Andrew Cohen: Many bigoted leaders have championed minorities once in office

Perspective and looking at the record:

A year ago, the United States Senate was divided over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, tainted by allegations of sexual misconduct when Kavanaugh was in high school and college. The Republicans limited – and rushed – the FBI investigation into Kavanaugh. It never even interviewed some of his critical old classmates. But the Republicans called the whole affair a smear campaign and confirmed him.

Now there are more allegations. Leading Democrats say he should be removed from the court. If they regain control of both houses of Congress in next year’s election, they could try.

Before that, they should consider the dangers of holding a public figure accountable today for the thoughts or actions of a youthful yesterday. Senate Democrats in Indiana, Missouri, Florida and North Dakota who opposed Kavanaugh lost their seats last year. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who supported Kavanaugh, won.

The suspicion: Democrats in red states (which Donald Trump won in 2016) were punished for their votes on Kavanaugh, suggesting there’s a penalty for this kind of politics. Rather than celebrating their courage, skeptics suggest that voters either didn’t think that Kavanaugh was guilty – or that if he was, it was long ago and didn’t emerge in his career as a jurist.

This is the question raised by Justin Trudeau and blackface, which has generated much sanctimonious comment in the United States. Trudeau has his defenders, though. Conservative writer and columnist Andrew Sullivan, for example, says pillorying someone for their former self is absurd.

In Trudeau’s case, wearing blackface was cavalier, crude and ignorant. But he isn’t a racist. And even if he were in his deepest thoughts two decades ago, would it matter?

Judging public figures by their private behaviour is complicated. Can we really hold people to account for what they said or did before they were fully formed? And can we judge them by their views (or acts) in the face of their public record? In Trudeau’s case, wearing blackface was cavalier, crude and ignorant. But he isn’t a racist. And even if he were in his deepest thoughts two decades ago, would it matter?

In its composition and its policies, Trudeau’s government is diverse and progressive. His cabinet comes from both sexes, many faiths and colours. His immigration and refugee policies are relatively generous. For those who dislike Trudeau, his fondness for shoe polish will only reinforce their antipathy. But there is nothing racist about his government. Nothing. And that’s why the reaction of the élites may be harsher than that of the people.

All prominent people have misjudgments in their past. A young Pierre Trudeau flirted intellectually with fascism and the anti-Semitism that shaped the conversation in Quebec in the 1940s. Did it matter? Trudeau as an adult was defined by his commitment to personal freedom. Patriating the British North America Act and entrenching the Charter of Rights was the single greatest act of statesmanship in our history.

Lyndon Johnson was a racist. He blithely used “n—–” in private conversations, even as president. It was earthy and offensive to blacks in his circle. The same Johnson drove the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. No president since Abraham Lincoln was as important on race.

Harry Truman also used “n—–” privately but it didn’t stop him from integrating the military. Richard Nixon was an anti-Semite who saved the State of Israel when he sent it planeloads of arms during the Yom Kippur War.

For each, did racism, anti-Semitism or bigotry, matter? Not if you believe that their public deeds negated their private thoughts.

Kavanaugh is more complicated. He should remain accountable for what many conclude was sexual assault. One reason is that as a high court judge, he is one of America’s nine moral arbiters, appointed for life; many judges beyond suspicion could fill the job. Another is that he apologized for nothing and was intemperate in his hearing, unbecoming of a judge.

But had Kavanaugh simply disliked (not accosted) women, as those presidents disliked blacks or Jews, why should we care what’s in the human heart – and in the past – if that is where it stays?

Source: Cohen: Many bigoted leaders have championed minorities once in office

Joseph Heath: The new nationalism

More excerpts from Joseph Heath’s book, Enlightenment 2.0, on one of the ironies of Trudeau’s policies promoting Canadian symbols. For the Conservative take on successive Liberal governments, see Chris Champion’s Tory History and Its Critics | The Dorchester Review.

So that is how, in a case of not inconsiderable historical irony, Trudeau — the avatar of pure reason — became the father of modern Canadian nationalism, in all of its most boisterous and vulgar manifestations. One wonders how he would have felt had he seen the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games, with its giant inflatable beavers, table-hockey players, moose hats, dancing lumberjacks and voyageurs, and Michael Bublé dressed as a Mountie singing “The Maple Leaf Forever.” The phrase “What have I done?” might have sprung to mind. And yet, almost 40 years after Trudeau made the initial moves, one could see the power of the strategy. Quebec artists essentially boycotted the Olympic ceremonies, refusing to participate in what they rightly anticipated would be an orgy of Canadian nationalism. And yet when the curtain closed, they proceeded to complain about the lack of “French content” in the program. A principled commitment to national sovereignty is all well and good, but no one likes to feel left out of a party. As far as political dilemmas go, the shoe had been moved to the other foot.

