U.S. President Donald Trump has successfully turned the political narrative toward his general direction since taking office. This includes events he had nothing specifically to do with.
When left-wing Democrats like Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar make outrageous statements, their defenders often say, “but’s it’s nothing like Trump’s rhetoric.”
When celebrities like Bette Midler and Michael Moore spout off, their defenders often say, “but it doesn’t compare to anything Trump has ever said.”
When world leaders like French President Emmanuel Macron or former U.K. prime minister Theresa May make foolish comments or policies, their defenders often say, “but at least it’s not Trump who’s in charge.”
Hence, we appear to be living in a “but … Trump” society. Everything from international disputes to inclement weather seems to land in the president’s lap time and time again.
Canadians can identify with this. Although Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hasn’t dominated the news quite like Trump, there are some striking similarities.
When Trudeau, a former drama school teacher born with a political pedigree and a silver spoon in his mouth, took power in 2015, many progressives thought they had found their new champion. He was young, hip and photogenic. He was also politically and socially liberal, and wanted to promote “sunny days” in politics.
The liberal Canadian media went gaga over their new hero. News stories about him and his young family rivalled that of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot in the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
His reputation also spread internationally. He was profiled in Vogue and put on the cover of Rolling Stone with the headline, “Is he the free world’s best hope?” The New York Times Magazine gushed it was “Trudeau’s Canada, Again,” an homage to his late father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. CNN suggested “Justin Trudeau, ‘the anti-Trump,’ shows Canada’s progressive, diverse face.”
Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev actually said at the United Nations in 2016, “I love him. I admire him. He is a wonderful young leader of this planet.”
Trudeau was seen as the second coming of former U.S. president Barack Obama. His supporters believed his liberal vision would be the perfect political antidote to Trump’s agenda. They wanted to help him drive this progressive message to global electoral success.
That narrative collapsed when people escaped this manufactured fog and realized their golden child was actually made of Silly Putty.
Trudeau stumbles and fumbles in interviews and speeches. He barely understands economic policy, as evidenced by statements like “the budget will balance itself.” He’s looked weak and uninformed on the international stage. His reputation as a liberal feminist dissolved during public spats with mostly female MPs.
The biggest blow to his reputation has been the SNC-Lavalin controversy. The prime minister’s office tried to pressure then-attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to get involved in a criminal proceeding related to this organization and work out a plea deal. She refused and quit on principle.
On Aug. 14, ethics commissioner Mario Dion released a damaging report stating Trudeau had violated the Conflict of Interest Act and tried to influence Wilson-Raybould. He continues to deny anything nefarious occurred.
Therein lies the major difference between Trump and Trudeau. The former created his own narrative, while the latter rode a narrative that was essentially created for him.
Trump, unlike Trudeau, has been in control of this political game of chess from the start. He frequently taunts his critics with outrageous tweets and speeches, and attacks the media, politicians and other public figures. He believes his opponents are out of touch with average Americans, knows they can’t resist going after him, and recognizes many blame him for everything that’s bad in our world. Hence, they often take his bait and lash out – which gives him the opportunity to do it all over again.
The Trump haters don’t seem to realize they’re taking a position that’s self-defeating. You can’t beat a puppet master by playing within the rules of a game he devised. Until they finally figure this out, it’s a narrative the White House will surely employ in the 2020 presidential election.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper.