Justin Trudeau is un-smart like me

What if Trudeau’s China gaffe wasn’t a gaffe at all, but a genius political strategy?

Photo illustration by Sarah MacKinnon

Justin Trudeau’s recent musings of admiration for China’s dictatorship were seized upon by critics as evidence that the Liberal leader may not be especially gifted in certain areas, such as mental thinking.

For instance, the headline on Andrew Coyne’s column in the National Post suggested that Trudeau’s utterance revealed the “gulf between his intellectual reach and grasp”—which is one of the more elegant phrases I’ve seen used to describe someone as dumb. The truth is that Trudeau’s intelligence has long been a topic of discreet discussion among political and media types in Ottawa. Typically, the conversation goes something like this:

—He doesn’t seem super smart to me.

—I agree.

[Long pause.]

—Let’s talk about something else now, I guess.

Trudeau’s aides tried to defuse the “Justin ? dictators” uproar by insisting the remarks were a joke. This proved to be a very effective strategy in a parallel universe in which the goal was to successfully convince zero people.

But hang on: What if Trudeau’s critics don’t see the trees for the forest? Or the forest for the trees? Whichever one means that THEY’RE the dumb ones. What if we’re looking at Trudeau’s “gaffe” all wrong? Maybe it wasn’t a misstep at all, but part of a sly effort to reposition the Liberal leader for maximum political advantage.

People of Canada, I ask you: What if Justin Trudeau and his team have taken the measure of our society? And what if they’ve come to one inescapable, unavoidable conclusion—we are getting dumber. In such a circumstance, the obvious strategy would be to get ahead of the curve that we’re all sliding down. Ergo, dictators = good. MISSION UNCCOMPLISHED!

In Trudeau’s defence, there is certainly evidence of our collective intellectual decline. A recent study estimated that humans today are 14 IQ points less intelligent (or, to put it terms that an ordinary person would understand, “more unensmartened”) than during the Victorian era.

According to one analysis, the best possible spin on the data is that we’re “not alarmingly denser” than our forebears—which really isn’t much of a rallying cry for 21st-century achievement. And it doesn’t change the fact that, according to the study, we are on pace to continue losing 1.23 IQ points per decade. (The political implications of this are clear: Justin Trudeau is a young man. He can wait us out.)

But we don’t need studies to tell us what we already know from our own experiences. Few of us try to get anywhere these days without a GPS. We don’t know anything without Google. The other day, I watched a cashier at a fast-food place try to make change. It was like watching a puma try to play billiards. It’s important not to read too much into any one incident, but there is no escaping the hard truth that we belong to the same species as the man from Kelso, Wash., who—arriving recently at court to face charges of meth possession—emptied his pockets at a security checkpoint. The contents? One meth pipe.

In this context, what Coyne describes as Trudeau’s “simple-minded prattle” may be in fact be “exactly-the-right-minded prattle.”

After all, the charm-free-brainiac niche in Canadian politics is already overstuffed. Stephen Harper’s aides never stop boasting about his smarts. And I’m not saying the NDP leader comes off as professorial, but an opinion poll would surely find that at least 85 per cent of Canadians agree with the statement: “Thomas Mulcair is likely to smell of tweed.” Meanwhile, the doofus vote is there for the taking!

From a tactical point of view, Trudeau needs to tread carefully. He can’t parade across the country with a big sign that reads, “Intellectually unthreatening!” That’s too obvious. And besides, the party just invested in a banner for his current slogan: “[Sexy pout] Helloooo, ladies.”

Instead, the Liberal leader needs to be subtle. Start with more hair flips and giggles. While doing simple math, maybe use his index finger to tally numbers in the air. Talk about his admiration for North Korea’s despotic regime and the enviable efficiency it has achieved in starving its people to death.

There’s an old saying in Ottawa about Stephen Harper: while everyone else is playing checkers, he’s playing chess. Well, Justin Trudeau is playing chess, too—and he just stuck a bishop up his nose. Your move, Canada.

Follow Scott Feschuk on Twitter @scottfeschuk

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