, 06.25.2018 07:37 AM

Column: anger is an energy

Anger is an energy.

That’s a line from Public Image’s improbable 1986 hit single, ‘Rise.’ The former Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten wails it, over and over, and it eventually makes a point worth pondering: that, sometimes, it’s advisable to get a bit angry.  It’s not always a good idea to turn the other cheek, and keep quiet.

Righteous anger is – well, righteous.

Historians will one day go in search of Justin Trudeau’s righteous anger, and they’ll probably start with June 10, 2018.  It was on that day that Donald Trump called the Canadian Prime Minister “very dishonest” and “weak.”

Trudeau wasn’t dishonest, of course, and he wasn’t weak.  He was merely doing the job he was hired to do.  But Trump’s puerile insults revealed one truth.

And that truth was this: with the TPP torn up, the Paris Accord a memory, and NAFTA heading swiftly to the morgue, Justin Trudeau’s Trump charm offensive had become an abject failure.  All of it had come to naught:  the dozens of phone calls.  The bilateral meetings.  The cordial diplomacy. The gift exchanges.  The disconcerting bromance between Trudeau’s chief advisor, Gerald Butts, and Trump’s former chief advisor, Steve Bannon.  All of it.

On June 11, 2018, Trudeau’s efforts to nudge Donald Trump towards re-ratifying NAFTA – with flattery, with blarney, with even some servility – came crashing to Earth.  And, at that point, every Canadian – from Doug Ford to Jason Kenney to even Stephen Harper, appearing on FOX – got mad.  And they wanted to see their Prime Minister get a bit mad, too.

But Trudeau mostly kept his cool.  At a press conference held to mark the end of the Parliamentary sitting, Trudeau gave the sort of verbal shrug for which his father became well-known.

“We continue to make sure that our folks are in regular contact, we continue to work on NAFTA negotiations,” Trudeau said. “I think the next time that I’ll see [Trump] will be at the NATO summit in Brussels and I look forward to continuing to have a constructive relationship with him in which I will continue to stand up for Canadian interests.”

“I believe it’s clear the way we have engaged with the president has been the right one.”

Well, actually, no.  It hasn’t been, at all.

If he is anything at all, Donald Trump is a thug.  Being a thug, he admires thuggery.  Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: those are the men whom Trump most admires.  The ones who are decent, and civil, and play by the rules – like Justin Trudeau, like Angela Merkel, like Emmanuel Macron – are door mats, on which Trump routinely wipes his feet.  He holds them in contempt.

When Trump “won” the U.S. Electoral College with three million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton, frantic bureaucrats and diplomats around the world scrambled to type up memoranda about what lay ahead.  The peered into the dark, dank recesses of the space where Trump’s brain is supposed to be, and they came up with a strategy that can be summarized in one word: flattery.

Suck up to Trump, they advised.  Kiss his flabby posterior, they said.  It will work.

It didn’t.

Others, like this writer, always had a different view: strongmen admire strength.  Aggressors respond to aggression.  Having cut his teeth in the take-no-prisoners world of New York City real estate – having literally become a star on a TV show whose principal purpose was humiliating people in prime time – Donald Trump was never going to abruptly change course, and adopt the Marquess of Queensberry rules.  Having achieved the presidency by being an angry, racist, pussy-grabbing creep, Donald Trump was never going to stop being angry, racist, pussy-grabbing creep.

In politics, you see, anger sometimes works.  Take, for example, CBS News anchor Dan Rather’s celebrated January 1988 interview with Vice-President George Bush, Sr. – who at that point was losing his bid to secure the Republican presidential nomination. The interview was supposed to be a presidential candidate profile, but Rather went after Bush, aggressively, about his role in the Iran-Contra Affair.  Even Bush’s critics later agreed it was a nine-minute, on-air ambush.  But the way in which Bush handled Rather helped win him the presidency.  Here’s a representative sample:

RATHER: I don’t want to be argumentative, Mr. Vice President.

BUSH: You do, Dan. I have respect for you, but I don’t have respect for what you’re doing here tonight.

 The Bush-Rather interview-cum-ambush became so pivotal, so much part of U.S. political history, that C-SPAN decided to sell recordings of the confrontation on its web site.  Bush himself came to regard it as the moment when his political fortunes turned around.

In their encounter, Bush is clearly frustrated and even angry.  He stumbles over words, he doesn’t complete sentences.  But it is because of that, not despite that, that the Republican Vice President seemed most truthful. He stammers, he loses his patience, he is anything but smooth – and, therefore, he was authentic.  No longer would he be regarded as an East Coast Ivy League wimp.  The confrontation with Rather catapulted Bush ahead in the polls, and helped to win him the presidency.

Justin Trudeau, as he ponders the darkening horizon at Harrington Lake, should heed the advice of no less than Johnny Rotten.

Anger works.  Anger is energy.

Time to get angry, Prime Minister.


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    Sean McLaughlin says:

    You seem to be advocating the Marco Rubio approach with Trump, which didn’t work particularly well for Marco Rubio during the Republican primary. I voted for Trudeau, and am generally forgiving of his mistakes, because he comes off as a fundamentally decent person. We’ll end up totally debased as a country if we play Trump’s game on his terms, just like all the losers who went down that path.

    I support a strategy of keeping our powder dry and waiting for American voters to clip Trump’s wings in the midterms. If that doesn’t happen, then there’s no avoiding multiple international showdowns and it’s time to change course. McCarthyism ran its course and hopefully this will, too.

