Trudeau trounces the politics of enmity (Michael Ignatieff)

Fa unes setmanes, vaig recollir en el FT aquest article de Michael Ignatieff, publicat a propòsit de la victòria de Trudeau a les eleccions generals de Canadà. Ignatieff em sembla un escriptor i un polític mediocre. La seva biografia d’Isaiah Berlin és tan grisa com ho pot ser un deixeble massa enlluernat i convençut. En general, els liberals d’avui acostumen a ser bastant cretins, i Ignatieff em recorda alguns intel·lectuals nostrats d’imaginació escassa que, sense haver viscut cap guerra, utilitzen Gaziel i Josep Pla per anar contra la vida i perpetuar vells prejudicis. Dit això, l’article que transcric em va agradar. Crec que pot ser útil en el panorama tan encès i tan confús que tenim a Catalunya.

One of the essential skills of democratic politics is to know the difference between an enemy and an adversary. An adversary wants to defeat you. An enemy wants to destroy you.

If you treat your opponents as the enemy, you conduct politics as if it was war and all means become fair. If you regard your opponent as an adversary, all means are not fair: you are hoping to turn an adversary today into a friend or an ally tomorrow.

The deeper meaning of Justin Trudeau’s triumph in the Canadian general election this week — and its potential influence on democratic politics even beyond his own country — is that he showed how a politics of adversaries can defeat a politics of enemies.

The Liberal party candidate won not just because Canadians wanted a change of regime but also because Canadians wanted a change of politics. Instead of stoking the partisan ire of his supporters in his victory speech, he quietened a rapturous crowd by reminding them: “Conservatives are not our enemy. They are our neighbours.”

After nine years of partisan rancour in the nation’s politics, this set a new tone. Mr Trudeau’s victory proved, he said, that you can conduct a democratic campaign without attack adverts or cheap shots at rivals. “You can appeal to the better angels of our nature,” he said, “and you can win.”

Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister he defeated, was a master of the politics of enemies — attacking the patriotism of his opponents; selecting wedge issues to divide the electorate; attacking the vulnerable to solidify support among the comfortable. This reached its nadir when he stoked fears of Muslims and what a member of his team called their “barbaric cultural practices”. Voters en masse rejected the ploy. Mr Harper unleashed a barrage of negative adverts asserting that “Justin’s just not ready” — but the young candidate proved he was more than ready.

Mr Harper did not invent the politics of enemies: he imported most of its elements from the US. But he perfected their application in a British-style parliamentary democracy: attack opponents for who they are, not for what they say. If you can deny them standing — the right to get a hearing at all — you need not even bother with their arguments.

What Mr Harper discovered is the politics of enemies makes it impossible to win new friends. It also poisons a politician’s legacy. He was a formidable politician — I should know, he beat me soundly in the 2011 election — but as he passes into history, only his diehard supporters will remember him with affection. Many Canadians will recall him not as an honourable conviction politician but as one who let an air of mean-spiritedness overshadow his decency.

The challenge for Mr Trudeau is not to disappoint the yearning that a politics of “sunny ways” and democratic civility have awakened. In a politics of adversaries, the illusion to be resisted is that everyone can be seduced and brought over to your side. He will learn — as did his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, following his own spectacular election triumph in 1968 — how resistant to seduction an electorate can prove to be, how quickly hope can curdle into disillusion. He will learn, as his father did, that to govern is to choose and to choose is to disappoint.

Mr Trudeau will soon discover that the hunger for democratic reform that his campaign evoked may challenge his own authority as leader. If a prime minister wants a quiet life, he keeps his MPs on a tight leash. If he wants to revive parliamentary democracy, he must loosen his leash, allow free votes, empower parliamentary committees, open the doors of parliament to the people, reach out to them online, release documents to foster democratic debate and embark on the perilous path of electoral reform.

Reviving democracy makes for anything but a quiet life for a prime minister. He will have to choose how much democracy his political authority as leader can allow. But these are the happy challenges of victory. He has won a mandate to renew Canadian democracy and, if keeping this promise will tax all his political skills, he wakes up every morning from now on knowing he has the power to try.

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