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What, if anything, are we to make of the bombshell news that Canada’s prime minister and his wife are separating? Given the private tragedy of divorce, especially when children are involved, is it none of our business? Or must we give attention to the private lives of public figures? Especially political ones?

My immediate inclination is that decency requires us to avert our gaze. It’s bad enough already without headlines. And in this case I know nothing beyond what has been in the headlines, and the news stories calling for respect for the Trudeaus’ privacy while discussing in detail how and when they met, their syrupy public anniversary exchanges and so on.

Unfortunately their case illustrates that we cannot separate out the private character of eminent people from their public conduct, especially if they are in “public life” in the sense of politics and government. And tellingly, the separation was treated as newsworthy, even internationally. I first heard of it from NBC not a Canadian source.

Why do politicians’ private lives matter? Well, during the vehement debate over U.S. entry into the League of Nations after World War I, President Woodrow Wilson was largely incapacitated by a stroke, which probably increased his already problematic tendency toward impatience and intolerance when he was able to focus on the issue.

Since American failure to ratify the Treaty of Versailles is conventionally thought to have contributed to the coming of World War II, and since at critical moments Wilson rallied Democrats to reject a reasonable compromise over ratification with “reservations” to protect U.S. sovereignty, his health was a matter of urgent public interest. Like FDR being secretly too sick to function at the crucial Yalta conference shaping the post-World War II settlement. Or responsibility for America’s nuclear deterrent resting with a man whose handlers are struggling to conceal his senility.

Even if a famous person is not a politician it seems to me to matter what kind of person they are. You can no longer separate out the neuroticism of Woody Allen’s art from his “private” misconduct. But the worst thing he could do to a stranger was get them to pay for a movie they then didn’t like.

Government is a whole other story. Despite all the high-falutin’ political rhetoric about bringing us together, at bottom government is force. It is the entity in society that claims and enforces a monopoly on the legitimate initiation of violence to compel compliance with its wishes.

Politicians routinely muddy the waters on this matter, claiming companies have coercive power and posing as David against, say, the Google Goliath. But it’s government that can seize your bank account, enter your property without consent on various grounds including to inspect your septic system for no reason, and escalate from a warning note to a fine to jail time to lethal force even over initially trivial matters. Try refusing to pay a traffic ticket and see what happens if you go all the way. They will too. And rightly so because the rules must be enforced.

In tyrannies the appalling personal qualities of a Hitler, Stalin or a Saddam Hussein are of course of vital public interest and of course unavailable. But even in democracies, with constitutional limits on the state including semi-guaranteed free speech, governments wield awesome power, often in frivolous ways. Given Lord Acton’s dictum that “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely” we need to know what sort of person is wielding it or frantically pursuing it.

Consider the problem of addiction. It surely requires a compassionate response. But if someone in authority is hooked on powerful drugs, it’s not a “private” matter. Especially if they’re lying about it, because of the spectre of hypocrisy.

None among us can claim to be free of that vice except by proving the contrary. But if someone in public life chronically combines deceit with self-satisfaction to an unusual degree, and lies with particular skill, we need to know.

Bill Clinton famously said otherwise. His policy of “compartmentalization” supposedly meant he could betray his wife without giving voters the slightest reason to doubt his trustworthiness. But Donald Trump proved otherwise, with the Narcissistic patterns in his personal and business affairs prominently and predictably on display in his political life. And he proved that Democrats who winked at “Slick Willy” were setting an irresponsible precedent.

Now I am going to make a couple of points about Justin Trudeau. First, I remember him attending one G7 summit as almost the only Western leader with any children, let alone more than replacement rate. And it struck me as positive and important, an expression of hope for the future and faith in our way of life glaringly absent among the Angela Merkels and Emmanuel Macrons.

Second, he has been polemically sanctimonious on gender politics. So if it turns out he was also guilty of some sort of transgression against “traditional” family values it would be pertinent.

Especially given his long record of hypocrisy across the board, from militant and sanctimonious anti-racism despite that blackface business to the Kokanee grope dismissed with moral relativism to taking a private vacation on the first National Truth and Reconciliation Day. Or just saying in the 2015 election “We have a plan to make housing more affordable for those who need it most – seniors, persons with disabilities, lower-income families, and Canadians working hard to join the middle class,” only to snarl in the face of a housing crisis in 2023 that “I’ll be blunt … housing is not a primary federal responsibility”.

My National Post colleague Tristin Hopper wrote about this housing issue right before news of the separation emerged. And surely it was a question not just of an evolving policy stance, but of the slick hypocrisy of someone for whom nothing is ever his fault. If you elect someone known to be a self-absorbed cad, guess what you get.

