The Pause Heard Round the World

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Justin Trudeau at the daily Coronavirus press briefing

Justin Trudeau is known for many things: the selfies. The smile. The socks. The wokeness. The hair. The being a feminist. The having Barack Obama on speed dial. The loquaciousness. That last one is a big one. No one would ever accuse Justin Trudeau of having a shortage of things to say. On the contrary, many people wish he would have a lot less to say, a lot more often. Well, yesterday, for twenty one seconds, twenty one seconds that felt more like twenty one hours, Trudeau said absolutely nothing. Not a word, barely an utterance. Nothing when asked about his U.S. counterpart, Donald Trump’s, response to the protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd.

The day before, while saying he was “an ally of peaceful protesters”, at the literal same moment, Donald Trump was having tear gas and rubber bullets fired on those engaging in a peaceful protest. You know, the thing Donald had just been saying he was an ally of. Things move at the whiplash speed of the Twitter’verse in Trumplandia and so a moment to clarify, fact check and regroup is always required. So, Trump used military forces on U.S. shores, on his own citizens peacefully protesting, and, when asked about it the next day, Justin Trudeau had nothing to say. Nothing.

The seemingly interminable twenty one seconds passed and when Trudeau did eventually begin to speak it was not about Trump. No, it was about us as Canadians. It was about our racial divisions, our issues with white privilege; racial profiling and racial discrimination. Trudeau is taking a lot of heat for that very pregnant pause and what followed it, but what was birthed from that silence, to me, was beautiful.

It was beautiful to see a leader not blaming, not deflecting; not raging and not calling a free press “the enemy of the people”, but, instead, turning the mirror on himself to examine a nations failures on his watch and beyond his watch. Failures including, but not limited to, Canada’s treatment of Indigenous communities; the original sin of our nation.

While the U.S. has been likened to Canada’s big brother owing to our economic and military interdependency, it has never been more clear than it is now that we are not, and cannot be our brother’s keeper. Whereas Trudeau’s last older brother, who he seems to continue to take many lessons from, was cerebral, thoughtful, stable and deliberative; Trudeau’s current older brother is oafish, ignorant, unstable, thoughtless and careless. A thug. A thug with the nuclear codes and a trigger finger when it comes to Twitter, and, it would seem, actual triggers.

Whenever someone is dealing with such a virulent and violent narcissist, as Trudeau is, rule one of non-fight-therapy-club is: set healthy boundaries. That is the first rule and the last rule and, to be honest, in between the first and last rule there are no other rules. Set healthy boundaries is the beginning, the middle and the end of the playbook. Now, the ways and means by which any of us may set those boundaries is between us and our therapists but that’s still the one and only rule. And yesterday, Trudeau followed it to a tee and we got to watch as he set the healthiest of boundaries.

He would not, and did not, speak to the actions of his extremely dysfunctional and extremely toxic ‘older brother’. He would not engage, he would not be pressured and he would not cast judgment on a brother who has absolutely nothing to do with him and even less to do with the country Trudeau has been elected to serve. It bears repeating: what was birthed from that pause was beautiful.

Not just because it proved what the great sages have known all along, which is that silence is golden and speaks volumes. It was also beautiful because it demonstrated that a leader, a true leader, can and will deliberate. A true leader will stop, breathe, think, reflect, speak only when ready and they will do all of those things, when called upon to do so, in real time. Justin Trudeau did those things and he should be applauded for his thoughtfulness and his restraint. Qualities sorely lacking in many leaders, including, and especially, his ‘big brother’.

Trump may be the metaphorical older brother in this scenario but he acts like an impetuous and spoiled child. When children like Trump are given a seat at the adult table, the only thing they generally do is make a mess. They spill, they break things, they pound their fists on the table and then crawl under it when they are afraid, or, don’t get what they want, refusing to come out until they do. Trump has made nothing but an unmitigated mess and, in recent days, until he got the strength of the military behind him, we saw him hiding under the table in the form a bunker at the White House.

Trudeau doesn’t hide. He has not hidden throughout this entire pandemic and he is not hiding now. Unlike big bro, Trudeau has faced, unwaveringly, a less than friendly press with grace and fairness every single day. You want proof? Just look at the hair. It tells the story having gone from coiffed to, well, less than coiffed right before our very eyes. Yesterday, was no exception as he faced what needed facing but only after stopping and weighing his words and measuring his thoughtful and well-rounded reply.

Trudeau would not have served anyone, especially those he was elected to serve, by taking on a madman and a wannabe dictator. A thoughtless word could put Canada in economic peril, security peril, hell, Trump could have started a war over it. At the very least he would have started a Twitter war. And who would Trudeau have served? No one. Certainly not me. Or you. He might have given his ego a short term rush, a sugar high. But, at the end of the day, he was wise enough to weigh the consequences and chose the one that would not lead to the potential catastrophe of a international incident and we all ought to be thankful for his wisdom and grace.

All of which is to say, I get it. I understand the heat he is taking as I too would have loved for him to go after Trump. That’s because I am not as wise or as graceful as Justin Trudeau and I certainly do not have as nice a collection of socks. Be grateful I am not your Prime Minister in case you weren’t grateful for that already.

I would have loved, loved, loved to hear him call Trump out. To blast his ignorance. To malign his foolishness. To level every accusation and name in the book at him. To rage and say everything that needs to be said. Like the fact that Trump is racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, malignantly narcissistic. I wanted him to yell all of it and in all caps and…..and…..then I don’t know. I don’t know what comes after the blast except, maybe, a bigger blast. And then a bigger one and a bigger one until there is nothing left but dust and rubble and destruction. Forget going forward, there is nowhere even left to go. Those ways are the ways of Trump. Those are the ways that we see every-single-seemingly-God-forsaken day, and, we see that they do not work. A blast followed by another blast and then another until everyone is punch drunk, exhausted and just totally and absolutely devastated and confused.

I am learning that white silence equals black pain. I am learning that the silence of the privileged kills. That it literally kills. I understand the desire to see Trudeau say something, and, there may have even been some momentary value in it, but, that’s all that it would have been: a moment. In the big picture and the long term, leaders of the world, including Trudeau, may need to unite and speak out loudly against a rising fascist force. But, for right now, the sustained scream has to come from us, the volumes have to be written and spoken by us. Trudeau is one powerful man. We are millions of voices that, when put together, are infinitely powerful.

If Trudeau had, even inadvertently, engaged in a war of words with Trump; if he had tried to reason away the unreasonable or tried to put answers or rational thought in a place where none are to be found, that would have served no one. So, Trudeau stayed silent and in that silence he spoke volumes, both, about what he and Canada will not tolerate and what is worth engaging in and what is not. He was absolutely correct to do so and global leaders from Bolsinaro to Trump could stand to take a lesson from him and quit the rapid fire tweets and the thoughtless, off the cuff responses that just happen to have global consequences. Trump may be the big brother in theory but, yesterday, Trudeau proved that he is the big brother in actual fact.

Originally published at on June 4, 2020.

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