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RUSSELL WANGERSKY: Even fresh air gets stale

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, members of the federal Liberal caucus, and Newfoundland actor Allan Hawco, were accompanied by Rum Ragged in performing the traditional song "The Ryans and The Pittmans" at a Newfoundland shed party in Ottawa on Wednesday night.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (centre), members of the federal Liberal caucus, and Newfoundland actor Allan Hawco (right), were accompanied by Rum Ragged at a recent Ottawa "shed party" event. — Screenshot

Everyone has their limits.

I finally reached mine last week, as a result of something so trivial it shouldn’t matter at all.

I mean, you could say it was a harmless bit of fun, a get-together with MPs and others from this province at an Ottawa version of a shed party.

And there was Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, belting out “We’ll rant and we’ll roar …” — just like you would expect he would be.

After successive Stephen Harper governments that seemed to lack anything close to a heart or a pulse — let alone a sense of humour — having an empathic candidate like Trudeau was certainly a breath of fresh air.

He is really good at it; he’s gregarious, quick to jump in and not afraid to look silly in the process. Everybody had a Trudeau in their high school graduating class — even failing desperately at karaoke, they were the life of the party. They brought a guitar to woods parties and sang earnestly, and conversations around the fire stopped while they did. They read a long poem at graduation, and didn’t even blush in the process.

After successive Stephen Harper governments that seemed to lack anything close to a heart or a pulse — let alone a sense of humour — having an empathic candidate like Trudeau was certainly a breath of fresh air.

You can go a long way by being gregarious.

Problem is, it’s like any person with a significant strength; they tend to depend on that one strength too much and for too long. Defaulting to being the good sport only works in a certain number of circumstances. Try it in others, and it gets old. Fast.

Eventually, it grates because you learn to expect it. Faux spontaneity outs itself as crass design.

When you realize how mechanical it is, it goes beyond stale. For example, once you realize that U.S. President Donald Trump takes credit for anything good that happens (even if it has nothing to do with him) and blames others for anything that goes wrong, the penny drops. It works fine until the audience figures it out, and starts watching for it in advance — then, every time you do it, you out yourself as a fraud.

Back to Trudeau: eventually, there has to be more than sparkle-eyed earnestness and a willingness to play a bit of the fool.

We get it: you’re likeable. But eventually, even the most doting parents see through a toddler’s gimmick of running over to give you a hug every time that toddler’s caught doing something wrong.

I realize that, for some people, the whole Trudeau schtick has grated from the start — I’m not one of those.

We’re building a humourless world where anyone in any kind of public position who strays for a moment from their expected script is pilloried by one group of the self-righteous or another. It’s a breath of fresh air to have a prime minister who’s not so caught up in stuffiness and making the right appearance that, if they accidentally smiled, you’d think their face might crack.

But even fresh air gets stale if you breathe it enough.

You don’t have to kiss every baby, climb onto every stage, lead every chorus — a charm offensive becomes a charm marathon, and finally, a charm death march. There’s a reason why everyone stops singing “99 Bottle of Beers on the Wall” about 10 choruses in.

I don’t even think the Trudeau government is doing that bad a job.

But there are significant economic problems facing this country, from housing price bubbles to the differential in services and opportunities between regions, to the dangers of continuing to spend and not saving for the economic rainy day that is clearly coming our way. And a singalong isn’t going to fix any of that.

Think of it in terms of dinner.

I like gravy.

I’d have it with almost any meal.

But after awhile it gets awfully rich.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 36 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at russell.wangersky@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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