Obama-Trudeau, Merkel-Hollande: New World vs. Old World

Editor’s note: See original article in French for images in question.

A tweet, a simple tweet, with two photos; no caption, or rather just two short words, America/Europe.

What jumps out?

The caption doesn’t hint at how we should compare the two images. That’s your job, this tweeter (Mélissa Bounoua, a journalist at Slate, and guest writer on our platform) seems to be saying. It’s up to us to see what there is to be seen, to see for ourselves as grown adults, to draw our own damning conclusion of what jumps out when we look at the photos side by side. That’s your job, to break the sacred playground rule that “we don’t make fun of people’s appearances.”

So yes, this is about criticizing appearances. It’s impossible not to compare the proud, gazelle-like stature of the American president and the Canadian prime minister on his visit to Washington, to the drooping flesh and the stocky, stooped silhouettes of the European pair.

Everything about the American duo exudes momentum, conquest and youth, while over here, it seems all about resignation, sly tricks and miserable concessions.

European Unease

We should be wary of trusting images, of course, and avoid succumbing to the irresistible idolization of America that’s often implied when the old and new worlds are compared. After all, when it comes to the question of migrants, Merkel has been at least as daring as Trudeau, as bold, as transgressive. And when the time comes for Obama to leave, his track record will look as measly as his impeccably slim figure: from his failure to close down Guantanamo to the way his anti-global warming plan was torn apart by the Supreme Court. What’s more, whoever his successor turns out to be, Trump, Clinton or Sanders, it won’t be an athletic basketball player replacing him in the White House.

So be wary of images, as always. But all the same, if this comparison makes us so uneasy, it’s because it reminds us of an exhausted Europe — this continent rendered breathless by never-ending debates. It also reminds us of the French gerontocracy, which stifles us every day with its mediocrity, as we were coincidentally reminded on Friday, with the damning inquiry by Le Monde newspaper on the “professionalization of politics.”

It’s a closed system, which you enter as a parliamentary assistant at 25, and leave as senator at 75, without ever having left, having taken everything there was to take, and trembling instinctively when “the youth” take to the streets, blocking off French high schools. It’s a system that condemns the voter to an endless conveyor belt of clones, while the two North American systems, whatever their numerous faults may be, do at least produce, from time to time, the likes of Obama and Trudeau.

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