Beside the Point?

Trudeau and the politics of “peoplekind”

By Jaina Kelly, Staff Writer

During a town hall session in Edmonton last Thursday, Justin Trudeau made a quip that quickly cascaded into a media frenzy of battling opinions. It’s no surprise that opposing sides of the Canadian political spectrum remain eagerly poised to locate the next potential Trudeau controversy. It seemed perfectly fitting that Trudeau’s comment about “peoplekind” being more suitable than “mankind” produced a press field day, as people slung emotionally charged responses right and left.

PC: Jason Franson (Canadian Press)

John Robson for The National Post dove right into the controversy, with the misleading and dramatic tagline which stated that Trudeau is not “a totalitarian, of course” because he lacks “the requisite gravitas as well as the depth of malice.” Already, it seemed to be a very daunting response to a very mild incident. Robson’s tagline made it seem like he was genuinely disappointed Trudeau lacked the malice for totalitarianism.

The article is spectacular in its irrelevance, eventually descending into a web of thinly veiled anti-feminist assumptions, somehow reaching the conclusion that feminist theory boils down to a premise that “manliness is artificial and bad.” Robson continues to deflate feminism in a few short, misled paragraphs, adding that “third-wave feminists who want women equally represented on corporate boards or in Parliament express no desire to see them equally represented in prisons, workplace fatalities or suicide statistics.”

Ah yes, the good old “men commit more suicide, therefore feminism is defunct and selfish” argument. Of course, women don’t want to increase our rates of being marginalized, it’s kind of what feminism is about.

PC: Peter Bregg

Unfortunately, a mildly-feminist leader who encourages gender-neutral language is perhaps more inflammatory and terrifying to Conservative individuals than is a leader who is seconds away from pressing the nuclear war button because he didn’t get a cheeseburger.

Naturally, the humble and woman-friendly National Post was hardly the only media corporation to capitalize on the miniscule moment which Trudeau called, in his own words, “a dumb joke”. The Toronto Star has hosted an array of public responses on their website, which range from “not a big deal” to “this liberal conceited idiot is ruining mankind!” In an official apology, Trudeau said it “played well in the room” (it did, if you look at the video – he receives applause and laughter) but of course the arena of greater public disdain can’t just pass up such delicious bait.

It seems that we’ve acquired a love for the spectacle of controversy, and it’s overshadowing the issues coming to fruition under Trudeau’s government. For example, what about his decision to overrule the B.C. government’s halt on a Trans Mountain pipeline expansion? Or his failure to make meaningful change for Indigenous communities? What about his total dismissal of a major campaign platform promise – to bring about election reform in the government? Indeed, our appetite for scandal seems to outweigh our appetite for clearly considering the most imminent political issues.

A woman writing in to the Toronto Star claimed that Trudeau’s recent speech in Chicago was full of positive and well-received ideas, yet it hardly received any press next to the fleeting “peoplekind” remark that has somehow dominated the national discussion for days. She has a point – are we opting for the more comfortable side of democracy? The side where we allow issues to go over our head while immersing ourselves in the aftermath of irrelevant dramatics?

It makes sense. It’s not all that fun to sift through endless information about policy, statistics, economics, and other issues. Except, if nobody is keeping an eye on the real issues then are we even a democracy? Another write-in comment posted on the Toronto Star was from David Schreiber of Scarborough, who wrote: “We need a bit of humour to put our lives into perspective. We live in a bully’s world. Might is right and common decency and respect are kicked to the wayside so profits can be made and electoral agendas can be fulfilled.” Shreiber has a point – ‘might is right,’ apparently. If you take one look at American politics, you can see that whoever shouts the loudest and has the most egregious display of arrogance seems to command the most attention.

We do require a perspective-shift, however, there’s a tactical and purposeful side to this anti-Trudeau commentary that reaches beyond Trudeau himself. He becomes a symbol of what we either hate or love in ourselves. In the case of the National Post, and Piers Morgan for Daily Mail, he is the simply the perfect scapegoat to direct anti-feminist, anti-PC sentiments. To these Conservative voices, Trudeau is the prime peddler of what they call “Newspeak”, a poor and inaccurate representation of a great book by Orwell.

In a world that has built its language around male domination, it’s no wonder that gender neutral terms make people like Piers Morgan shake in their boots. Whether it is cause for a media firestorm, well, that’s up to us. It’s also up to us to sift through these meaningless moments and find the real issues. Our obsession over small comments says much more about our journalism and our public priorities than the PM himself. What do we prioritize in our democracy and where are we going to draw the line? Is “peoplekind” the hill we’re going to die on? It feels juvenile and truly beside the point.