I Don't Know, How's Things By You? Populists Trump & Trudeau Hit The Wall
Their respective fates dominated 2018. In the year-end lists now emerging, two names dominate. Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump.
The irony that (beyond sharing the first three letters of their names) they find themselves bogged down in similar fates is astonishing. They could not be more opposed in disposition, background and personality. Yet their destinies are inextricably linked heading into 2019.
The revelation in the end-of-2018 polling that Trudeau is no longer the preferred candidate to be prime minister of Canada comes as a shock to those who saw him dominate those polls as the year began. The shock is not because Trudeau has woven a tapestry of success in his years as the PM. Far from it.
He’s split the country over energy and climate policy, opened a can of crazy on immigration and left federal finances in a mess. Along the way he’s been convicted by the ethics commissioner of scarfing up freebies from rafinée pals like the Aga Khan.
As one critic admitted, Trudeau has left Canada friendless and adrift in the harsh international climate of today. But that’s not the reason Trudeau’s plummeting fortunes are so baffling.
It’s because his opposition— Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jsgmeet Singh and Green leader Elizabeth May— is so weak and ineffectual as to be pushovers for a skilled outfit like the Liberal party. Yet with a federal election in the next 10 months, Trudeau appears to have exhausted the supply of good will he reaped in defeating former PM Stephen Harper in 2015.
What is just as ironic? Trudeau’s crisis mirrors that of Donald Trump, the man who’s done so much to define Trudeau as diffident and inept. Just as Trudeau is staggering in midterm, Trump, too, has been stymied by a Wall. No, not his desired wall on the Mexican border, but the impenetrable wall known as the Washington political culture.
This blend of Democrats, NeverTrump Republicans and their allies in the bureaucracy and media has spent the first two years of Trump’s mandate ceaselessly putting him through hoops. Trump calls them the Swamp, but the Maze might be a better term for the process puzzle they’ve erected to foil him.
Trump is beset by dogged prosecutor Robert Mueller, virulent activists, untrustworthy subordinates and a cultural industry determined to throw him back into the sea rather than cede an inch of their precious territory. They’re like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from the 1987 film Full Metal Jacket, snarling and hissing in his face that he should be impeached.
While their stated goal is to purify the presidency to their own standard, the real source of their animus is the shame of losing to Trump in 2016. Unable to look in the mirror they’ve chosen to trip up POTUS 45 at every turn.
Leaving Trump’s remaining two years in limbo. If he was in a mood to commiserate with Trudeau, the pair might find much in common as 2018 winds down.
They rode waves of populist disgust in the electorate to reach the summit. Trudeau’s Canada zigged left, Trump’s America zagged right. But nothing else in their style and policy suggests they inhabit the same planet. While Trump is bombarded daily by the media, Trudeau can’t blame his docile press corps for causing his downfall.
Trudeau was the handsome progressive, dropping pious lectures on gender equality and global warming— even as he posed for GQ and the bespoke press of fashionable Manhattan and Paris. His every move suggested a hip northern iteration of Obama. Women swooned and the leftist press dropped at his polished loafers.
But from Delhi to the salons of Davos, Trudeau’s act began to wear thin. His costume drama in India, his finger wagging at the G7, his fumbling of the pipeline file in the West— all conspired to inflame his few Canadian critics and leave the former darling of European capitals a figure of derision. His puny resumé for the job has finally exposed him as a poseur out of his depth.
Trump is out of his depth in other ways. Unlike Trudeau, who has lived on his father’s wealth, Trump hammered out deals in New York City’s meaner streets. A canny, unpolished figure, Trump is ably prepared to negotiate deals across the globe. His schooling of Trudeau on the NAFTA was textbook
But the bumptious Trump is temperamentally ill-suited for the vast apparatus of government with its place holders and entrenched careerists. His “you punch me, I punch back harder” technique was ideal for the elections. But with the Congress and media aligned against him, the antagonistic tactic has grown tiresome. As an old boss once told me, “Don’t get into a fight with a guy who buys printer’s ink by the barrel”.
He now faces two yers of impeachment talk, the threat of legal actions against him and his family and a GOP that seeks to distance itself from the man who conquered them in 2016. All with an economy he’s owned now on roller skates.
Good luck with that. Or as Trudeau might say, “Bonne chance”. It’s blink time. How these populists navigate the conventional wisdom of their capitals will be THE story of 2019.
Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the publisher of his website Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). He’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster, he is also a best-selling author whose new book Cap In Hand: How Salary Caps Are Killing Pro Sports And Why The Free Market Could Save Them is now available.