There’s a concept called the whited sepulchre in Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness. It refers to something beautiful on the outside but putrid on the inside – rotten, despite an outward image of virtue and beauty. The concept dates all the way back to the Bible, so the hypocrisy of someone who represents themselves as outwardly pious and attractive but is inwardly different has been something humans have been dealing with for a long time, and it’s clear that it hasn’t vanished in the modern era.
One need look no farther than the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to find an example of this. If you’ve been following the news, you’ll have seen the pictures that have surfaced of Trudeau wearing blackface – not once, not twice, but thrice. Not just a one-off event, Trudeau indicated in a statement that he couldn’t remember how many times he’d donned blackface.
Trudeau seems to have a peculiar penchant for culturally appropriative dress up. On a state trip to India, he was widely criticized for pandering with repeated photo ops and appearances wearing traditional Indian clothing:
It’s one thing to pay respectful homage to a culture, but it’s another thing entirely when your traditional attire starts to veer into costume territory. That’s exactly what some are saying about the Trudeaus.
His supporters frame this behavior as mere buffoonery, and he has since apologized for the blackface incidents. But I have to wonder, would he be as forgiving if it had been his conservative rival Andrew Scheer that had been caught in this kind of faux pas? Whatever you think about these two incidents, it illustrates a darker and more politically cynical side to Trudeau. He caters to the sentiments of his liberal base, and he champions their causes, but behind closed doors he is every bit as awful as the people he claims to stand against.
His promise of electoral reform is another jarring indicator of the clash between his outward image, and his inner cynicism and political expedience. While campaigning against the then Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, one of his main election promises was electoral reform. Specifically, the Liberals wanted to implement a proportional representation system to replace our current first-past-the-post system. In Trudeau’s own words:
Trudeau’s flowery commitment to electoral reform was meaningless. His promise was broken after the Liberals were elected. The official reason was that Trudeau believed a referendum on this topic would be too divisive, but many pundits argue that it was scrapped because it would prevent him from securing successive majority governments in future federal elections.
Trudeau also ran on a platform of taxing the rich. Who were the rich that Trudeau ended up taxing? Were they billionaire industrialists, or the plutocrats who hide their money in offshore tax havens? Unfortunately not. The rich, as the Liberals defined them, were doctors, farmers, and small business owners. Middle-class families also ended up paying on average $840 more in income tax. They were hardly the billionaire plutocrats that Trudeau had railed against during his campaign.
In one of his most jarring acts of impiety, he leaned on the then Attorney General Jody-Wilson Raybould to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement on corruption and fraud charges for the engineering and construction company SNC-Lavalin. When she refused, he shuffled her out of the Justice and into the Veterans Affairs cabinet.
Trudeau has been regarded as the progressive poster boy almost since he deicide to run for office. In the public eye, he was a stark contrast to President Trump. Until this latest controversy, Trudeau had been treated with kid gloves by the media, particularly by the foreign press. Like the whited sepulchre, he wore the mask of piety and beauty, but within he was every bit the cynical, power-hungry politician that some of his less refined peers were. If you want to trace disillusionment in the Canadian electoral process to one singular cause, it would be this: politicians who represent themselves to the electorate in a particular way, and once elected, transform into whatever Trudeau has become.
Header photo by Echo Grid on Unsplash