Views / Opinion

‘Leader of the free world’ job still going begging: Westwood

The vast difference between Trudeau and Trump’s speeches to the UN might leave some critics longing for something in the middle.

Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau delivered the kind of speeches to the UN we'd expect from two of the most polar opposite world leaders, but they left something to be desired in the middle, writes Rosemary Westwood.

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Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau delivered the kind of speeches to the UN we'd expect from two of the most polar opposite world leaders, but they left something to be desired in the middle, writes Rosemary Westwood.

What a difference a few days make.

On Tuesday, parts of the world were “going to hell.” And by Thursday, we were a step closer to ending Indigenous discrimination and winning the fight against climate change.

The U.S., according to Donald Trump in his address to the United Nations General Assembly this week, has never been better, with the best job growth in “a long time” (fact check: it’s not).

Canada, according to Justin Trudeau in his own speech to the assembly a few days later, has finally coming to grips with the past “humiliation, neglect and abuse” of Indigenous peoples.

Where Trump hammered home his hyper-nationalist take on sovereignty, Trudeau spent 20 minutes articulating the impact of Canada’s colonial past on First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples. 

Trump painted a future where the world’s nations leave each other alone. Trudeau, one where we practically share a bed. If America’s first, Canada’s got your back. But neither of those messages appear fine-tuned for leadership.

For Trump, the climactic fight is with dictators and Daesh. He articulated his own axis of evil: Iran, Syria, Venezuela and North Korea. For Trudeau, the fight is both with ourselves to improve human rights in our own nations, and with our apocalyptically warming climate, where the true enemy is inaction.

These were, largely, the kinds of speeches we’d expect from two of the most polar opposite world leaders in office, who just happen to share a continent-long border. Trump — angry. Trudeau — hopeful. Trump — boastful and confrontational. Trudeau — self-criticizing yet encouraging, with a tinge of do-gooder pride.

Which might leave some critics, like Goldilocks, longing for something in the middle. A person demanding that we face urgent international crisis of the moment, like the global refugee crisis or the Rohingya genocide, perhaps, while sidestepping Trump’s war-mongering threat to “totally destroy” North Korea. For those who were still hoping for it, Trudeau seems unlikely to play the alternate Western world leader (with Trump benched for his extremism), without a few mentions of terrorism and nuclear war — even though his speech earned a fair amount more spontaneous applause.

That is, from those who were there. As Global News correspondent David Atkin noted, Trudeau addressed a far sparser crowd than Trump. The president of the United States still claims the largest audience when he addresses the UN, regardless of in what esteem he’s currently held.

Thus, a packed hall heard Trump suggest we prize each other's sovereignty over all else (ideals be damned), unless you’re evil, in which case, he’s gunning for you. As USA Today’s Max Boot notes, Trump was consistently inconsistent in ignoring how other dictators are “all pursuing the same kind of ‘me first’ policy that he advocates.”

A flippant view of a dangerous dictator (though apparently the king of diminishing nicknames could only muster up “Rocketman” for Kim Jong-un) is very Trumpian. But it’s not very “leader of the free world.” A job that — between these two, at least — is still going begging. 

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