Skip to content

PAINFUL TRUTH: Politicians use eccentric camouflage

Trump, Chretien, Sanders all benefit from being a little odd
Former U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

There's a theory I'm developing about politics. It's been brewing in the back of my mind at least since Jean Chretien was still PM, maybe since Bill Vander Zalm lived in a big windmill in Richmond.
Weirdos and eccentrics have a peculiar power in politics.
Chretien is a good solid example. He had a distinctive face, thanks to a childhood bout of Bell's palsy. He spoke English with a pronounced accent, and often mangled his statements in both official languages.
He tossed off bizarre gaffes about pepper spray, he once grabbed a protester by the throat.
None of this seemed to damage him! Chretien was taken down by the sponsorship scandal, not any of his own quirks. Those just seemed to make people who liked him like him even more. You could have a good laugh about them.
Unless you already didn't like Chretien. Then all those little quirks, they'd just drive you up the wall. They'd make you grind your teeth. What is he doing, making light of kids getting pepper-sprayed by overzealous cops! Choking protesters? What's wrong with that guy!
There's an old quote to the effect that if you like someone, they can drop their plate in your lap and you don't mind. If you hate someone, the way they hold their spoon offends you.
Eccentric politicians, ones with odd quirks, often have this effect.
I'm writing this shortly after former U.S. president Donald Trump has been found guilty of 34 counts of falsifying business records in a New York courtroom.
I'm fascinated by the fact that Trump has managed to do what Chretien and Vander Zalm and, to pick his opposite number, Bernie Sanders have done.
He has thoroughly polarized almost everyone. About half of Americans would apologize to him if he tipped hot soup into their laps. The other half are grinding their teeth about how he uses his cutlery.
I don't want to say this is just one of those perception things. Trump is a nasty piece of work in my opinion, and he's certainly done worse than try to cover up an affair with a porn star. What he did to E. Jean Carroll comes immediately to mind.
But if you transposed Trump's strange behaviour, his rambling speaking style, his odd hair, his sprayed orange skin, his too-long ties, onto a politician of another stripe, they'd be seen quite differently.
Lots of people are odd, including me. But oddness in politics is camouflage. It provides protective cover. Being a little absurd makes your supporters rally to you, and it makes your opponents seem a little petty when they talk about your hair, or your ties, or your orange skin.

Matthew Claxton

About the Author: Matthew Claxton

Raised in Langley, as a journalist today I focus on local politics, crime and homelessness.
Read more