Trudeau is unfit to govern

Trudeau’s blackface scandal cannot be muffled with weak apologies and ‘blind-spot’ excuses.

Trudeau blackface
Images of Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in blackface have surfaced over the past week [Reuters]

Apparently, Justin Trudeau has no shame.

If Canada‘s prime minister had even a sense, let alone a mature understanding of the word, he would have resigned after his past racist acts were revealed.

But maturity is not a word that I have ever associated with Trudeau. At his core, he has always struck me as a pampered, rich kid who enjoys the intoxicating adulation and attention that comes with playing a charming celebrity politician on TV and the international stage.

This is plain to anyone who has carefully watched Trudeau govern instead of being bedazzled by his colourful socks and effervescent persona.

So when not-so-buried images and video emerged of Trudeau prancing around in blackface began to appear again and again and again, it confirmed for me, at least, that he is no statesman, but rather a frat boy at heart with an odious and disqualifying history of racism.

Too harsh a judgment? I don’t think so.

Consider Trudeau’s explanation as to why he hid his racist past from party apparatchiks while he, the son of the late and – in Liberal party quarters – revered Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, was supposedly being “vetted”.

“I was embarrassed,” Trudeau Jr said.

This is the kind of limp, exculpatory justification that a youngster caught making mischief by his parents or teachers might proffer; not a serious politician seeking to be re-elected prime minister.

I suspect that Trudeau was probably confident that if and when his racist habits were finally exposed, he would avoid any real and lasting consequences since, by his own admission, he is just another entitled, privileged, white kid.

In this regard, he has a lot in common with Donald Trump – another white, privileged frat boy with a racist past (and present).

Of course, the agreeable caricature of Trudeau drawn by a gullible corporate media and easily impressed liberals is that Canada’s “It Boy” is the John F Kennedy-like antithesis of Trump. It is time that mainstream-media-manufactured myth is emphatically consigned to the historical dustbin – where it has long belonged.

Indeed, Trudeau owes Trump a deep debt of gratitude because, in all likelihood, the prime minister and his complicit handlers know that, such as the United States president, he will ride out this unfortunately-timed “storm” when the news cycle inevitably turns.

To boot, Trump’s daily diet of outrages has inured so many people to the point where they have become numb or are prepared to excuse, qualify or defend the horrendous behaviour of leaders-in-nametag-only.

And there must be no equivocation on this score: Trudeau’s choice to don blackface repeatedly well into adulthood is the definition of a racist act.

Predictably, pundits and academics have sprinted to be on TV or write hastily written newspaper columns to rationalise or put Trudeau’s avowedly bigoted actions in “context”. Still others claim that the disgust and, yes, outrage, it has rightly provoked, is yet another grating symptom of a “witch-hunt” culture that is disfiguring public discourse and unnecessarily collecting political scalps.

This is absurd and morally bankrupt revisionism.

To be clear: Justin Trudeau decided that it was appropriate to affix a turban or faux afro on his head and apply shoe polish black “make-up” – as he referred to it, innocuously – to his face at parties and in the company of friends for fun again and again and again.

In doing so, the prime minister of Canada, denigrated, ridiculed, and insulted the culture, lives, and identities of too many Canadians who have endured too much pain and torment because of their skin colour or religious traditions.

After his egregious conduct was found out, Trudeau resorted to his, by now, pat and scripted bit of tardy contrition.

At first, he emerged from the hull of his campaign plane looking like a guilty, sullen schoolboy to say: “I should have known better. But I didn’t. And I’m really sorry.”

It was a hollow, unconvincing performance. Trudeau apologised for a photo taken when he was 29 years old. Any adult with an ounce of knowledge, awareness or empathy knows that applying black or brown “make-up” is not only an overt display of racism but a blatant reflection of a stupefying ignorance and callousness.

Later, when more pictures and video were unearthed showing the prime minister in blackface, Trudeau tacked. This time, he expressed regret for “the hurt” he had caused to “racialised Canadians.”

“Darkening your face … is always unacceptable,” Trudeau said. “I should have understood that then and I never should have done it.”

But you did, Mr Trudeau, you did – again and again and again. Cryptic, well-rehearsed apologies will not suffice. Nor will the tired, trite suggestion that your wealthy upbringing translated into racist “blind spots“. I am inclined to believe it goes much deeper than that, sir.   

Defined by a corrosive hubris, Trudeau and his apologists inside (and outside) the Liberal party will never concede that the prime minister of Canada owes his ultimate loyalty not to their parochial political fortunes, but to the country he leads and represents.

If Trudeau and his enablers appreciated that solemn responsibility, they would recognise that his appalling deeds ought to mean forfeiting the honour and privilege of being prime minister.

In place of doing the right thing, Trudeau has trotted out the usual bromides about how he would spend time now “listening” and “learning” by having “conversations” with the citizens he has hurt and slandered.

This is the empty, predictable gruel that rank politicians dutifully fall back on – at the direction, no doubt, of their “PR people” – when they want to feign the kind of sober introspection that, if genuine, should have happened years earlier.  

Trudeau may receive his comeuppance on October 21, election day. Whether he wins or loses, he will remain fatally diminished, permanently soiled by the indelible stain of racism.

Opposition politicians have, on cue, insisted that in mocking the “lived reality” of countless Canadian children, women and men, Trudeau is “unfit to govern”.

They are right.    

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.