Updated at 8:30 p.m. ET on October 6, 2019.
The 2019 election is a test for Canadian progressives: style or substance. The Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is the most successful progressive government in the world. It
- instituted a carbon tax and
- legalized marijuana. Last year, for the first time, Canada
- settled more refugees than any other country.
- Because of higher government benefits, child poverty is at its lowest level in history.
- Economic growth this year reached 3 percent.
That is what Trudeau has done. He also appeared in brownface at an Aladdin-themed costume party in 2001 at the age of 29.
Canadian progressives, like progressives all over the world, must decide whether they care more about the pursuit of social and cultural change, through the eradication of racist and sexist imagery, or the pursuit of transformative policies. In 2015, Trudeau promised both. He was the shining ideal of maximum wokeness, imposing a gender-equal cabinet and offering as the explanation, “Because it’s 2015.” Well, it’s 2019 now.
How racist Trudeau’s appearance in brownface was, and therefore how forgivable, is subject to debate. People of color in Canada—by no means a contiguous body or voting bloc—have differences of opinion about the gravity of Trudeau’s browning up. Sunny Khurana, a Sikh man who appears in one of Trudeau’s photos from the “Arabian Nights” theme party at West Point Grey Academy, did not find his appearance there racist in the slightest. “He wasn’t trying to demean anybody who was a person of color, and from what I can recall from that function, it never came across as that, not at all,” he said recently. “I mean, I didn’t even think twice of it. It was a good party. We had fun.”
Others read the costume as symptomatic of Canada’s racist history generally, and in particular its history with minstrel shows, which is more extensive than you might think. (The composer of Canada’s national anthem performed in blackface.) Others, such as the society gossip columnist Shinan Govani, have acknowledged personal conflicts: “It is the season of moral gymnastics, here in Canada,” he wrote in theDaily Beast.
Needless to say, dispassionate debate about the significance of Trudeau’s costume—parsing his intentions and the context—is not possible, given that we’re in the middle of an election. The picture went viral; that’s what counts. Liberal Party candidates have been struggling. “It was wrong then, and it’s wrong now,” Harjit Sajjan, the defense minister, told the CBC. “But I’m also here to talk about the person I know, in terms of how much he is standing up for people.”
Whatever Canadians may think about the photograph itself, it closes off a major line of attack for Trudeau. Live by the sword of political correctness, die by the sword of political correctness. You can’t argue that your opponents are a bunch of embarrassing antiquities living in the political past—by, say, replaying the Conservative leader’s 2005 speech opposing gay marriage, which the Liberals were doing right up until this story broke—when the internet is rife with your face in brown makeup.
The Trudeau scandal points to a larger problem: The woke will always break your heart. It’s not just that nobody’s perfect, and it’s not just that times change, and it’s not even that the instinct to punish that defines so much of the left is inherently self-defeating. If people want to sell you morality, of any kind, they always have something to hide.
The main criticism from Trudeau’s opponents on the right has usually been that he’s a spoiled brat—a son of privilege—not up to running the country. A faker. The brownface debacle has now become, on the left, a symbol of his lack of real commitment to progressive values. But the cross-party consensus that Trudeau is slight and phony doesn’t survive even a cursory examination of his record. An independent assessment by two dozen Canadian academics found that Trudeau has kept 92 percent of his campaign promises, fully or partially, the most by any Canadian government in 35 years. He is measurably, demonstrably the most sincere and effective prime minister in living memory. He is the rare case of a man whose virtue-signaling has distracted from his real virtues.
Only the left struggles with these standards of style. Right-wing political opponents in Canada and elsewhere have a completely different understanding of acceptable behavior. In the United States, President Donald Trump’s supporters take his brand of nastiness, his aggressive rejection of even the most basic social norms, as a sign of authenticity. Meanwhile, Senator Elizabeth Warren is still apologizing for her Cherokee-ancestry claim.
This imbalance matters, because the left’s aesthetic vulnerability comes at a moment of real threat for progressives. Multiculturalism as a project is dying globally, and not because of a sudden outbreak of brownface performances. The “Howdy Modi” event in Houston revealed how the world is turning: populism, xenophobia, the bragging stupidity of ethnic pride. During the last election, Trudeau’s main opponent, the Conservatives, promised “barbaric cultural practices” hotlines and “Canadian values tests” alongside a two-tiered citizenship system under which dual citizens and immigrants could have their citizenship revoked while natural-born Canadians could not. If voters who believe in multiculturalism cannot forgive face paint, the multicultural project as policy may not survive.
