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Justin Trudeau Cautions Political Leaders On Dealing With Voter Anger: 'Fear Is Easy'

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 11/03/2016 Amanda Terkel
ATHENA IMAGE © Win McNamee/Getty Images ATHENA IMAGE

WASHINGTON -- Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is the type of leader that makes many progressives think about moving north these days. He's a self-proclaimed feminist with a substantive policy agenda who talks about how government can achieve remarkable progress for its citizens if only people work together. 

In other words, he's the opposite of Donald Trump. 

"No progressive movement can succeed if it doesn't embrace the fundamental truth that diversity is strength. ... The optimism and the generosity that we see in our communities on both sides of the border -- that's what we need to focus on. You see, fear is easy. Friendship? Friendship takes work," Trudeau said Friday.

The United States isn't the only place where frustrated voters have looked for change. Right-wing movements across the globe have taken advantage of people's economic anxieties and insecurities. And Canada has not been immune to these trends. Former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a member of the Conservative Party, stoked Islamophobic fears during his time in office. 

Trudeau tried to argue Friday during a speech in downtown Washington that it's possible to counter those tactics -- and still win public office. It was a message that the progressive crowd, brought together by the Center for American Progress and Canada 2020, was no doubt reassured to hear. 

"First of all, you have to understand, if there's a rise of people being angry and being willing to point fingers at others for their problems, you can't just tell them they're wrong," he said. "You have to look at why is that anxiety there?"

Trudeau argued that people feel like they made a deal with the governments of the past few decades: We will support your pro-growth policies, and that rewards will help not only society but also us as individuals. 

"And unfortunately, we've gotten a certain amount of growth, but people are wondering, 'Well, we supported those agendas, but where are the fruits of that agenda to me? How come the growth that has created tremendous prosperity for the wealthiest hasn't lifted the middle class at all?' And there's a danger that people will start pulling away their support for policies that stimulate and create growth if we don't figure out a way of including them in the prosperity that was created by that growth," Trudeau said. 

The prime minister said that during the 2015 Canadian elections, the Conservative Party tried to play into this anger through nasty -- but effective -- "Rovian politics," referring to the underhanded tactics made famous by Karl Rove, the former aide to President George W. Bush. 

Trudeau said he made the decision to forego that sort of campaigning -- a move that brought skepticism from many progressive who said he just couldn't win without pushing back. 

"I said, 'No, it's not that we're not going to respond, but we're going to respond in the right way. And what I heard from Canadians across the country is, we don't like negative attacks. But they work. ... [W]e found that indeed, perhaps Canadians had grown cynical over politics, but they'd also grown very tired of having to be cynical about politics. And preventing a strong, inclusive fearless view of the future in the face of negative attacks was really really important."

Trudeau was in Washington this week for a state visit with President Barack Obama. 

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