“Good grief, Charlie Brown!”
How else can one react to the news that has set the blogosphere aflutter – or, should we say, atwitter?
The news: Justin Trudeau, our very own prime minister, has been named the Second Most Influential Person in the World.
The honour was bestowed last week by LinkedIn, a Microsoft-owned website that describes itself as a business- and employment-oriented social networking service and claims to have more than 500 million members in 200 counties. That’s bigger and better than GQ magazine, which declared Trudeau to be the “prime minister of suave,” or Vogue, which anointed our “Canadian politician-dreamboat” as “one of the sexiest men alive.”
Sex and style are fine in their place, but to be named the world’s second most influential person is something else.
It’s silly nonsense, of course. But the fact that a Canadian prime minister even appears on a list like this may say something about changing perceptions of leadership in the United States and elsewhere. To those Americans who are appalled by the man they put in the White House, the leader on their northern flank may be a reassuring reminder that sanity, values and common decency can still prevail in a world upended by Donald Trump.
For Canadians, part of Trudeau’s appeal, as reflected in the Liberals’ continued strength in the polls – 11 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives in last week’s Nanos Research survey – is probably due to the perception that he is the antithesis of Trump. He is cool where Trump is hot, balanced when Trump seems unhinged, steady where Trump is erratic, modern and progressive where Trump is neither.
The Liberals have suffered more than the customary quotient of self-inflicted wounds for a Canadian government at midterm, and in normal times they would be struggling to reboot – clearing out cabinet deadwood and replacing it with new ministers with fresh ideas – before they have to go into election mode.
But these are not normal times. When Canadians look south they see a shambles – a President who does not know how to lead and a Republican administration peopled by right-wing loons at war with incompetent and leaderless GOP moderates. Half of the party wants to impeach the President. The other half doesn’t dare to.
When Canadians look to Ottawa, they see a different picture. It is not always pretty. It can be obsessively partisan. The government may be unable to master such routine tasks as installing a new computer system to pay its employees, or replacing a fleet of aged warplanes, but on the big issues, the ones that affect most citizens most directly, the government is doing okay.
The economy is performing to expectations, jobs are being created, taxes are within reason, kids are being educated, the social welfare net is intact, the justice system works, immigrants are welcomed, the borders are secure and the streets are safe. If Canada is not the best place in the world to live, it is close to the top of most lists.
It can be argued that the “Trump factor” is Justin Trudeau’s secret weapon. Canadians are forever comparing themselves to Americans. As long as Trump is around, the political comparison will be heavily in Canada’s – and Trudeau’s – favour.
Trudeau will continue to benefit from the Trump factor as long as he continues what he has been doing with some skill – holding America and Americans close while keeping Trump at a respectful distance. In his year-end interviews, Trudeau has made a point of noting that while Trump’s approach to governance is different from his own, the two leaders share a common desire to make life better for their people.
If this simple recipe keeps working, Trudeau may be able to consolidate his position in the LinkedIn ranking of the world’s most influential leaders.
But if he is number two, who is number one?
It turns out to be someone called Ian Bremmer, who heads Eurasia Group and GZero Media, whatever they are.
Justin should demand a recount.