The Rolling Stone cover: Trudeau’s celebrity helps Trudeau, not Canada

Andrew MacDougall (/)

Andrew MacDougall was a former director of communications to Stephen Harper

You know things are bad in the United States when they put the Canadian prime minister on the cover of Rolling Stone with the headline: “Why can’t he be our President?”

With profound apologies (naturally) to our southern neighbours, Justin Trudeau isn’t the saviour of the western world. For what it’s worth, the smart money’s on Angela Merkel. Not that you’ll find a serious analysis of the problem in the obsequious profile of our Prime Minister.

Then again, what else is new?

The Rolling Stone profile is but the latest round of a seemingly endless game of which foreign publication can puff the Prime Minister most comprehensively. To wit, a recent front page profile in a Rhode Island newspaper ahead of Mr. Trudeau’s (politically important and astute) address to the U.S. Governors Association opened with a command to Google Mr. Trudeau’s “butt.”

Related: Conservatives say Trudeau's Rolling Stone cover jeopardizes NAFTA talks

What is it about Mr. Trudeau that turns foreign reporters into crack addicts? “His dark hair is a colour found in nature,” Stephen Rodrick, the Rolling Stone reporter, squeals in his piece.

I’ll cop to some jealousy. I could have bribed reporters with millions and they wouldn’t have written about Stephen Harper in this manner. Then again, Mr. Harper would never have wanted to be written about in such purple prose. His aims – to say nothing of his methods – were miles away from Mr. Trudeau’s softer touch. The former prime minister would have written Rolling Stone off as irrelevant.

Which brings us to the real question: What does any of this fawning coverage of Mr. Trudeau actually get Canada?

For a country entering a NAFTA renegotiation with Donald Trump’s protectionist administration, a glowing profile positioning Mr. Trudeau as the anti-Trump isn’t likely to help with horse trading. Indeed, the Liberals cited NAFTA when chiding Conservatives for mentioning the Omar Khadr settlement in U.S. media.

Could it be a clever ploy to reach a wider U.S. audience that could prove helpful on NAFTA or other policy files? Not likely. Although Rolling Stone has beefed up its political coverage in the age of Trump, it’s not the journal of record on Capitol Hill.

Might it be a play to Mr. Trump’s respect for celebrity? The President certainly loves a star, as evidenced by his recent applause for Mr. Trudeau’s job performance, which he called “spectacular.” But that’s a high-risk, low-reward approach when the two leaders already have a decent understanding of one another.

Which brings us to the real reason Mr. Trudeau’s office courted the music publication: to build up the Trudeau brand for domestic purposes. The marketing minds in Mr. Trudeau’s office know that Canadians turn into a nation of gushing Sally Fields (“You like me! Right now, you like me!”) when praised by foreigners. It’s not one of our finer traits, but the PMO will push that button until it stops providing a return.

Courting celebrity also provides a handy contrast with Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, who will never be able to match the Prime Minister’s star power. The mere fact that Mr. Trudeau is (once again) being fawned over could tip Conservatives into paroxysms of rage.

Conservatives should resist the impulse and remember that Mr. Trudeau’s number-one political weapon is his likeability. Moreover, Canadians like that their prime minister is liked. If Conservatives are smart they’ll brush Rolling Stone off as meaningless puffery.

Because that’s all it is. No American seriously thinks Canada is going to save the day. If the Americans still had Barack Obama, Rolling Stone wouldn’t give two hoots about Justin Trudeau, or his feminism and fancy socks.

No, the Rolling Stone subset of America – along with the other populations represented by the international press currently going gaga for Mr. Trudeau – are crying for help because the United States is now being led by a fickle, disloyal, hot-headed President with little affection for the political norms or constraints of Western democracies. This crowd knows the system of values and laws that have governed the international order since the Second World War only work when they’re underpinned by American might and diplomacy.

No matter how much Mr. Trudeau talks the talk, he’ll never be able to walk the American walk. Canada doesn’t carry a big enough stick or have an ample enough carrot patch to carry the day in naughty places like Russia or China.

So grab your barf bucket and gobble up Rolling Stone’s saccharine profile of Mr. Trudeau. We could all use a bit of candy in this bitter world.