To the casual observer of world news and press photography, the contrast between Justin Trudeau and Vladimir Putin couldn't be starker.
Justin Trudeau is the darling of the liberal world. Tall, good looking and not afraid to "have fun". His media appearances are often at cultural events which offer fantastic opportunities for pictures. This works well for him and his Liberal Party. It also adds to Canada’s ever increasing soft diplomatic power as the antithesis to Trump’s America.
On immigration, he has taken a strong stance of making Canada a warm and open place for refugees. On other topics, he is often less vocal. He can rely on the goodwill from the Canadian public and the support of news outlets like the Huffington Post to go easy on him. Why wouldn’t they when he gives them so many opportunities to pen such insightful articles like this.
Compare this with the image of Vladimir Putin. The many photos of him hunting, fishing (mostly shirtless) or even competing in his beloved judo are often the object of derision and ridicule across the West. “How can the Russian people take him seriously?” and “he looks ridiculous” abound across comment boards and social mediums.
Putin believes that this strong image resonates well with the Russian public and with his allies around the world. He certainly is popular with the Russian people. While data may not be reliable, he has consistently polled high, even while sanctions have damaged the domestic economy. Furthermore, many of Russian’s allies around the world are also lead by “strong men”. Just this week Putin promised to give Viktor Orban, the Hungarian Prime Minister, a judo lesson.
Both politicians are very successful at choreographing and managing their public perception to the tastes of their target audiences. The fact that many liberals simply laugh at Putin, and the seemingly ridiculous array of meme-worthy material available, is an indictment of their political acumen above most else. Simply dismissing his approach and neglecting to provide a counter argument or narrative is a very naïve approach.
Equally, if we simply fawn over Trudeau (and closer to home Leo Varadkar as I've mentioned before) without also pushing for progress in legislation and policy, we are being equally distracted from the realpolitik.
Of course, Justin Trudeau has been a positive influence in many ways. Canada is a beacon hope for many around the world today. Just remember that these images and actions aren’t always entirely altruistic and both men advance their aims and influence through shrewd use of the media resources available to them.