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    William R Morrison says:

    Is it possible he’s not capable of anger? Not everyone is…

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    David Ray says:

    WARREN. DON’T POST THIS until you’ve watched “Nanette” the Netflix special with Hannah Gadsby. This is how you show anger. Through great art. I believe you will be forever changed as I was. After watching I finally understood life from the perspective of women and how abhorrent we white males really are.
    I was seared to the core. Perhaps watch it with your wife and then share with your readers. Just a suggestion.

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    John W says:

    I’ve often thought every thing you need to know about Trudeau was revealed in the Brazeau fight. Keep your strengths secret, encourage people to underestimate you, do a lot of old fashioned boxing “rope a dope”, strike suddenly at the perfect time. We’ll see.
    The Ottawa media still think they are smarter, better educated, more experienced, with better judgement, wisdom, maturity, political skills, you name it than Trudeau. Why is he PM, and I’m not? The constant negative coverage will continue. Trudeau may have them exactly where wants them.
    But to get around to the issue. You will see the anger; but no rush.

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      whyshouldIsellyourwheat says:

      Trudeau mischievously smiles when I ask how much of the boxing match had been planned out. “It wasn’t random,” Trudeau says. “I wanted someone who would be a good foil, and we stumbled upon the scrappy tough-guy senator from an indigenous community. He fit the bill, and it was a very nice counterpoint.” Trudeau says this with the calculation of a CFO in a company-budget markup session. “I saw it as the right kind of narrative, the right story to tell,” he says.


      Yep…that he is a dishonest, cunning, elitist, and racist (in addition to being a sexist groper).

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        John W says:

        Wow! He’s a lot smarter than I gave him credit for. Sounds almost prime ministerial to me.

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    Terry says:

    Nice to finally see some photographic evidence of that awesome duet that Justin and Johnny did back in the early 90s.

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      Warren says:

      Little-known moment in pop history, but it happened!

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    Peter says:

    The entire American port side is overcome with anger and is skipping from one paroxysm of rage to another, yet it doesn’t seen to be changing anything about Trump or affecting his approval ratings, so in what sense would the anger of a Canadian PM “work”? There may be occasions when a reasoned, calculated demonstration of anger or impatience or steely resolve is called for, but a Johnny Rotten-style spontaneous explosion of visceral anger that leaves him stumbling over words and unable to complete sentences is not going to sway American public opinion or put Trump on the defensive. He’s negotiating with him, not running for election against him. Trump is not doing this because he’s a bully who gets spontaneous jollies beating up nicer people, he is doing it because it is precisely what he said he would do if elected. This may (or may not) be good advice for a candidate in a Canadian election campaign, but how it would advance Canadian national interests escapes me.

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      David Ray says:

      the port side is outraged but not focused. the republicans can win every time with 3 or 4 talking points reinforced a million times a month by their own noise machine. sure, a march on Washington is great visually but it’s just a one-day event and free content for the cable channels. The March for our Lives is fading into the background with every new Trump taunt. I don’t know how you overcome forty years of planned propaganda I really don’t.

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    Crack Baby says:

    You do realize “Sex Pistols’ John Lydon comes out in support of Trump, Brexit and Nigel Farage” (Independent)?

    Also, Angela Merkel is a cult of personality:

    2016, Hillary Clinton names Angela Merkel as her favourite politician – “her bravery in the face of the refugee crisis is something that I am impressed by.”

    2017, “Trudeau Calls Angela Merkel An ‘Absolutely Extraordinary’ Leader Weeks Before German Election” (HuffPo).

    So, the entire progressive political class will mirror her strange passive aggressive style: wide open borders, mass Third World migration, no law save the law of the jungle. Hence reactionary Trump, Brexit – a mutually reinforcing dynamic.

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    Ronald O'Dowd says:


    When all else fails, it’s part of a Prime Minister’s job to stand up and be counted. Remember how Harper did it on climate change, the UN, etc.

    Trudeau’s G7 closing press conference was a decent start. Keep it up until Trump folds. He will eventually, as he was forced to do on separating asylum seeker parents and children. Trump doesn’t have the stomach for retaliatory tariffs. The EU is making America hurt bad and so is China. Trump will fold again cause he really hasn’t got the guts to fight to the bitter end. Folding on immigration changed the entire political dynamic. Canada and Mexico will get a win in the end.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      And to grossly over simplify matters, The Dow Jones, NASDAQ and S&P 500 are of late, Canada’s best friends. Canaries in the coal mine time. That will inevitably induce Trump panic. Wilbur will be on the phone every day to the White House.

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    Kev says:

    You keep saying “Suck up to Trump, they advised. Kiss his flabby posterior, they said. ”

    Who said this?

    Really, who actually said this?

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      Fred from BC says:

      No one, Kev.

      No one actually said this. It’s just the TDS talking.

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    Doug Brown says:

    Unfortunately Canada has no leverage and cannot wait for a good deal to update or replace NAFTA. A good enough deal could be at hand as many concessions would actually be good policy: ending supply management, opening telecom and air travel to competition, deregulating media ownership and local content. The Butts government can’t play its hand too soon and must go through the theatre of playing these as painful concessions.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      You could theoretically give Trump every one of those and he would still demand more, particularly as it relates to banking and autos. In other words, no sacred cows for our side but plenty for him re: defence, tech and national security.

      The longer we wait, the more the American economy tanks thanks to tariffs and the more Trump panics, just like he did on separating asylum families.

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      Ronald O'Dowd says:


      This isn’t a Butts government. Far from it. Trudeau still calls all the shots. Trouble is, he gets a lot of mediocre to bad advice, and foolishly takes it as Liberal Gospel…

      C’est son problème, pas le mien.

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