Prime Minister Trudeau, Sophie, Xavier, Ella-Grace and Hadrien visit the Swaminarayan Akshardham Temple in Ahmedabad, India. February 19, 2018. Justin Trudeau/Flickr

Trudeau's Indian missteps a lesson for all of us

By 
  • February 28, 2018

Beneath Canadians’ cringing at Justin Trudeau’s embarrassing Indian amble, there seemed charitable hope he could use the debacle for hard reflection on the difference between image and reality.

Whether he does or not, it might be a worthy Lenten spiritual exercise for the rest of us to put ourselves in the mirror, too. We might just see a match with some of the human failings he exhibited with his over-the-top showboating.

That’s meant neither as supportive partisanship nor as diminishment of the prime minister’s responsibility. As head of government, he owns the goat horns for everything from tacky costumes to inviting a convicted terrorist for dinner and violating key leadership principles by publicly blaming a subordinate for the gaffe.

Stephen Daisley, of Britain’s The Spectator, best captured the authentic awfulness of the whole imbroglio by noting its most discomfiting part was the best-intentioned obliviousness.

“(If) there were still a few Indians unoffended by the image-obsessed Canadian PM…he quickly remedied that. He turned up for one event in a gaudy golden kurta, churidars and chappals. At another, he broke into the traditional Bhangrā dance only to stop midway through when no one else joined in. Only after the local press pointed out this was a little condescending and a lot tacky was Justin-ji finally photographed wearing a suit.

“It was less like a state visit and more like a week-long audition for the next Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie. Here was Justin Trudeau, the progressive’s progressive, up to his pagri in cultural appropriation. At least he achieved his goal of bringing Indians and Canadians closer together: both have spent the past week cringing at this spectacle of well-meaning minstrelsy.”

Of course, Canadian Catholics have spent much of Justin Trudeau’s political career cringing over what offensive guise he’ll next adopt even while proclaiming his fidelity to Rome. The list is long. Topping it must be last summer’s ambush of Montreal Archbishop Christian Lépine, when the loudly pro-choice prime minister arrived at church in penitential glad rags to receive communion with a photographer in tow. Left out was the abortion rights caped crusader’s outfit he wore as Liberal leader to banish anyone with pro-life beliefs from running as an MP.

It seemed never to occur to him, in the sprint between costume changes, that while abortion is a good thing to some, it is never a Catholic thing to anyone. Au contraire. His next act was to refuse student summer employment funds to any group sharing pro-life or other moral positions with the Catholic Church to which he pledges his faith. Worse, he counselled those excluded from such employment funds that he doesn’t object to their beliefs, so long as they don’t act on them.

The easy thing would be to dismiss the witless contradictions, or the deliberate disingenuousness, as just part of the PM’s political act. It would be a safe slide to pillorying Justin Trudeau for displaying personal failings that cause such public mortification.

I’d love to hear the arguments, though, as to why either of those responses is a Catholic thing to do, especially in this Lenten season when our emphasis is supposed to be on our own failures and shortcomings; in short, on our sins.

Again, that’s not intended to let him off the political hook, nor to dig it deeper into him. Yet if we see hapless vanity as the impetus for his Mumbai catwalk antics, isn’t that our cue to examine its presence in our own hearts?

If we see him selfishly wanting to have it both ways with the Church and her teachings, isn’t that a notice to ourselves to check our tendency to do the same?

If we tag him for being dismissive, spiteful, even abusive toward someone such as Archbishop Lépine, isn’t that the moment to ask ourselves if we’ve done anything similar to those God has called to leadership of our faith?

Nothing in Christian teaching prohibits stringent criticism of public figures. We’re not called to quietism, much less to be patsies.

But Our Lord did teach us about specks and logs. Clearing our eyes of both is a great Lenten step toward discerning between the images of the world and the reality of Easter. 

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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