What’s the difference between Reagan’s jokes and Trudeau’s? Reagan used jokes to illuminate the Soviet condition – the bureaucratic sclerosis, the inefficiency, the agreed lies… By comparison, Trudeau’s jest about Russian hockey and the Kiev bloodbath isn’t really a joke at all, is it? That’s to say, it doesn’t illuminate anything about Ukraine.
But it does, I think, tell you a little something about Justin Trudeau – that Ukraine isn’t quite real for him, that he can’t really conceive of what it’s like to be, say, a guy like him – a drama teacher maybe – in Kiev and to want the same rights Justin takes for granted and to be willing to take to the streets to demand them and risk being gunned down. So Justin tells a silly joke about the Russians being mad at losing the hockey – and adds insult to a multitude of injuries. Reagan’s gags are about the aspirations of ordinary people; Trudeau can’t even seem to comprehend that they might have aspirations.
It’s an empathy deficiency – by which I don’t mean the fake claims to empathy that I’m sure even Trudeau can do, but the absence of the real thing, which is in their peculiar heartlessness what so many of his throwaway lines have in common. He is a man who has spent his life, as Ambassador Prystaiko put it, just sitting in a nice room – and he cannot quite imagine life outside it.