Rolling Stone’s Justin Trudeau Cover Is Just the Latest American Liberal Fanfic

American liberals need an escape and Canada is always ready to step in as the object of their fantasy.

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Jul 26 2017, 7:09pm

Image sources: Wikimedia Commons

There are generally two kinds of pieces about Canada (or Canada's leaders) that appear in foreign publications. The first is the "Canada sucks, actually" take that is so hamfisted in its criticism (like, say, comparing Trudeau to Turkey's Erdogan) that it would never see the light of day at a respectable Canadian outfit. The other is a saccharine tribute to the superiority of the Canadian race against the vulgar and hateful American bumpkins. These pieces are usually written by Stephen Marche, but Rolling Stone apparently found some other guy named Stephen who is equal parts hungry for poutine and a return to the divine right of kings.

Call in the "kind but muscular" Canadian forces—this fawning profile for the cover of the Rolling Stone is a national emergency.

The most remarkable thing about this profile of Trudeau is how unremarkable it is. It is another installment in American liberals' quest to find a new Leader of the Free World who will have the moral authority to talk a big game about wanting to help the poor while financing coups and shadow drone wars across the rest of the globe. Trudeau's competitors for the title are Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron, and hot takes abound about which one puts the best smiley face on resolving the latest crisis of capitalism.

As far as a profile goes, the Rolling Stone piece does a good job of recapitulating the carefully curated cult of personality Trudeau has been building his whole life. It's refreshing to see it laid out so clearly in one place for an international audience. Trudeau is presented as the second coming of Barack Obama, a living embodiment of the alternate universe that might have been in America had its voters opted for the "Clintonian formula" of a gentle geek last November instead of a terrible clown.

We learn that while "Canada has some problems," they're mostly confined to the prime minister's reluctant enthusiasm for oil pipelines and that time he accidentally flung his elbows around in the Commons. Otherwise, our prime minister is the anti-Trump. Canadians get free abortions (if you can find a clinic) and legal weed (eventually, maybe) and thousands of Syrian refugees (just don't ask about how they get by) and a plan to tackle the opioid crisis (except not really). Things are moving slower than he'd like on the reconciliation file, but, you know, these things take time and Trudeau is doing his best so chill out (and don't read anything about Thunder Bay).

We graze against the surface of genuine insight when we read that "the personality cult… [speaks] to the choreographed way Justin Trudeau rose to power" but we're quickly drowned again in hagiography before we're allowed to think too deeply about what, exactly, the prime minister's exquisitely-manicured stage performance might be obscuring. Gerald Butts, Trudeau's right-hand man, says he's still just a regular person who is "often photographed surprising everyday Canadians."

We learn that Justin Trudeau is "the adult in the room" with "a hair colour found in nature." He may be "manor-born, but he actually feels his citizens' pain," which is reassuring given how much time the article spends fêting the prime minister's deep sense of noblesse oblige. And, literally: "For Justin Trudeau, listening is seducing."

(Don't think about how this sexual metaphor would work in the case of his electoral reform promise.)

Aside from another impressive notch in Justin Trudeau's media bedpost, the whole profile is a paean to aristocracy, championing the thesis that the prime minister's many talents were those groomed in him by his father. This is an ode to court government, a tribute to a vision of politics where genteel and cultured princes cavort with one another on the world stage while an army of bureaucratic beancounters carefully tweak the appropriate market-based solutions to all our social ills. It is above all a rebuke of the republican pretension that the crass and the vulgar and the basic and the common could ever hope to govern as well as the royal family. Place it in the canon as another lament for the American Revolution.

This is a piece of liberal fanfiction, the "well-meaning Netflix adaptation" of a Canadian West Wing. Trudeau, like Obama, like Macron, like every liberal political celebrity trumpeted by a savvy PR team and their contacts in the media, is an empty canvas where American liberals can express their wildest, wish-fulfilling fantasies. Trudeau offers a balm to soothe the "blathering superego at the end of history," to quote Emmett Rensin. Canada's role in the American psyche since the 1960s has been to serve as a friendly foil for the anxieties of hosting a brutal world superpower and given the Trumpian hellworld US centrists now inhabit, the desire for Trudeau's brand of "kind but muscular" North American power is a mighty thirst indeed.

"At this moment, Trudeau's Canada looks like a beautiful place to ride out an American storm." Pay no attention to the colonialism behind the curtain and it's hard to disagree. The carefully cultivated myth of pastoral Canadian boredom does a lot of heavy lifting. Enough, apparently, to get you on the cover of the Rolling Stone.

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