that may even have been true, sometimes, although one recalls that Mr. Trudeau faced some real trouble in other parts of the country way back when (Quebec, if you’ve forgotten). Trudeau in style and substance was a poor fit on the Prairie back in the day, but his reputation for evil was as carefully burnished by his enemies as Obama’s name has been tarred by the GOP.
No, Pierre Trudeau didn’t “gives the middle finger” to western Canada and his son, all these years later, hopefully knows that and ought to be able to say so. Even to a kid. Mr. Trudeau was a teacher (it shows) and he is quite capable of being stern, but also politely instructive. He might readily have educated the little tyke courteously, in about 15 seconds, and moved on. The kid didn’t have to be humiliated but there are, actually, ways to say “I disagree” – even to a child – without humiliating her.
Indeed, the humiliation was owed to someone else and could have been delivered thus: “I loved my dad and mom, just like you love yours. Tell them that, when they ask how I answered their question.” But no, he mumbled, fumbled, bumbled and stumbled for a couple of minutes before finding the “what I focus on” phrase to re-orient himself. In fairness, it was a ghastly moment for Justin.
My final reaction is fury, a most keen and intense fury, at the parents of the kid. If there is one nine year old alive who has a genuine personal opinion about Pierre Eliot Trudeau’s policies – which I doubt – the chances of that kid getting called upon by Justin Trudeau to ask a question are precisely a number somewhere a mile below zero.
No, that wasn’t the kid talking – it was someone else. Maybe a parent (although even THEY may be too young to have real cognitive formations about Pierre Trudeau) or a grandparent. Someone else planted that question in the kid’s mouth and deployed them in the gym, to embarrass our Prime Minister. And the school. And herself. And her family.
The media reaction is predictably boneheaded and shallow (“hilarious!”) But I ask you, how funny is it really that a child has been used in this fashion, to the shuddering embarrassment of his teachers and fellow students, to lob a cheap shot question at our Prime Minister? Are there in fact, NO standards? Is there in fact, NO decency? Are we in fact, DOOMED? Seriously, when a grade 4 kid can be rude to the Prime Minister – or any adult – with impunity, we do in fact have a societal problem.
At the very least, we have a problem in that kid’s household. What happened to the child – what was done to the child – is a disgrace. It is the mild Canadian version of Hamas strapping an exploding vest on a grade schooler and sending her out to blow up some Jews. Not as messy, but morally equivalent insofar as a child was twisted into a weapon, used against her own natural inclinations – by people responsible for her care – to cause harm to someone else and humiliation to herself. It is disgusting.
So when you watch the video, go ahead and laugh. And then remember that what you are watching is child abuse. And then, hopefully, stop laughing.