Canada’s “Sunny Ways” Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, received something of a “rockstar welcome” from G20 protesters in Hamburg this weekend. I’m completely bemused by this hero worship and the return of Trudeaumania 2.0 because, for one thing, it’s quite unearned and undeserved. Trudeau’s apparent celebrity and popularity seems based in nothing more that the fact that he’s The Not-Stephen-Harper, Canada’s former Conservative Prime Minister whose authoritarian inclinations and brooding darkness about our “Sea of Troubles” sharply contrasted with Trudeau’s “Sunny Ways” approach and demeanor.
But, for the most part, Justin Trudeau’s government has done very little apart from symbolic gestures to actual earn the “celebrity status” Trudeau has been accorded, and symbolic gestures to “progressivism” without corresponding substantive policy is just perception management. So, I would really like to caution you about mistaking such symbolic gestures for substantive policy and “real change”, as the Liberal slogan promises. Trudeau is not the white knight come to slay the neo-liberal dragon, to dispel the murk and gloom of the austerity policy and rectify the massively unequal distribution of the commonwealth, nor to rebuild and restore the resilience of the democracy after its inherent vulnerabilities to authoritarianism were revealed in the Harper years.
But when even Donald Trump says that “Justin is doing a spectacular job!”, and the head of the World Bank gushes about Trudeau, too, you have to wonder what that “job” really is except something quite akin to what Algis Mikunas called “technocratic shamanism”. But just being the “Not-Stephen-Harper” politician isn’t good enough to live up to the commitment for “real change”.
Trudeau has already reneged on what was a core policy proposal of his campaign — electoral reform to rebuild confidence and resilience in the democracy and to ensure that there is no repeat of the disgraceful Harper years. True, obstructionism from the Conservative opposition didn’t help much, nor the seemingly general apathy of the electorate about the matter. (British Columbia’s recent election, which saw a winning alliance of the Greens and NDP over the Liberals has made electoral and political finance reform a priority, so BC may lead and the country follow in this regard).
On climate change, too, the Trudeau government’s policy initiatives for mitigation don’t really amount to much more than symbolic gestures, or a case of stealing from Peter to pay Paul. Even the media is getting a little restless about the marketing of the Trudeau “brand” and the government’s penchant for symbolic gestures over substantive policy, and it strikes me that the G20 protesters who gave in to Trudeaumania fell for this guff about the Trudeau brand.
It seems that this is the “job” that Mr. Trump thinks Justin is doing such a “spectacular job” at — self-branding and self-marketing, and persuading everyone that symbolic gestures and “Sunny Ways” are the equivalent to “real change” and substantive policy.
It is true that Trudeau represented a “breath of fresh air” after the suffocating rule of the Harper decade of government. It wouldn’t have been difficult for anyone to present themselves as the “anti-Harper” and a breath of fresh air. And it is probably true that there is more collegialism among the parties and Parliamentarians post-Harper, who very much resembles Turkey’s Erdogan, Hungary’s Orban, or the ruling (and badly misnamed) Law and Justice Party in Warsaw. If Stephen Harper boasted that he would make Canada unrecognisable after he was finished with it– that is to say, more illiberal, and achieved that to a certain extent — Trudeau has done very little to undo that aberrant legacy. In those terms, Trudeau’s celebrity is almost completely unearned. It wasn’t actually all that difficult to look like “real change” after Harper, or in contrast to many of the G20 governments of the day.
Of course, the formula for the success of the Liberal Party in Canada has been “campaign from the Left, govern from the Right” which explains why symbolic gesture never meets with substantive policy. Harper and the Conservative Party while in power succeeded, to some extent (as was their objective) to move the idea of the “centre” so far rightwards that what we conventionally understand as “centrist” (liberal) would look like ultra-leftism or “progressive” (a very bad thing to conservatives who have all become reactionaries. But then, the antithesis of the “Prog” is the “Trog”). The “centre” in the “New Normal” just ain’t where it used to be, and this is the “centre” that Trudeau occupies and from which he and his party govern.
It’s not difficult to see in this shifting “centre” a certain measure of “progress” into an extremity of self-alienation or “distantiation” as Gebser calls it, from the “vital centre”. And since the dialectical mind, with its triangular logic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is also reflected in our thinking about political orientations in terms of left, right, and centre respectively (where “centre” corresponds to “synthesis”) this shifting situation in the “New Normal” also attests to the breakdown of dialectical rationality and the dialectical paradigm.