Right. SNC Lavalin. And when the separation story broke, Hopper added that “Sophie and Justin were more public about their relationship than basically any other political couple in Canada’s history”. You can’t flaunt your marvellous private life as a political asset then sweep the broken pieces under the rug as if nothing had happened, and the attempt is itself revealing. As when a politician makes their religious faith part of their appeal, gets caught faking it, and says it’s between them and God.

Or consider two other lively issues pertaining to U.S. President Joe Biden. First, he’s forever banging on about what a family man he is, but for years literally refused to acknowledge the existence of his seventh grandchild because she was part of his son Hunter’s disorderly addicted life.

Standing loyally by your troubled child really is an admirable quality and Biden had a right to make it part of his pitch to voters. But by the same token denying your innocent grandchild really is deplorable, to the point that he had to flipflop on it. And again, he did so in a revealing way.

NBC tried to make it sound like an achievement, saying “on Friday, Biden finally spoke out about his seventh grandchild whom, for years, he wouldn’t so much as acknowledge in public. Now, the president wants to meet little Navy Joan Roberts of Arkansas and dispel the notion that he was ignoring a vulnerable member of the Biden family tree that is at the root of his political identity, according to the people familiar with the matter.”

For my money, finally sending out the spinmeisters to claim that “now” you want to meet your grandkid for PR reasons reveals the true man in ways we need to know about precisely because he wouldn’t want us to.

Second, if it’s really true that his “loyalty” to his wayward son included participating in business calls as Vice-President that led to lucrative deals, including for him, he deserves not just opprobrium but jail time. It certainly can’t be brushed aside as “private”.

Prudence and charity are required here. We don’t want to be ghoulish, or gossips, or indulge in Schadenfreude over the failings of others when our own would not withstand scrutiny. Before mocking then-Prince Charles’ hacked pillow-talk consider how your own might play across the screen. And genuine repentance deserves forgiveness. But character matters in “public life”, especially government.

When people seek political office, they insist that they are trustworthy. When they then say their private life is none of our business, they reveal that they are not.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

Whenever I advise a politician, I always make a prediction.

“I predict you will have a long and prosperous political career,” I’d say, “if you don’t make any predictions.”

Other advice I give: don’t ever, ever answer hypothetical questions about the future, because they are (a) hypothetical and (b) about the future, which hasn’t happened yet.

The most famous cautionary tale about political predictions comes from 1948. (I wrote all about it in one of my books, which I predict you will now want to buy.)

1948 was a U.S. presidential election year. That year, Harry S. Truman was the Democratic candidate and the incumbent. Thomas E. Dewey was the Republican standard-bearer, and the Governor of New York.

The Chicago Daily Tribune was pretty pro-Republican, and regarded Truman as “nincompoop,” quote unquote. Their Washington correspondent filed his election night story early – too early – and the resulting Daily Tribune headline forever became the stuff of legend: DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN, it hollered.

Except, he didn’t. Truman won a massive electoral college victory. So much for political predictions.

But politicians still make ‘em. During the pandemic era, in Canada, we’ve been on the receiving end of not a few, too. Remember a cowboy-hatted Alberta Premier Jason Kenney boasting at the 2021 Calgary Stampede that the province would experience the “best Summer ever”? His party even sold ball caps bearing that prediction, so confident were they.

Well, no.

Covid 19 went thereafter on a rampage in my home province. So, in September, Kenney apologized: “It is now clear that we were wrong. And for that, I apologize,” he said. But polls suggest Albertans have not yet forgiven him.

And, to be fair, he’s not alone in getting things wrong. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, stepped into the minefield that is the soothsaying business in November 2020. The pandemic’s almost over, Trudeau suggested: “We’re going to need to have to do this for another few weeks, for another few months, and we can begin to see the other side of this.”

A “few weeks”? Nope. It’s much more than a year later, and the number of infected Canadians is worse than it’s ever been. With no end in sight.

But Messrs. Kenney and Trudeau aren’t alone. The leading American infectious disease specialist, Dr. Anthony Fauci, actually forecast the end of handshakes: “I don’t think we should ever shake hands ever again, to be honest with you.”

That one didn’t come to pass, either. Many people still do, although perhaps not as much.

Other predictions by politicos and polling expert types: birthday candles would never again be blown out. Office spaces would never be used again, or not like they once were. Samples in cosmetic stores: gone. Business attire: toast. Air travel: buh-bye. Oh yes, and cities: cities, along with all that other stuff, was declared null and virus-voided. By some supposedly-smart political people, too.

A few pandemic prognostications were crazier than an outhouse rodent, and everyone knew at the time. Witness President Donald Trump’s firm prediction that the virus would away by the time the weather got warmer.

The virus didn’t go away, however. But Donald’s presidency sure did.

Political predictions are risky, risky business. We ink-stained wretches make preposterous predictions all the time, and we rarely get called on it. But woe unto the politician – cf. Trump, Kenney et al. – who has a muddied crystal ball. They’ll never hear the end of it, if they get things wrong.

So, no predictions, here, about when the pandemic will end, whether another variant is heading our way, or whether the Maple Leafs will ever actually win something (anything).

Instead, I verily predict that this column will end right about here.

(And the Leafs will never win.)

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

As two weeks to flatten the curve lumbers toward its third year, one develops a kind of natural immunity to things like theNational Post’s Nov. 5 story that “herd immunity” is impossible. I mean, you wouldn’t want an outbreak of recognition that the authorities had been making it up all along.

They have. That story began “Back in the early stages of the pandemic, when vaccines were still just a hopeful idea and variants of concern had yet to make an appearance, herd immunity was all the talk… Most researchers… figured a community would need to see 60 to 70 per cent of its population immunized (either through vaccination or catching the virus) to starve COVID-19 of new bodies to infect… But that figure seems quaint now.”

I can think of other words. But in some sense we’re not meant to keep track because it never was about consistency, let alone accuracy. It was about being soothing. Thus a note in my files has the premier of New South Wales, Australia urging his people on Nov. 8 to give it a “final push” to get to “the magic 95%”. Magic. Yay. Saved. But then came the Nov. 24 story “British scientists warn of ‘horrific’ new COVID-19 variant”, rare so far, that “carries 32 mutations, suggesting it is highly transmissible and vaccine-resistant.”

Good feeling’s gone. Who saw that coming?

OK, there’s no particular reason politicians would know what the disease was going to do. But the problem is that there is a reason they’d pretend to. There’s a wise line attributed to Donald Rumsfeld: “Learn to say ‘I don’t know’. If used when appropriate it will be often.” But what would ensue if a politician said it on an important issue?

They would be roasted. And roasting politicians for ignorance is often justified. For instance Trudeau on monetary policy. But in addition to the virtues of saying “I don’t know, let me check”, there are many things nobody can know, including what the economy is going to do. And we voters don’t want to hear it.

On COVID it would have been reasonable for medical officers of health (is there another kind?) to say, and politicians to repeat: Look, we have some idea how emergent diseases play out because humankind has been plagued by them, to coin a phrase, from time immemorial. From things like the Antonine Plague, The Plague of Cyprian, and the hey-did-everyone-just-drop-dead plague we know they generally mutate into less virulent strains because killing your host is maladaptive. Unless they don’t. Like Ebola, polio, the Black Death or smallpox. Some we can mostly prevent. Others not so much. Natural immunity is some help. We’ll have to wait and see.

There’s the real problem. The worst thing they could have said politically is the most reasonable scientifically: that they are aware of a problem but cannot entirely solve it. And the reason they can’t say such a thing is not that the opposition would swoop with bared claws. It’s that they would swoop, and successfully, because citizens would refuse to accept such an answer.

We have this illusion of technical omnipotence in modern society. And if we were to let go of it, we would feel especially naked before a pitiless fate if we are pure materialists all excited about evolution until germs do it. So a headline “COVID-19: System can deal with rising cases, Elliott says” tells you nothing about what the system can deal with, whether cases are rising or what Elliott thinks about either. Instead MRDA, because they must tell you everything is under control if you just do whatever you’re currently told, regardless of what you were told last week, will be next week, or what they really think or fear might be looming.

Thus after the initial blatherskite flopping around on don’t stay home got to a Chinese restaurant you nasty bigots, masks don’t work, what me close borders, they told us to stay home until they got effective vaccines. Which obliged them to claim whatever vaccines they got were effective. And now to say the vaccines are so effective everyone needs boosters because otherwise the unvaccinated will infect the vaccinated and vice versa and we can pump any quantity of one experimental spike protein after another into you, granny and that kid over there and nothing can possibly go wrong.

It’s bad biology. But it’s good politics. Unlike “Hey, it’s a disease, so as usual some people will get sick and some of them will die while others will recover and die later because everybody dies eventually”.

So remember: When we reach the magic number, whether 70 or 95 this week, we’ll all be protected until we’re not. And everyone must accept the next soothing tale or be thought loud and stupid.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.