Welcome to the real world, Mr. Prime Minister
Photos By Mansoor Tanweer/Flickr/Book cover McClelland & Stewart

Welcome to the real world, Mr. Prime Minister

Bill Maher tickles the funny bone or rubs people the wrong way. It depends on your political leanings. He does what all good comedians are supposed to: capture the zeitgeist – and gives it a comedic twist.

His humour is based on what all good comedy is based on: the blunt truth.

To those on the righteous left, he is a late night jester, the guy who Donald Trump sued for $5 million because Maher, “monkeying” around one day said, in jest, he would donate $5 million to a charity if Trump – then a loud mouth real estate tycoon and reality TV star – could prove he wasn't "the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan."

The Orange One took great offence, and of course, threatened to sue.

This took place in 2013 when Trump was still leading the Obama birther movement and hadn’t yet decided if he wanted to be president.

To those on the right, Maher is a smart-alecky lefty doyen who once donated $1 million to a Barack Obama election campaign and takes wicked delight in sticking it to the neo-cons and the hypocrites, especially those in the evangelical movement.

But like all good social commentators, Maher is an equal opportunity offender. He blurs the political lines when he takes his schtick to the airwaves.

His first effort was the popular series Politically Incorrect. Its swelling audience gathered around the fire to listen in on the truth, unfiltered. The host eviscerated comically addled Hollywood do-gooders and connected Democrats in the same breath as the manic Wall Street money-makers and country club Republicans. They are all one and the same, they just live in different bubbles.

When advertisers grew wary of his growing popularity and the truth got too hot to handle, his network deal and the name of his show were taken away.

He doubled down on the place in the middle where he stands in his current HBO hit series, Real Time with Bill Maher. On it, he often runs a segment called ‘Inside the Bubble.’

Inside the bubble is where more and more of the educated classes choose to live. Even those not so fortunate, hide away in their bubbles, where leaders like Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau will one day make everything better. It’s where people who have been brought up to believe in one thing or another, reside for life, even if there is good evidence to convince them otherwise. They remain steadfast in their outlook, even if it is idiotic, dangerous, or perhaps racist. The bubble holds an eclectic mix, from flat-earthers to climate change deniers, the suburbanites in their gated communities and the ultra wealthy who live above us all, desperate to hoard more wealth, and don’t forget the white supremacists, and even the parlour socialists convinced their socially conscious privilege makes them part of a more enlightened group. They’re all living in a bubble.

Which brings us to our Prime Minister. This past week he emerged from his bubble long enough to apologize again and again and again for wearing brownface and a costume at an Arabian Nights event at a B.C. private school in 2001 where he was employed as a teacher.

“Now, I recognize it was something racist to do,” he said at an impromptu press conference on the airplane in Halifax this week, caught in the midst of the biggest controversy of the 2019 federal campaign.


Trudeau also said that while he was in high school he might have done a similar thing. He had, in blackface. Global News later revealed tape when again, he seemed to appear in blackface.

The picture of Trudeau, age 29, replete in turban and the other garb at the Vancouver event, was silly to some, and highly offensive to others. The outrage came from all sides: Conservative Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, and those in the public who offered a more mixed bag of quotes, from disappointment to disgust. Some of these comments were re-heated from the last scandal to plague the Trudeau government, the SNC Lavalin affair. In that one, the PM was rebuked for pressuring his then attorney general Jody Wilson-Raybould to strike a plea bargain after SNC, the Montreal-based global engineering firm, was accused of bribery and corruption overseas. Wilson-Raybould eventually exited the Liberal party along with another cabinet member, Jane Philpott. Trudeau said he was just doing his job of saving jobs for Canadian workers.

This new broadside came from left field, but hit the bull’s-eye, and for the PM, brings into question his connectedness to those outside the one percent of upper income earners and his competency to be the leader of this nation.

The old adage, character is destiny, is very much in play here, or perhaps we should drudge up another one: the ending of a book is often captured in the first few pages.

Yes, Trudeau’s real character (or lack of it) was destined to be exposed by actions involved in SNC or in his impersonation of Aladdin. This is who he really is.

John Ivison, author of the recent book, Trudeau: The Education of a Prime Minister, captured much of our current PM’s proclivities for putting his foot in it in the dissection of his life before he became PM – including his time as a teacher at that private school in B.C..

The author said Trudeau has spent his life in the limelight, and even when he was a four-month old, then U.S. President Richard Nixon centred him out in a gala event in Ottawa by raising a toast “to the future prime minister of Canada – Justin Trudeau.”