As a consequence, though, Trudeau’s government is riddled with contradictions and self-contradictions as one would expect from following a strategy of campaigning from the Left but governing from the Right, or the inability to reconcile “progressive” symbolic gestures with real policy changes.
In fact, no real change is going to occur at all until we shift from this already inadequate (or “deficient” in Gebser’s terms) dialectical or triangulating logic and consciousness to a quadrilateral or fourfold logic and consciousness (the “integral consciousness”). That leap would be quite revolutionary in the positive sense, or what Gebser calls a “plus mutation” rather than a “minus mutation”. In other words, the former is what we call “progressive” in a real sense, while the latter is what we call “reactionary”.
And, of course, making that leap into this quadrilateral or fourfold logic and structure of consciousness has been the main purpose of The Chrysalis. So, I’m not going to remain uncritical, or be moved and impressed, by a merely triangulating politics that, while it may have been effective and adequate for a three-dimensional cosmos, is not adequate or effective in a “four dimensional” cosmos. “As above, so below” as the old saying goes. But presently there is a great chasm and dissonance between the “above” and the “below”, as it were. And that disharmony is the root of our problems, including the serious problem of anthropogenic climate change and the sixth extinction event.
Trudeaumania is a distraction from the necesssity of a critical examination of the foundations of civilisation (in its “structure of consciousness”) and of making that leap from this triangulating, dialectical logic to a more inclusive, more holistic quadrilateral logic which would be, in effect, a radical change in the mode of perception (the “Gestalt” of things) and the addition of a new faculty of consciousness — a new power of perception; “unfolding the wings of perception” as it were (Castaneda’s don Juan, and a phrase I quite like that hints at the real nature of freedom).
And unless we do make the “leap” and succeed in unfolding the wings of perception (Gebser’s “intensification” of consciousness) the game’s over for life on Earth. Climate change and the Sixth Extinction Event will become runaway and beyond recall.
For that reason, I can’t get enthusiastic about Trudeau, and regard Trudeaumania as a complete distraction, maybe even a greater distraction than Trump is. Trudeau’s own personal liberal project is feminism and LGBTQ rights. That’s well and fine, But it’s a peculiar kind of feminism which actually doesn’t differ all that much from Stephen Harper’s own domestic and foreign policy on Women’s and Children’s welfare, albeit Harper had all sorts of “conditions” attached on that aid reflecting his bias of social conservatism, his own patriarchical values, and his condescending patronism towards women’s health and welfare. Trudeau simply drops the social conservative spin on it, but the whole idea of his “feminism” still is to draw women from the periphery into the mainstream of a neo-liberal economic order and, as such, is a kind of co-optation of some of the more vital aspects of feminism itself. The problems of “patriarchy” and of neo-liberal ideology aren’t going to be resolved through “feminist entrepreneurialism”.
Some might dispute this, but Chrystia Freeland is a striking case in point. A close friend of the critical economist Joseph Stiglitz, Freeland also wrote books critiquing “free-trade” and the neo-liberal economic order and arrangements, along with the massive inequalities of wealth distribution it generated — particularly her book Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Yet, as a Minister in Trudeau’s government, she was appointed Minister of Trade and now of Foreign Affairs. And as Minister of Trade she actually promoted that which she had largely critiqued in her book on Plutocrats and Plutocracy. It was she who finally cemented the Canada-Europe Trade Agreement (CETA) which was, ironically, an initiative of the previous Harper government. And it was she who threw a fit over the reasonable objections of the Walloon government over the investor-state dispute mechanisms and licentiousness of corporate power enshrined in the agreement. It was as if the woman who wrote Plutocrats was an entirely different woman from the Minister. That’s very instructive about the contradictions of the Trudeau government and of the policy of campaigning from the left only to govern from the right, and of substituting symbolic gesture for substantive policy — a kind of Jekyll and Hyde schizophrenia.
It is a very curious thing, is it not, that those who protested CETA and now the G20 celebrate Trudeau as some sort of antithesis to all that when he’s actually the furthest thing from it. True, as a politician he is not as grotesque an aberration as Harper or Orban or Trump for that matter, which makes Trudeau look good by comparison. But the irony is that Trudeau has been sluggish to undo the Harper legacy and has, moreover, continued to pursue many of Harper’s policies albeit in a gentler and softer way, and from a social liberal rather than a social conservative mood. But that’s still a far cry from a social democratic programme.
So, why the hell are you protesters against neo-liberalism and the austerity policy celebrating Trudeau? Only because he’s “the Non-Harper”? Why are you celebrating Trudeau if an economic democracy and a social democratic order is what you want?
Or is it?