My Conservative friend (yes, I have some) posted something noteworthy on Facebook. It was a picture of a sign bearing the words: STOP MAKING STUPID PEOPLE FAMOUS. In this week, the Kanye West week, it struck a chord.
Most of the stuff one sees elsewhere on Facebook isn’t as noteworthy. There is the footage of the monkey with a machine gun, there is the footage of the cat snuggling with the baby deer, there is footage of people giving free hugs to strangers, there is (of course) footage of the IKEA monkey being the IKEA monkey in a tiny shearling coat.
There is a thread running through all of that digital ephemera. All of those videos – and all the other Internet memes – have been seen millions upon millions of times. They are more popular than any politician could ever hope to be. JFK’s inaugural speech? Ronald Reagan demanding that the Berlin wall be torn down? Nixon’s Checkers talk? Trudeau pleading for a “no” in the 1980 referendum? Not so important, anymore.
Stuff that is stupid? That’s important, now. That’s popular.
Politics, being made up of people, is as susceptible to popular trends as anything else. So, when stupidity triumphed, it was only a matter time before politics succumbed, too. It was inevitable.
Ipso facto, a Conservative MP actually likens her government to Christ. A governmental body invites Kanye West – an American, whom the President of the United States has correctly called “a jackass”– to be the headliner at the Pan Am Games’ closing ceremonies. The biggest city in Canada previously electing someone like Rob Ford, and in a landslide, too. And on and on. It is not an era where smarts seem to be dominating the proceedings.
Popular culture naturally celebrates anti-intellectual themes. That’s what popular culture is: anti-intellectual. It revels in it, positively rolling around in the muck left in the wake of Donald Trump (who is an asshole) and Justin Bieber (who is the shame of Canada) and Kanye West’s spouse (who is bigger than Jesus).
Ronald Reagan is definitive proof that an impressive IQ is not a prerequisite for high political office, either. The commander-in-chief was not the sharpest knife in the presidential drawer. Had he not been constitutionally limited, however, Reagan would have won a third term without breaking into a sweat.
His Republican successor, the aforementioned Trump, is now the leading contender in the Republican field. His racist, despicable remarks about Hispanics (and others) haven’t hurt him. They’ve helped him, in fact.
What does it all mean? Plenty, and all of it is depressing. Up here in Canuckistan, one gets the sense that Stephen Harper and Thomas Mulcair still attach some importance to thinking, and ideas, and whatnot. Both men seem to recoil from the show-bizzy aspects of the job. They know their limitations, and they stick with them. (Case in point: Harper modeled a cowboy leather vest at the Calgary Stampede once, was roundly mocked, and hasn’t done anything like it since.)
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, however, is different from Harper and Mulcair. He seems to be much closer to the popular culture than the other two guys.
That is because he seems to understand the lumpen-Zeitgeist better than Messrs. Harper and Mulcair do. In the lead up to his Liberal leadership win, and thereafter, Trudeau was singularly intent on making the point – over and over – that he was not an intellectual like his father. He is not, he said, “a faithful intellectual disciple of my father.”
That’s for sure.
On the one hand, it is not difficult to picture Harper or Mulcair debating the minutiae of economic or constitutional theory in a classroom somewhere, wearing corduroy jackets with leather patches at the elbows. It is more difficult to visualize Trudeau doing that.
Who is to say, however, that the Liberal leader is a lesser man for all of his populist inclinations? Who is to say what his adversaries consider his weakness is not, in fact, his strength? After all, in an era where Kim Kardashian can be celebrated on the cover of the Rolling Stone, no less, weird things can happen. Seizing the lowest common denominator isn’t ever anything to brag about, but it sure as shit seems to work.
There’s a paradox at work, here. In virtually everything they say about him, the Conservative and New Democrat leaders clearly insinuate that Justin Trudeau is not very bright. The Conservative Party of Canada is currently sponsoring a multi-million-dollar anti-Trudeau ad campaign, in fact, that makes that very point – he’s “just not ready” because he’s just not bright.
But will Trudeau have the last laugh? If the electorate are capable of electing the likes of Reagan and Ford – expressing genuine affection for both, even after illegal wars and illegal substances – isn’t it possible that they might just prefer Trudeau over Harper and Mulcair?
None of this is to say, of course, that Justin Trudeau is a dummy. He decidedly is not. One does not become leader of a national political party if one is stupid.
But by the same token, it is clear that Trudeau is not weighted down by complex thoughts. He believes that the people want something else, and he may well be right.
Characterizing the era as stupid, then, may be too harsh. Perhaps all that voters are seeking is simplicity. In this part of this Century, their lives have become inarguably complex, and they are receiving too much information all the time. So they naturally gravitate towards the option that is the most easy to understand.
Justin Trudeau, above all, is easy to understand. In this way, he may best represent the era – and he may therefore get to be Prime Minister along the way, showing all those pointy-headed intellectuals that they may be smart, but they’re not always right.