Pity me, I’m Famous
By Robert Fulford, The National Post, November 18, 2006
In recent weeks, Justin Trudeau has upgraded his status from minor annoyance to major national pest. He’s become a public brooder, one of those people who share their ego problems with TV viewers and newspaper readers. He’s like a movie star agonizing over career problems. This process carries the risk of exposing powerful but rarely justified feelings of self-importance.
Even so, those who indulge in it normally remain unaware of how they seem to others, particularly to the less fortunate.
Trudeau has lately exhibited his feelings on CTV and Radio-Canada and in newspaper interviews, most notably with Joseph Brean of the National Post. It’s clear he’s trying to write his own life as a drama. Having done nothing particularly exceptional, he nevertheless believes his personal story acquires meaning to others simply because of his gifts — charm, money, beauty, a silver tongue and a name wrapped in legend.
Some part of him apparently yearns to be a victim, the most fashionable pose these days. We might imagine that would be hard to sustain for someone who arrived in the world so richly endowed. But he manages it by the clever trick of redefining his advantages as burdens. His gifts, he obviously likes saying, force upon him a special sense of responsibility.
As a headline in the Victoria Times-Colonist summarized it, “Privilege comes with responsibility, says Trudeau: Son of former PM feels obligation to become involved.” Those last two words, “become involved,” are code for getting into politics. Should he or shouldn’t he? He doesn’t mind telling you that he’s thinking about it. Ominously, one columnist has already used the dreaded word “existentially” when describing his thoughts about the future.
Getting involved has so far meant expressing a few words about politics, such as his criticism of Michael Ignatieff’s weird desire to raise the ghost of constitutional reform. That, he said on CTV, “stands against everything my father believed.” He’s also suggested that Liberal delegates at the leadership conference should consider the young people running, not just the old folks.
As he said in another context, “youth can make a difference.” That was an example of his unhappy tendency to spray the air with wretched cliches. He claims to be intensely self-critical, but he also seems to say whatever pops into his head.
Not long ago he announced, “We need to start looking forward,” which presumably separates him from thinkers who argue that we should start looking backward. “Right now,” he recently reported, “I’m doing everything that I can to try to help the world.” As opposed to the rest of us, who are trying to do what, the opposite?
It gets worse. Sometimes he produces fatuities that would impress Paul Martin himself. “All Canadian citizens are luckier than anyone around the planet,” he told the Times-Colonist. He has also says pharmaceutical firms should “start doing not just the profitable thing, but the right and long-term profitable thing.” Glad somebody finally said that.
Justin Trudeau has an oddly perverse way of looking at Pierre Trudeau’s life story. “When my father was my age he was still backpacking around the world and beginning to write …”
Well, no, actually. Justin is now 34. Pierre Trudeau was 34 in 1953. By then, his friends knew him as a world traveller but they also knew him as accomplished and effective.
He had played a part in the historic asbestos strike of 1949-1950, a crucial event in the development of Quebec labour unions. With several friends, he had started (in 1950) the most influential Canadian political journal of the 20th century, the secular, anticlerical and humanist Cite libre. He had acquired a law degree. He had represented unions on labour arbitration boards. He had worked in the Privy Council Office in Ottawa, to learn about how Confederation works. And the year he turned 34 he was chosen to write the Quebec labour unions’ brief to the Tremblay royal commission on federal-provincial relations.
Justin has taught high school and chaired a youth volunteer service. He’s running a “youth task force” for the Liberal party while working on an MA in environmental geography at McGill. Should he imagine emulating his father, he’s already running at least 10 years behind. On the other hand, by the age of 34, Pierre Trudeau had not yet appeared on the cover of a gossip magazine like Hello! and (so far as the record shows) had not yet given his first newspaper interview about the cruel problems presented by a life of privilege.
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New Justin Trudeau editorial cartoon: