It’s difficult to imagine a lot less worthy of compassion than politicians, by and large. Much as politics may sap the humanity out of some, they’re people nonetheless – with the same messy histories that the rest of us have.
I found myself mildly sympathetic with Justin Trudeau when news broke of his penchant for donning blackface for much of his younger years as a go-to gag. Not because I’m indifferent to the impact of blackface on minorities (I’m not) or because I’m a fan of Trudeau (I’m definitely not) but because I, too, have seen my existence distilled into a one-dimensional caricature that doesn’t reflect who I am today.
It’s the kind of phenomenon that scares good people out of politics, paving the way for utter bores to succeed.
Of the many issues I have with Trudeau and his governance, I’ve never looked at him as a racist. To the contrary, actually, his obsession with race and diversity is one of his most infuriating qualities, given how often it serves as the launching point to imply his critics are, in fact, racists.
Shocking as the images of him were – as he sang “Day O” in high school, as dressed as Aladdin at a private school fundraiser, as he partied on a rafting trip – they struck me as the antics of an immature schoolboy.
Trudeau says he should have known better, but didn’t; that he acknowledges their racism but didn’t see it at the time. He blamed his “privilege” for blinding him to what is so apparent now.
However skeptical you may be of his apology, ask yourself if who you are today is the same person you were 10 years ago, let alone 15 or 20.
Personal growth doesn’t eliminate past errors, but it should be weighted more heavily in trying to discern who a person really is. In my case, I went through a lengthy mental illness battle, which, compounded with youth and immaturity, led to some social media postings that I very much regretted when they were plastered in media coverage during my campaign for elected office last year.
The media and my political opponents treated it as a “gotcha” moment, while I was most bothered by the understanding that people who know nothing else about me would define my entire existence based on these decade-old snippets.
Trudeau has made diversity, multiculturalism and racial tolerance cornerstones of his premiership. The issue is not that he’s a closet racist, but that he demands a higher standard of others than he does of himself.
The hypocrisy was always the primary concern here. The Liberals mounted an assault on Andrew Scheer over a 2005 speech in the House of Commons in which he spoke out against same-sex marriage – which almost everyone in the Conservative caucus and nearly three dozen Liberal members of parliament opposed at the time.
In a 2018 interview, Trudeau told CBC “There is no context in which someone doesn’t have responsibility for things they’ve done in the past. I’ve been very, very, careful all my life to be thoughtful, to be respective of people’s space and people’s headspace as well.”
That has certainly been the standard by which he’s judged his political opponents as well.
Though 15 months later, it became a different story as Trudeau’s judgement shortcomings became apparent, at least in photographic form.
Political tribalism seems to have a lot more to do with whether one’s sins are forgivable than any measure rooted in grace and love. Conservatives will excuse away the wrongdoing of their own side, while Liberals do the same. It’s a natural instinct to want to protect your own, but society is long overdue for a reckoning with the expectation of perfection we tend to place on all those seeking political office.
The political class always skews older, but as time passes we grow closer to the period where more and more people raised with social media’s existence will be in politics. Every one of these people has a digital footprint of some kind, and it will likely be a lot easier to find their slip-ups than it was Trudeau’s, which came from the era before the smartphone capture of anything and everything.
The way forward is not to denigrate and demean those who’ve made mistakes, but help walk the road to redemption with any who have. Because we all have.