In this context, it’s unclear whether the extreme blandness of Trudeau’s main opponent, Andrew Scheer, helps or hurts the prime minister’s chances for reelection. Scheer does not bother with costumes. He’s not photogenic enough. He, too, is embroiled in a scandal, however—about whether he was properly accredited to claim he worked as an insurance broker for a few months. This may be not just the most boring scandal in this election, and or in Canadian history, but the most boring scandal imaginable. I cannot imagine a duller one. Nobody thinks about Scheer much. But perhaps Canadians want a prime minister they don’t have to think about much.
“The fact of the matter is that I’ve always—and you’ll know this—been more enthusiastic about costumes than is sometimes appropriate,” Trudeau acknowledged in the first of a seemingly endless series of apologies. Progressives loved Trudeau’s best costume: Captain Woke. We’ll find out in October whether they were with him for his policies or his poses. They can’t have both. But they can have neither.
Robert Reich explains how the modern economy really works and what we can do expand economic opportunity.
Progressives are constantly checking their “white privilege,” but what about ideological privilege? Particularly for women, the prevailing assumption is that you aren’t normal unless you’re a liberal Democrat. Conservative women aren’t only left out, but increasingly stigmatized.The Guardian asked: “Half of White Women Continue to Vote Republican. What’s Wrong with Them?” The latter article asserted that “white women vote for Republicans for the same reason that white men do: because they are racist.” Barbra Streisand claimed “a lot of women vote the way their husbands vote; they don’t believe enough in their own thoughts.” Hillary Clinton, Michelle Obama and Madeleine Albright have all expressed similar sentiments in public... Progressive women see their intellectual and political leaders glamorized in glossy magazine photo spreads and celebrated on daytime TV talk shows. Conservative female policy makers are invisible, if they’re lucky... Progressive women enjoy the benefit of the doubt when they say insensitive or prejudiced things. Mrs. Clinton recently joked that two black men “look alike.” No conservative could get away with such a remark... A truly fair and inclusive society would include positive, aspirational images of conservative and libertarian women as well as liberal ones. It wouldn’t marginalize women for their ideology or politics any more than it would exclude women based on race, age, looks or sexual orientation.Once woke to progressive privilege, we can make strides toward a fairer, more inclusive culture for all women.
Conservatives have claimed the moral high ground of so-called originalism. Liberals need to put forward their…
The right and the left seem to maybe agree on one thing. They oppose globalism. Not everyone on the right, not everyone on the left, but there is a commonality there. Do they oppose it for the same reasons?
ROBERT KUTTNER: No, they oppose it for very different reasons. The progressive critique of globalization is very simple. It is a critique of the use of a certain kind of globalization to dismantle what used to be a manage form of capitalism that delivered broad prosperity. The democratic nation-state after World War II was able to regulate markets in the broad public interest so that ordinary people would have economic security and economic prosperity. Beginning in the ’70s and ’80s, trade deals were used to undermine the ability of governments to regulate banks. They were used to put cheap labor that had no labor standards into competition with labor in the United States and in Europe that benefited from protections. And so globalization was used to return to a more primitive version of raw capitalism. That’s the progressive critique.
.. But I think if you want to get elected, you can’t ignore the plight of ordinary working people at the same time you’re asking the voters to open their hearts to immigrants and to other claimants for social justice. It’s asking too much of people whose living standards have gone down the drain to expect them to be liberal on social issues.
When you break down the migration numbers even further, the results are fascinating. While California loses residents to most states, it enjoys net positive migration mainly from other blue states, most notably New York, Illinois, and New Jersey. This means that California’s population churn — immigration combined with domestic migration — pushes it farther down the progressive path.
Third, while Teixeira and Leyden point to California as a model for combatting inequality, it’s one of the most unequal states in the nation. The most prosperous parts of the state are not only undeniably beautiful, they’re also populated by a creative and entrepreneurial class that gives each place a distinctive intellectual energy. If you’re rich enough, parts of California are very, very nice places to live. If you’re not, housing prices will keep you out more effectively than the guards at any gated community.
.. The end result is inequality so great that the nation’s tech titans happen to live in the poverty capital of America. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, nearly one out of five state residents is poor.
Finally, California’s progressive supermajority has led to a spate of petty authoritarianism that most Americans reject. I’ve written extensively about how California is seceding from the Constitution. The state has taken direct aim at the First Amendment rights of its pro-life citizens, implemented confiscatory gun-control policies, regulated pronoun usage, and repeatedly attempted to restrict religious liberty. All too often California progressives have demonstrated that “California values” are incompatible with the Bill of Rights.
