The runaway elephant and the handler’s son
March 1, 2017
On March 25, 1969, Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau famously told the Washington D.C. Press Club:
Living next to you is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.
This quotation has stood until now as the preeminent metaphor to describe Canada’s attitude toward relations with the United States. I’d suggest that Trudeau-the-elder’s quip has worn itself out.
With the surprise victory of Donald Trump in the recent presidential election, an Indian folk tale* of the boy on the runaway elephant might apply more readily to the situation. Seized by the hormone surge of the must season, the massive creature, driven by his instincts and appetites, careens down jungle roads with little awareness of his direction or his effect upon the villagers in his path.
Enter the handler’s son, a young man with some understanding of elephants from his father and a good deal of pluck. He seems to have dropped from an overhanging branch onto the runaway’s back, and now has the task of doing what he can to calm the valuable behemoth and as much as possible direct him away from the more obvious hazards as he plunges through the labyrinth of jungle roads until the panic abates and the elephant can return to his work of moving logs as the economic engine of the village.
Having dropped into this unexpected role, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has done rather well so far. His initial heroic impulse to leap astride the beast rather than confront him has received support from a team of wise and resourceful villagers who have run alongside and hung baskets of food and water bottles from branches in his path.
In President Donald Trump’s speech to the Joint Session of Congress yesterday he indicated at least an awareness of his youthful passenger, and generally accepts his presence.
Once the cartoonists draw it, it’s fact, so I eagerly await the first artist’s attempt at this meme. I’ve never liked the elephant-mouse bit.
* Dr. Robert Moore, a diplomat from Guyana, included this story in a lecture to the Lanark County Board of Education, sometime in the late 1980’s.