From Trudeau to Arden: Young leaders are walking the thin line between stardom, statesmanship

What connects the young band of politicians around the world is they are uniformly dressed to wow and woo electorates. They were following Obama’s example. The slick YouTubing of political personalities is one Obama effect that Donald Trump can’t demolish

columns Updated: Oct 27, 2017 17:56 IST
Donald Trump,Barack Obama,Narendra Modi
(L to R): Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, US President Donald Trump, US First Lady Melania Trump and Sophie Gregoire Trudeau, wife of Justin Trudeau, at White House, Washington, October 11(AP)

Almost nine years ago, minus a week, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Just 47 then, he became the fifth youngest American to ascend the executive peak. Teddy Roosevelt was the youngest ever. The next was John F Kennedy, the first President of the TV age, while Bill Clinton, third on the list, playing the sax and answering questions about boxers or briefs, was a product of the MTV age.

Obama was elected when blogs were taking news and opinion online, and re-elected as social media was carrying the conversation along. His successor, of course, is the Twitterer-in-Chief (though some may argue Twit is sufficient).

And as Donald Trump takes the axe he has grinded over recent years to everything Obama created, there is one legacy he may be unable to chop down, that of influencing and possibly inspiring a fresh-faced breed of leader that’s featured as much in fashion publications as in mainstream media.

Nowhere is this trend more visible than in America’s northern neighbour: Justin Trudeau was elected prime minister at 43, and is more viral than the flu season — whether he is boxing in Brooklyn, photobombing groups on a beach or packing plenty of socks appeal. Funnily enough, Trudeau is now the Grand Old Man of Canadian politics. Jagmeet Singh, just elected leader of the New Democratic Party, is 38, and his Sikh chic has been splashed everywhere. He isn’t even the youngest leader of a Canadian Federal party. That distinction goes to Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, four months younger than the stylish Singh.

Their Generation X cohorts are flourishing across the world. French President Emmanuel Macron was also just 38 (seems like a charmed age), when he marched into the Elysee Palace in Paris. New Zealand’s PM Jacinda Ardern is 37, while the new leader of Austria, Sebastian Kurz is only 31. These are the days when swag bags the ballots.

What connects this band is they are uniformly dressed to wow and woo electorates. In effect, they were following Obama’s example of walking that thin red carpet line between stardom and statesmanship. Staid and steady do sometimes win races, as with Germany’s Angela Merkel and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, but slick YouTubing of political personalities is one Obama effect that even The Donald can’t demolish.

As the youthful crowd the power centres of the world, it’s strange that the current occupant of the White House, now 71, is the one who could do with some adult supervision, as a US senator charged recently.

India doesn’t quite have such a youth movement, though Congress leader Rahul Gandhi is still just 47. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 67 may actually have been attuned to this emerging reality, with his fashion forward kurtas among an immaculate ensemble. With his social media staged presence, he has the attitude required for the Age of the Instagram Neta.

Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs

The views expressed are personal

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 17:53 IST