.. the so-called “Cal 3” initiative announced that it had collected more than 600,000 signatures to put the break-up of the state on California’s November ballot. The longshot proposal would create three new states — North California, South California, and California — and its proponents promise that it would solve persistent problems created by “failing school systems, high taxes, deteriorating infrastructure and strained government.”
There is a certain image that Canada projects to the world, one that is particularly compelling to Americans. It’s the image of Canada as a tolerant, progressive, kind and humanitarian nation, populated by mild-mannered and polite people.
.. The idea of Canada the Good — a Scandinavian-style socialist democracy, with the added bonus of multicultural harmony — is an attractive one, helpful in providing Canadians with some kind of national identity, and left-leaning Americans with a handy rhetorical device for political arguments: Look at what’s possible, right next door!
.. But it’s worth remembering that this image of Canada, currently personified by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, is a relatively recent construction, largely put forth by Mr. Trudeau’s father, former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. Before that — and for most of the intervening years, between Trudeaus — the public face of Canada has looked a lot like, well, Jordan Peterson.
.. Canada is home to many more Jordan Petersons than Justin Trudeaus.
.. Mr. Peterson is — to use one of his favorite terms — something of a national archetype, the default setting of the Canadian male: a dull but stern dad, who, under a facade of apparent normalcy and common sense, conceals a reserve of barely contained hostility toward anyone who might rock the boat.
.. those who make a fuss are bothersome and ignorant at best, and probably dangerous and destructive too.
.. This is how “peace, order and good government” came to be the Canadian answer to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
.. Charisma is suspect here, and when Mr. Peterson uses that word to describe Mr. Trudeau, it’s not a compliment.
.. Suspect, too, is any whiff of revolutionary spirit. Pierre Trudeau might have technically been a liberal, but he was the kind of liberal who declared martial law in 1970 when a bumbling handful of Quebec separatists were deemed enough of a threat to justify suspending civil liberties en masse.
.. Our politics reflect our sense of unease with anything radical.
.. Liberals who think of Canada as a lefty haven should look to our most recent federal election: the New Democratic Party, ostensibly the major party farthest to the left, ran its last campaign on a platform of balanced budgets and fiscal responsibility. Not even the Green Party dares to suggest divesting from Alberta’s oil sands.
.. On every issue, from peacekeeping to pipelines, carbon targets to Indigenous relations, Mr. Trudeau has largely continued the policies set by his predecessor.
.. Canadian conservatism is not brash. It not belligerent, it is not loud. It is not Fox News. But our most popular columnists all deliver the same message: Things are the way they are for a reason. Those who agitate for change are stepping out of line.
.. He reserves particular ire for young activists. “I tell 18-year-olds: Six years ago you were 12 — what the hell do you know? You haven’t done anything,” he says. “You don’t have a degree, you haven’t finished your courses, you don’t know how to read, you can’t think, you can’t speak.”
“It’s just not right,” he says, “to tell people in that situation that they should go out and change the socioeconomic structure of the culture!”
.. Delivered as a fiery sermon, this impassioned plea for humility and self-improvement gets laughs from Peterson fans. But in practice, it’s actually an argument for submission to the status quo that would have prevented any number of people, from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Emma Gonzales, from ever speaking up.
.. Americans are raised to believe that individuals, even flawed ones, can indeed change the world, and sometimes should. Canadians, for all that we’ve managed to construct a society that Americans sometimes envy, lack this ethic.
.. The resulting mind-set, disdainful of idealism and suspicious of ego, is one we are now, evidently, exporting.
.. Jordan Peterson is considered a heroic figure of historical importance, the man who finally said “Enough!” to political correctness run amok, to mobs of rabid Social Justice Warriors, to an ideologically driven “leftist-Marxist” movement hellbent on destroying Western civilization itself.
.. Mr. Peterson can be more accurately described as a previously obscure Canadian academic who believed, erroneously, that he would soon be forced by law to use gender-neutral pronouns and who refused to bow to that hypothetical demand. The proposed human rights policy that made Mr. Peterson famous is now Canadian law, and no instance of “compelled speech” has occurred as a result of it or resulted in criminal charges, as Mr. Peterson feared. On the issue of legal requirements for pronoun use, things remain the way Mr. Peterson wanted them — the same.
.. Mr. Peterson was taking a stand not against power in that instance but on behalf of it. His acolytes, some of whom might consider themselves to be walking in the tradition of rugged American individualism, should note that they are in fact taking marching orders — “Rules for Life,” no less — from a line-toeing Canadian, preaching a philosophy not of American defiance but of Canadian deference.