On Wednesday in Ottawa, Justin Trudeau was sworn in as Canadian prime minister. He wasted no time in announcing his newly chosen cabinet of exactly 15 men and 15 women, which fulfilled a campaign pledge he’d made about gender equality. One reporter asked Trudeau why the perfect male-female split was so important to him. The prime minster’s response: “Because it’s 2015.”
It sure is. Back in the pre-identity Dark Ages, leaders of representative democracies felt obliged to cite principles or aims in explaining policy to citizens. Today they cite trends.
One problem with trends is that they go as quickly as they come. As Trudeau is sure to find out, his 50-50-gender cabinet is already passé. Where does it leave those Canadians who don’t identify as either male or female? Tell the prime minister the 1990s called. It wants its social justice back.
That’s only a practical challenge. Trudeau can pick up a full-time gendermetrician to carve up the grievance pie and reconfigure his cabinet with each newly pronounced identity.
There are deeper problems. “Because it’s 2015” kills debate, which is the lifeblood of free societies and, ironically, of social evolution. “Because it’s 2015” is a witless claim to absolute prerogative. It dresses up dogma in the finery of historical truth and casts off inquiry as another freshly uncovered offense against progress.
It’s an old story, really. In Culture and Anarchy, Matthew Arnold lamented our “stock notions and habits, which we now follow staunchly but mechanically, vainly imagining that there is a virtue in following them staunchly which makes up for the mischief of following them mechanically.” He wrote that in 1867. Trudeau’s perfunctory assertion of 21st-century righteousness puts him right back in 19th-century England. Every bit as staunch and mechanical, only his stock notions differ from those of Arnold’s contemporaries.
But celebrating thoughtlessness — that’s a modern innovation. A Toronto Star headline reads, “Justin Trudeau’s ‘because it’s 2015’ gender parity comment gets world praise.” If you’re a Canadian wondering what’s wrong with picking a cabinet on gender-blind merit, well, good luck to you. And if you’re an average Canadian who finds himself underserved by his government in the coming years, good luck to you, too. “Because it’s 2015” works no matter what year you plug in. It’s the political equivalent of “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Being au courant means never having to say you’re sorry (see: Obama, Barack H.). Don’t underestimate the ability of “progress” to halt progress.
In the meantime, more fashionable equity is coming down the Canadian pike. At the Times of Israel, Raphael Ahren reports: “Canada will strive for a more balanced policy regarding the Middle East, including active outreach to the Arab world, the country’s new foreign minister said Wednesday.” Among progressives, the term “balance” can excuse all manner of foolishness. And it gets worse: “In a telephone conversation between Trudeau and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, the new Canadian leader ‘explained there would be a shift in tone, but said Canada would continue to be a friend of Israel’s,’ Trudeau’s spokesperson said.”
Friends with detriments. We know who started that trend.
Canadian Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion explained his rationale with a flawless parody of Diplomatese: “Israel is a friend, it is an ally but for us to be an effective ally we need also to strengthen our relationship with the other legitimate partners in the region. For example, we need to strengthen our relationship with Lebanon, and this will help Lebanon but also Israel. To be helpful, you need to strengthen your relationship with the other legitimate partners, and that is what we will do.”
Dion’s statement is free of content for a reason. There is no sound justification for Canada to cool relations with Israel while flattering Israel’s neighbors. There are only stock liberal notions about Israeli misconduct and the need for “balance” in Middle East affairs. When you act, as Arnold would say, “mechanically,” you lose the ability to think critically. What’s the real reason Canada is changing its tone toward Israel? Because that’s what liberal governments do these days. Because it’s 2015. Mischief to follow.