Joseph Heath: The new nationalism | National Post.

How Marois made a prophet out of Pierre Trudeau and other Charter articles

A round-up of Charter-related articles, starting with Paul Adams reminding us of the blind end of ethnic and identity politics:

…. progressives are reluctant to give Stephen Harper credit for much of anything. But one bit of data in a recent Ipsos Reid poll has startling implications: the Conservatives are in a comfortable first place among foreign-born Canadians.

I defy you to find another developed country where a conservative party — and one with a populist past to boot — can claim such an achievement.

Whether it was moral insight or political advantage that led Harper to turn his back on the Reform Party’s red streak of xenophobia doesn’t really matter. He made a choice that was immensely important to that young woman in the supermarket, whether we wish to acknowledge it or not.

Marois and Drainville have made a different choice. And they’ve made a prophet of Pierre Trudeau, the man who predicted Quebec’s political nationalism would lead inevitably to an ethnic dead end.

How Marois made a prophet out of Pierre Trudeau | iPolitics.

And good commentary from Emmett Macfarlane of University of Waterloo, noting that judges also have an ideology and biases, similar to the arguments I make in Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism with respect to public servants:

It is a myth Ms. L’Heureux-Dubé herself helped propagate when she was interviewed before the House of Commons standing committee on justice in 2004, which was examining reform to the Supreme Court appointments process. Asked about the role ideology might play in judging, L’Heureux-Dubé stated: “We talk about ideology, but very few of us [judges] have any. You may not perceive that, but we look at a case by first reading and knowing the facts and then reading the briefs, and then we make up our minds.”

A generous interpretation of these comments would not take them as literal – everyone has an ideology, it is what allows us to make sense of the world around us – but rather as a suggestion that judges can simply separate themselves from ideology and apply the law (as a thing somehow autonomous from politics) in an objective fashion. But would anyone seriously believe that if Ms. L’Heureux-Dubé were on the Court today she would refrain from upholding the Quebec Values Charter as constitutional?

It sometimes appears that judges would like to have their constitutional cake and eat it too. By supporting the notion that courts can reach the “correct” answer on where broad constitutional phrases like “freedom of expression” begin and end – often settling controversies about which reasonable people might reasonably disagree – by somehow detaching themselves from their political ideology, we are presented with a caricature of judges as infallible oracles.

 Secular Charter case shows Supreme Court judges can be ideological – and wrong

And some general updates on the debates and discussion in Quebec, starting with hospitals wanting a general exception:

Charte des valeurs: les hôpitaux veulent une exemption

Lysiane Gagnon noting how the proposed Charter has created a feminist rift between radical and liberal feminists:

In Quebec, a feminist rift over secularism

Gerry Weiner, former multiculturalism minister during the Mulroney government who negotiated the Japanese Canadian redress agreement and led the development of the Canadian Multiculturalism Act, is harshly critical of the proposed Charter:

“In the name of separation of church and state, the charter presents the government with a way to abandon the previous policy of tolerance and respect for minority communities that has been an integral part of Quebec for many decades.

“Instead the charter proposes a policy of uniformity, a policy of enforced assimilation, and a contempt for minority values—vilifying them as outsiders and not a part of the real Quebec,” he told his audience who during WW II were vilified and interned in war camps as being dangerous outsiders, where not a shred of intelligence justified such an action.

He noted that he is worried that this is a policy that will divide the province, “that it could strip away decades of building a caring society, of returning us to the Quebec of my youth filled with hate, discrimination, and indifference.  It had taken many decades to become what we are today, with a wonderful quality of life.”

Weiner says Quebec charter to break up Canada

The other truth about Trudeau

Good to see a healthy debate on the legacy of Trudeau, given that so much writing has had elements of hagiography. Bob Plamondon’s recent The Truth About Trudeau provides a valuable counter-narrative that, like many counter-narratives, may try too hard to make its case. On the other side, Andrew Cohen, emphasizes the long-term impact of  Trudeau’s achievements, particularly the Constitution and the Charter,  and his role, sometimes divisive, in trying to keep the country together.

Like all leaders with a legacy of achievement, views and interpretations will differ, but if Trudeau doesn’t ‘haunt us still,’ his legacy continues to shape the country, in big and small ways.

Even the Conservative government, opposed to much of the Trudeau legacy, has to live within it, sometimes with grace (e.g., the 2008 apology to aboriginal Canadians), sometimes churlishly (e.g., refusing to publicly commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Charter). And the reference to multiculturalism in the Charter (the Canadian ‘brand’) has equally sticking power despite efforts to invoke pluralism as an alternative.

The other truth about Trudeau.