In an age of ideological polarization, it’s common for politicians, schools, and corporations to tout tolerance as the solution. But in a commencement speech to New York University’s graduating class today (May 16), Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau said that idea doesn’t go far enough.
“Think about it: Saying ‘I tolerate you’ actually means something like, ‘OK, I grudgingly admit that you have a right to exist, but just don’t get up in my face about it. Or date my sister,'” Trudeau said during during the ceremony at Yankee Stadium. After all, he continued, “there is not a religion in the world that asks you to tolerate thy neighbor, so let’s try for something like acceptance, friendship and, yes, even love.”
The sentiment was in keeping with the general message of Trudeau’s speech, which served as a kind of liberal manifesto—an ode to openness and tolerance in an age of “polarization and identity politics.” The Canadian leader preached the value of diversity, not only with regard to race, religion, and gender, but in terms of diversity of thought and opinion. He made this request of the graduating class: “As you go forward from this place, I would like you to make a point to reach out to people whose beliefs and values are different from your own … I would like you to listen to them and try to find common ground.”
Trudeau is currently in the United States for a three-day visit to New York, Los Angeles and Boston, focusing on trade and the economic relationship between the US and Canada. He is also here to defend NAFTA, the trade agreement that has governed economic relations between the US, Canada and Mexico since 1993, but which US president Donald Trump has pledged to renegotiate. So it’s no surprise that Trudeau avoided mentioning Trump by name.
But there were plenty of indirect references there for discerning listeners to find. “The leadership we need most in the years to come is leadership that brings people together,” Trudeau said. “This is the antithesis to the polarization, the aggressive nationalism, and the identity politics that have grown so common of late.”
That could be interpreted as an indirect criticism of the current White House, which has threatened to build a wall between the US and Mexico, sought to ban 150 million people, primarily Muslims, from entering the US, and made nationalism the hallmark of the administration. Judging from the cheers coming from the bleachers, no one in the audience missed the reference.