Musings —12.06.2016 08:55 AM—
Do journalistic conventions rewire our brains?
It’s a serious question. In the fun new sci-fi movie ‘Arrival,’ the plot posits the theory that language changes the way we think, and not the other way around. The aliens keep telling everyone what they think – kind of like a racist and sexist Donald Trump did, over and over – and everyone on Earth keeps trying to find some other more-obscure meaning, instead of the one right in front of their eyes (ie., that he really is that racist and sexist).
The movie is about aliens, but it could be about politics. People are always looking for a meaning that isn’t the one in plain view.
A Twitter acquaintance, Toronto Star columnist Judith Timson, reminded me of this last week. I had retweeted a windy, stentorian Maclean’s editorial about how Justin Trudeau’s honeymoon was finally at an end. The honeymoon “is truly over,” insisted Maclean’s, sounding like they wanted to convince themselves as much as the rest of us.
Timson’s pithy response: “For the 45th time. Hey here’s an idea: maybe the ‘honeymoon’ metaphor in political journalism is over.”
Well put, and true enough, Ms. Timson. It’s a hackneyed cliché, that “political honeymoon” nonsense, and it’s yet another example of people letting language do their thinking for them.
Politics is a stew in which the ingredients are opportunism, timing and good luck. Justin Trudeau came along when folks were sick of the Tories, when he looked shiny and new, and when the fortunes were smiling upon him. Same with Donald Trump: he oozed out of a fetid, primordial reality TV swamp precisely at the moment that angry white Americans were in the mood to vote against their economic and social self-interest. That’s a victory more attributable to luck than skill.
So, Justin Trudeau has indeed been lucky. And, yes, as Maclean’s sniffed, a video of Trudeau got booed by some drunks at the Grey Cup. Yes, the “cash for access scandal” – they called it a “scandal,” they really did, when no normal person thinks that it is – has been attracting some unhelpful headlines. And, yes, some much-delayed pipeline decisions were causing some headaches in BC, mostly among people who would never vote Liberal anyway.
So what, we say. Getting introduced at sports events is always a really bad idea, per the political muse (cf., Tip ‘Neill). Fundraising isn’t ever pretty, either – but until the media offers political parties ad space for free, it needs to be done. And pipelines? They’re a Hell of a lot safer than the alternative (cf., Lac Megantic).
The fact is this: the punditocracy is bored. Justin Trudeau has been atop the polls for more than a year, and it’s kind of dull. The Tories (who have too many leadership candidates) and the NDP (who have none) aren’t being an effective Opposition, particularly. They aren’t keeping the Liberal leader up at night. So, as always, some media have assigned themselves the role of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. Gentlemen, per the timeless Val Sears quip, we have a government to defeat.
But Trudeau won’t be defeated, anytime soon. And his honeymoon – whether you call it that or not – isn’t ending, either. It’s barely started. And you can thank Donald Trump for that.
Until Donald Trump is indicted at the State level by an ambitious Democratic Attorney General – or until a Republican Congress tires of his madness and his wars, and commences impeachment proceedings in the House – the U.S. President-to-be is going to remain the biggest story on Earth. He is going to be the prism through which all political news is viewed, pretty much.
He won’t be President Trump. He will be President Troll, firing off insults via his Twitter account in the middle of the night, raging as he stalks the marbled halls at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. And the media – as they have always done – will be a-twitter about his Twitter. They can’t stop paying attention to him, as much as they loathe him.
Up here in Canuckistan, Justin Trudeau can only benefit from that. When the (likely) next Conservative Party leader is doing her utmost to ape Trump, Trudeau will look pretty darn good to most Canadian voters, who deeply despise Trump. And if Angela Merkel fails in winning a fourth term in Germany – and if the far-Right’s François Fillon or the neo-Nazi National Front achieve power in France next year – then Trudeau will be among the last progressives standing.
He may be imperfect, but compared to the alternatives to the South and the East, Trudeau’s popularity can only grow. Call it a honeymoon or not, but one thing is for certain: in the dark, dark days that lie ahead, Justin Trudeau will shine bright.
And you don’t need to subscribe to journalistic conventions to know that.