Caught in the threshold of destiny and opportunity, he just made it official: Trudeau the younger is our first Reality Bites prime minister.
Coming of age in a time before mass e-mail and way before hashtags, Justin Trudeau is a member of the generation who remembers when Mark Wahlberg was Marky Mark, when Mumbai used to be called Bombay, and when Ally McBeal landed on the cover of Time. Justin be nimble: In addition to becoming the second-youngest prime minister in the country's history, he is the rare G7 Gen X'er. Sliding in only behind Matteo Renzi – the former mayor of Florence who became prime minister of Italy at age 39 last year – Mr. Trudeau, 43, represents a demographic that came of age when the Cold War was the thing, and E.T. phoned home, yet has enough wind to its back to feel really old when they see pics now of Frances Bean Cobain in magazines.
Consider this: In the context of what's going on stateside, should Hillary Clinton manage to win the next presidency, Mr. Trudeau – next to her at geopolitical dos – will look like he's standing beside his mom. Literally. Indeed, Margaret Trudeau – the first Canadian to have been married to a prime minister and also birthed one – is precisely the same age as Hillary. As far as Donald Trump goes – and in the context of that boomer Twilight Zone going on in the United States – Donald comes across, possibly, as that great-uncle we don't really talk about placed next to Canada's shiny new scion.
There is a kind of circularity to this new demo-colonization of the prime ministership: Mr. Trudeau belongs to a worldwide generation that got its name made vogue by a Canadian, after all. Douglas Coupland, who wrote the 1991 bestseller Generation X, volleyed to the world a novel with the following back-cover blurb: "Andy, Dag and Claire have been handed a society priced beyond their means. Twentysomethings, brought up with divorce … and scarred by the 1980s fallout of yuppies, recession, crack and Ronald Reagan, they represent the new lost generation – Generation X."
Divorce: that D-word. Insofar as one thing that makes Mr. Trudeau emphatically Gen-X, and informs him to this day in terms of his internal makeup, it is this. A dad to three little ones now, it's amazing, actually, how his own childhood followed the general thrust of the first big divorce movie to come along during the 1970s, the one that defined the post-Mad Men rate of divorce – Kramer vs. Kramer, starring Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. Mr. Trudeau's ghostwriter Jonathan Kay, also now the editor of Walrus magazine, sized up his scenario in elegant terms some weeks back when he wrote about the all-too-public cratering of his family unit: "It's one thing for daddy to leave. That happens all the time, sadly. But when mommy walks out, that's something very different. We are conditioned to think of a mother's love as the one unshakable emotional pillar of a child's life. When that pillar folds up and walks out the front door, how do you keep the roof from collapsing?"
Consider that Mr. Trudeau's family bust-up was happening in public – back when his own dad ruled the land – and went so far as the cover of People magazine at the time. Consider that, in America, there's never even been a divorce inside the real-life White House. The "puppy-like quality" that some have ascribed to our soon-to-be PM, and his infallibility (don't get mommy and daddy mad): that's classic child-of-divorce behaviour, if you're willing to permit me some psycho-babble. Will it translate now to a reaching-across-the-aisles in Parliament? We shall have to see.
What Kramer vs. Kramer did for divorce, another film, Reality Bites, indubitably did for 1990s ennui. A zeitgeist touchstone, it starred Ethan Hawke as the philosopher-slacker Troy Dyer, playing up against his generational nemesis, Ben Stiller, as the hyper-ambitious executive Michael Grates. Many may have been inspired over the years to compare Mr. Trudeau – whose résumé hitherto included "snowboarding instructor" and "nightclub bouncer" – to the lead in that movie, Troy being the dude who went around saying things like, "There's no point to any of this. It's all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details."
Major plot twist, though: Somehow, some way, our Trudeau went from being Hawke to being Stiller.