He would be the PM of the Instagram age. Making it only fitting that he was exposed by a photo.

When Trudeau the Elder held the PM’s job, he was celebrated as an outlier, a bon vivant, an active participant on the social circuit. He was known to date Hollywood starlets, but eventually settled and married Margaret Sinclair, two decades younger. They produced three sons, the eldest being the heir to the throne. He was of royal lineage, and Ivison called his book’s introduction, “Vision of the Anointed.”

Yes, Justin Trudeau was the chosen one.

While Trudeau The Younger took a serpentine route to become our top politico, the seeds of his champagne liberalism are based on his privileged background, and his “prolonged adolescence.”

Ivison wrote: “Trudeau conceded that he’d won the lottery by being born into a wealthy family and revealed that his inheritance was worth $1.2 million – his pursuits were aimless.”

He travelled the world unbounded by money worries. He tried school, writing, acting, and then teaching. He was always in the public eye. His name had currency – so did his devilish good looks. He lived in a world most of us can only imagine. He married Sophie Grégoire and was gifted with a lovely family. It was the stuff of Hollywood. He touted himself a progressive – the prime minister of all the people. His followers revelled in his platform, and his push for true diversity. His ultra-liberalism was epitomized by the fact that half (yes half!) of his cabinet was made up of women. Why wouldn’t it be, he asked. It was, after all, 2015! He was a shining example of a new-age leader. This darling of the left, the alt-Trump.

Until he wasn’t.

First came SNC, then brownface/blackface, I, 2, and 3 – and who knows, maybe more? But we could see it coming, couldn’t we? During a family vacation in India that doubled as official business in 2018, he was mocked for going “native.” He was again in flowing costume and bhangra dancing. It seemed odd – especially to the Indians. Not to mention many of the million-plus South Asian-Canadians who did a double-take, staring at images of their PM that made them laugh.

The problem with people plagued with privilege is that they don’t recognize their own symptoms. Going native or wearing blackface might offend many. Or, it might just make you look like a clown.

If you look closely at the brownface picture, you’ll see he is surrounded by more privilege, those who populate certain private schools. There wasn’t much diversity in the Upper Canada Colleges of the world in the 1990s, or today. The bubble keeps them separate from those without the privileges of money, or those who could afford it, but would never put their children through the worst of all types of human interaction, those meant to exclude others.

Bubbles come in all guises, too. The super-rich buy the super yacht and sail into the super sea with their moneyed friends or fill a 120-seat private plane with a handful of people to fly to a conference on the environment. In their bubble, they just don’t get it.

But George Monbiot, an author and columnist with the UK Guardian does. In his latest takedown of the super-rich he comments that when Google convened a meeting of the rich and famous at the Verdura Resort in Sicily in July to discuss climate breakdown, its delegates arrived in 114 private jets and a fleet of mega-yachts. They drove around the island in supercars.

“Even when they mean well, the ultra rich cannot help trashing the living world,” he wrote.

While progressives are earnest and want to do the right thing, the opposite often happens – which shows how out of touch they really are.

Trudeau has become the poster boy for privilege.

While he says one thing, and does another, he didn’t have the capacity at age 29 to know what he was doing was wrong. It’s because the people at the party weren’t offended. They probably laughed and thought he looked cute. Besides, he was a Trudeau – they are such charmers.

The overwrought press coverage of Trudeau in brownface, is another “gotcha” moment along the campaign trail. The sanctimonious Scheer was all over the glib Lib leader, like he was during the SNC incident.  

But influencing cabinet ministers isn’t the same as getting caught doing brownface. Is Trudeau a racist? He almost certainly is not. Was it a racist act? If you believe his intention was to be prejudicial, if he was even subconsciously being antagonistic toward a particular identity, like the American minstrels of the 19th century who put on blackface to perform damaging caricature that rooted the worst stereotypes (blatantly untrue) of African-American identity into the minds of even the most progressive whites, then yes, his actions were racist. At least to you.

One thing is for certain. He is a privileged man who was for a long time, even well into adulthood, a privileged boy.

Here are his own words, from the second apology performed for the press and people, in Winnipeg, explaining why, like so many others, he thought the schtick, at age 29, was nothing more than a playful costume: “And I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have. I have always acknowledged that I come from a place of privilege. I now need to acknowledge that that comes with a massive blind spot.”

