Trudeau’s prob­lem: far too much mor­al­iz­ing

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION - MIS­CHA KA­PLAN Mis­cha Ka­plan is a writer, con­sul­tant, com­men­ta­tor, and CEO of Car­di­nal Re­search Group.

It would per­haps be an un­der­state­ment to say that the al­leged Justin Trudeau grop­ing in­ci­dent has high­lighted the dan­gers of build­ing a po­lit­i­cal brand based on ex­ces­sive mor­al­iz­ing.

For that is the real les­son be­hind this mini-scan­dal. What should anger every­one — re­gard­less of po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion — is the cyn­i­cal and dom­i­neer­ing weaponiza­tion of moral­ity by the Trudeau govern­ment. It is a type of po­lit­i­cal war­fare which, un­til now, the fed­eral Lib­er­als seemed to have per­fected like no other party.

Con­trary to those who fo­cus on the in­di­vid­ual vic­tims of the al­leged grop­ing in­ci­dent (whether they think it is the al­leged groper or the per­son who says she was groped), the real vic­tims of this po­lit­i­cal strat­egy are av­er­age Cana­di­ans who care about the state of po­lit­i­cal dis­course in this coun­try and don’t wish it to be­come the sort of po­lar­ized brawl­ing over val­ues we see south of the bor­der. The weaponiza­tion of moral­ity — be it of the Lib­eral/ lib­eral or Con­ser­va­tive/con­ser­va­tive va­ri­ety — is a weapon like any other: It should be used spar­ingly, and only by some­one who un­der­stands the awe­some dam­age it can in­flict. The fact that there is so much pub­lic de­bate over an 18-year-old, re­cently re­dis­cov­ered in­ci­dent between Trudeau and a fe­male re­porter sug­gests he didn’t un­der­stand that the weapon he aimed at oth­ers was ac­tu­ally loaded.

To some ex­tent, every politi­cian uses moral­ity as a wedge. Af­ter all, pol­i­tics is (or should be) about lead­er­ship, and ef­fec­tive lead­ers con­vince fol­low­ers of a course of ac­tion or world view that they might not oth­er­wise sub­scribe to. In this re­gard, Trudeau and the Lib­er­als should be ap­plauded for bring­ing is­sues of gen­der to the fore­front of pub­lic de­bate, both in Canada and abroad. Where the dan­ger lies is in the way they have ap­pro­pri­ated the dis­cus­sion, de­fined its bound­aries, and fos­tered a clas­sic “us-ver­sus­them” cli­mate in the bar­gain. You are not a fem­i­nist un­less you are a Trudeau fem­i­nist.

From a politico-strate­gic tac­tic, this ap­proach is lim­ited, as it can in­evitably lead to charges of hypocrisy, since try­ing to own an idea is a bit like try­ing to own the wind. From the per­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal dis­course, it’s even more se­ri­ous: It stran­gles de­bate, height­ens par­ti­san­ship, and di­vides more than it unites.

There is a per­va­sive el­e­ment of this lead­er­ship style that even many Lib­er­als find dis­taste­ful: the prime min­is­ter’s will­ing­ness to lever­age is­sues of per­sonal con­science to achieve po­lit­i­cal ends. What else ex­plains the sum­mer jobs grant sit­u­a­tion, which re­quires groups to sign an at­tes­ta­tion sup­port­ing abor­tion rights? Or forc­ing all mem­bers of the Lib­eral cau­cus to em­brace un­re­stricted abor­tion as well? Or pre­vent­ing Tory MP Rachael Harder, whose views on abor­tion dif­fer from those of the prime min­is­ter, from serv­ing as chair of the House’s sta­tus of women com­mit­tee? Or lec­tur­ing Trudeau’s global coun­ter­parts on the need to be more pro­gres­sive? Or tak­ing every op­por­tu­nity to re­mind us that sur­vivors must al­ways be be­lieved, de­spite gov­ern­ing a coun­try that is based on a le­gal sys­tem that val­ues due process above all else?

Trudeau’s ap­proach to these is­sues has had al­most noth­ing to do with de­vel­op­ing ef­fec­tive pol­icy or leg­is­la­tion, but rather with the in­ten­tion of de­mar­cat­ing a clear moral bound­ary and lever­ag­ing it to fur­ther his own po­lit­i­cal brand. It is per­haps the least “pro­gres­sive” way of ap­proach­ing pub­lic pol­icy — at least if one’s in­ten­tion is to stim­u­late healthy de­bate and see sus­tain­able progress made. This type of po­lit­i­cal ma­noeu­vring has the ter­ri­ble ef­fect of turn­ing pub­lic moral­ity into a bat­tle­ground, and any bat­tle­ground — po­lit­i­cal or oth­er­wise — has lit­tle room for losers.

In a wiser era, it was of­ten said that pol­i­tics is the art of com­pro­mise. In the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal era, that com­pro­mise has given way to a pref­er­ence for moral blud­geon­ing, a trend which has, in Canada at least, been led in large part by a man who should in­stead be fo­cused on build­ing bridges. Re­ac­tions to the al­leged grop­ing in­ci­dent (in­clud­ing the inad­e­quate re­ac­tion from Trudeau him­self ) proves that we are now leap­ing between var­i­ous stages of moral war­fare. A last­ing and sus­tain­able peace would be prefer­able.

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