Biden and Trudeau both need to step aside for the good of their parties and especially their countries

Doug FirbyIt must be difficult to keep your perspective when you are the leader of a wealthy and privileged nation. How else can one explain the foolhardy obstinance with which both Joe Biden and Justin Trudeau cling to their jobs?

Both are facing polling numbers that suggest their continued presence as leaders of their respective parties could lead to electoral disaster. Both are being told that a new leader in their position holds a better chance of keeping their party in power, their progressive values intact, and their agendas front and centre.

And yet neither appears to be ready to step aside.

It’s almost as though they are ignoring every bit of folk wisdom ever collected – things like, “Quit while you’re ahead” and “Know when to fold ’em.” They are also turning a blind eye to the lessons to be drawn from hubris-fueled leaders over history, like Roman General Gaius Marius and French General Napolean Bonaparte.

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They are doing so not only at their own peril but at the risk of undoing whatever good they achieved in the past.

Polls, of course, should always be viewed with a detective’s skeptical eye. One poll can be wildly misleading. Yet consistent findings in poll after poll collected over months establish truths as undeniable as they are inconvenient. Let’s look at the evidence collected on these two leaders in recent times.

In the United States, Joe Biden has said he is running in the 2024 presidential election because he needs to stop Donald Trump from gaining power.

But this is where the Messiah complex plays its mischief. Americans don’t seem to agree that Biden is the Chosen One. A November 2023 NBC News poll, for example, found Trump leading Biden by two points, 46 to 44, and – importantly – when voters were asked to choose between Trump and an unnamed Democratic candidate, the generic Democrat won 46 to 40. The same poll found when voters were asked to choose between Biden and an unnamed generic Republican, the Republican candidate led Biden 48 to 37.

Things are even more grim in Canada for incumbent Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. An October poll by the Angus Reid Institute found that the ruling federal Liberals trail the opposition Conservative Party by 11 points in voter intention.

More than half of Canadians (57 percent) in the same poll said Trudeau should step down, and only three-in-10 said he should lead the Liberals into the next election, expected in 2025. Among those who voted for the Liberals in 2021, only 44 percent said he should stay on, while a nearly equal number (41 percent) favoured a fresh face. In other words, even Trudeau’s fans have serious doubts about him.

All this bad intent comes even though there is little love for Opposition leader Pierre Poilievre. Fewer than two in five (37 percent) of those surveyed viewed Poilievre favourably in the Angus Reid poll. One could darkly chuckle at the prospect of Trudeau telling the party faithful: “Vote for me. At least I’m not as hated as the other guy.”

Call it ego, hubris … whatever you like. The one thing we know for sure is that anyone who aspires to succeed in politics needs to have a healthy ego to start with and a skin thicker than elephant leather. Humble leaders – and here I’m thinking of nice guys like Jimmy Carter in the U.S. and, oh, let’s say Ed Stelmach in Alberta – tend to get eaten alive and driven from power. That hasn’t changed over the millennia, but what has changed is the relentless and merciless scrutiny public figures encounter during the no-boundaries age of social media.

There’s a very powerful psychological effect at play, a syndrome that applies to progressives and conservatives alike but even more strongly to history’s despots, like Hitler, Stalin, and Putin. Historian Lawrence W. Reed wrote insightfully about it in a probing 2017 essay on the fall of the Roman empire:

“It’s a mental poison that twists and warps even the best of men and women if they allow it to take root in their souls. I refer to power – the exercise of control over others. Simply the pursuit of it, whether one ultimately attains it or not, is itself an intoxicant.”

Biden is not the only U.S. politician under the influence. Trump is steamrolling towards the Republican Party nomination even though polls suggest another (as-yet undetermined) leader would stand a better chance of winning the election. Interestingly, just as Biden is running to prevent an autocracy under Trump, the MAGA chief claims he needs dictatorial power to “save” the U.S. from the insidious creep of socialism.

All these leaders, it seems, feel they have a calling to save us.

A lot can change between how people feel today and what they choose to do on election day. Both Biden and Trudeau seem to be hoping for some magic to come their way in the next few months. And there IS the troubling question of who might be in a position to succeed either of these leaders. The process of weeding candidates down in both countries is so vicious and open to manipulation that it’s entirely possible the next leader would be no better than the one we’ve got.

In the U.S., there are serious doubts about Vice-President Kamala Harris’s ability to win the hearts of Americans; in Canada, the heir-apparent, Chrystia Freeland, is seen as too chummy with the PM and his ideas to convince voters she can lead the country down a better path.

With every change, however, there is risk. What we know for certain is that, in the minds of voters, these two leaders have had their day. It’s time, as former PM Pierre Trudeau said of his decision to leave, to take a walk in the snow, swallow your pride and step aside.

Doug Firby is an award-winning editorial writer with over four decades of experience working for newspapers, magazines and online publications in Ontario and western Canada. Previously, he served as Editorial Page Editor at the Calgary Herald.

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