Many will forgive him. For some, including many visible minorities who have spoken out, it was just a harmless costume, worn with zero ill intent. They have seen real intolerance, prejudice and racism. What Trudeau did, wasn’t it.

For others, like Jagmeet Singh, the “massive blind spot” apparently has some sort of more sinister connection. The NDP leader should be careful when he claims to speak on behalf of all visible minorities. He does not. He is the man who told an actual racist, captured on video and viewed by millions, that all he felt was love for her. What has happened to his love and tolerance, all of a sudden?

Clearly, Trudeau deserves a serious examination into his being. But it’s the bubble that many Canadians are most worried about. Even if race is directly attached to the class confusion of the PM and the connected crowd he runs with, hasn’t that always been the case? It’s no excuse for Trudeau’s actions, but if Canada wants to become the first post-racial country in the history of this planet, there is a lot of reckoning to be done about what really happened last week.

The very idea of “race” as a “biological” marker is widely questioned by many academics.

The Nazi determination of Jewishness as a racial category, came as a surprise to many. When the singular academic genius of W.E.B. Du Bois, the African-American sociologist and historian, observed pre-war Germany, he was struck. The “race prejudice” he witnessed against white Jews “surpasses in vindictive cruelty and public insult anything I have ever seen; and I have seen much,” he wrote after visiting the country.

Closer to home, in the 19th century, American political theorist John C. Calhoun, the seventh U.S. vice president, who took a deep interest in the goings on above him to the north, made his own pronouncement on race. He described the conflict between the British in Upper Canada as the struggle of Anglo-Canadians with “the French race of Lower Canada.”

The dividing of peoples into “races” was more a need to make political, social and cultural distinctions between one another. Even Charles Darwin was convinced that humans, biologically, are of a “single stock”. Race as a biological construction, masks the environmental and class components of prejudicial behaviour and attitudes we too often confuse with “racism”.

That’s why Maher gets so riled up when the race card is turned over constantly these days. We’re not concerned of Trudeau as a “racist” who is out to harm darker-skinned people, but we are tired of people like him in their bubbles who think, to borrow a line from Trump, they’re the least racist person in the world. The Liberal Leader might be. But it’s the cluelessness of his classism and the environment he comes from, just like others in the private school jet-set bubble, that is most concerning.

Ivison said he has shown a lack of judgment before, and that continued on as prime minister. The book came out before Time Magazine revealed his dark side.  

Is this fatal to his re-election bid?

Perhaps. Although there are those who believe all this political correctness is a cancer on our society. It has created some “raggedy stuff”, said Maher.

He thinks even the lefties hate all this PC stuff. We’re “living on eggshells,” he said. Of course, the progressives could never admit to hating PC culture, it’s what makes them progressive, remember. Unlike their right-wing counterparts who dine on the caviar of endangered fish and eat Foie Gras in public, liberals enjoy it in private. All of them refuse to admit how good they have it.

Yes, we should call out Trudeau’s actions at the Vancouver private school, and the incident in high school, and whatever he was doing in the short video and anything else that comes along. His treatment of Wilson-Raybould was deplorable, but this isn’t full-blown, white-sheeted racism, just stupid, unthinking, and the insensitive acts of a privileged white man who thinks he is a super progressive – perhaps even after the evidence has proven he is not. He’s just a boy in his bubble.

Those who have felt the true sting of racism, will probably look at Trudeau’s missteps as a minor misstep. They’ve seen the true faces of evil and lived through their unholy acts. This was not one of them.

Trudeau still thinks of himself as a do-gooder, a man who is fighting the good fight for diversity and inclusion in the halls of parliament and on the streets of Canada.

Yes, he said, he can see racism, and he can do something about it. But can he ever know what it’s like to be looked at or treated with disdain? When you’re in the bubble, it’s hard to feel anything. Unless, of course, someone tries to burst it.

Those living in bubbles want to keep their children there, too. That’s where it feels safe and warm and oh so much better than what’s on the outside.

The problem for them, and for Trudeau, is that the bubble doesn’t exist.

The only thing we have is the real world.

In Ivison’s book, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh summed up the Achilles heel of the Liberal party, and of Trudeau himself. “It just seems there are two worlds,” he said. “There’s the world everyone else lives in, where people are struggling to make ends meet. And then there’s the world where people who are wealthy and well-connected and powerful think the laws don’t apply to them.”

That, not the constant confusion over race, is the real trouble.

Trudeau emerged from his world of privilege this past week and was given a reality check. For the boy in the bubble, his next one might come on election night.

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