Because we’re doing it in my book club, and because I loved it so much the first time, I’m rereading Warlight, which is my favourite book by Michael Ondaatje for a whole bunch of reasons.
I will mention just one: the characters, creations such as The Pimlico Darter and The Moth, but, most of all, the narrator’s mother, Rose.
Nathaniel Williams spends the book trying to take the true measure of the woman who deserted him. She turned out to have had her reasons. That isn’t why I can’t shake her.
Why she sticks with me, why I want to reacquaint myself with her and see if there are things about her that I missed the first time through, is this: I apologize if the word offends, but the woman is a true badass.
Not in the first definition of the word found in the Cambridge English Dictionary — “a bad or slightly frightening person” — but in the way I tend to use the word (“someone or something that you admire or find impressive”).
You will have to read the book to discover exactly why I think this. But the notion of badassery, of doing something bold and brave beyond words, is something I’ve been thinking about this week, because of Warlight, but also because of what is unfolding before our eyes.
There are badasses among us. This week, as with so many weeks, most of them seemed to be women.
I speak here of Jody Wilson-Raybould, who, before a parliamentary committee, laid out in jaw-dropping detail the ways that the highest elected politicians and appointed public servants in the land allegedly tried to get her to interfere with a criminal case purely for political reasons.
Now, the folks whom she accused of so meddling will have their say in the days ahead.
But the former attorney general took copious notes detailing the behind-the-scenes campaign to press her to intervene in the justice system, involving about 10 phone calls and 10 meetings that she characterized as inappropriate, between September and December 2018.
And I swear you could almost hear the background music for the made-for-television treatment of SNCgate swell as she came to the end of her statement:
“I was taught to always hold true to your core values and principles and to act with integrity. These are the teachings of my parents, my grandparents and my community. I come from a long line of matriarchs and I’m a truth teller, in accordance with the laws and traditions of our big house. This is who I am and this is who I always will be.”
That was as badass a political moment in this country as Elijah Harper holding his feather up in the air, and Trudeau senior standing there as the bottles and rocks flew around him at a Montreal St-Jean-Baptiste parade during the height of Quebec’s animus toward him.
As the week closed it was unclear whether Wilson-Reybould had a future in the Liberal caucus, whose electoral prospects her words had irreparably damaged.
But politics is a funny game.
Would anyone be surprised if Chrystia Freeland — whose success on the international stage undeniably parallels Lester Pearson’s in the early stages of his political career — at some point leads the federal Liberal Party? Is it, as well, conceivable that the moment could come when the Grits are led into the fray by someone as badass as Wilson-Reybould, whose ethics now seem beyond reproach?
We shall see.
Meanwhile, badassery wasn’t just occurring in Canada last week, not by a long shot.
From what I’ve seen it was a woeful spectacle at the House oversight committee on Capitol Hill, where, according to a headline in The New York Times, both Republicans and Democrats “chose to bloviate instead of interrogate” during the explosive testimony from Donald Trump lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
Not everybody, though. A Democrat congresswoman named Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asked Cohen whether Trump committed insurance fraud, and inflated and deflated the value of assets to minimize his tax bill. (In both cases Cohen’s answer was roger that.)
Ayanna Pressley, another Democrat, asked direct questions about the alleged fraud of the Trump Foundation, which she claims was abused like a personal piggy bank. Then she took down Mark Meadows, a Republican committee member, for trotting out a black female official for the Department of Housing and Urban Development as proof that the president didn’t have a racist bone in his body.
We shouldn’t, in a way, be surprised by stuff like this. I harken back to a study published last July in something called the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, reporting that political corruption, at all levels of government, is lower in countries that have a greater share of women in elected roles.
That performance on the part of Ocasio-Cortez and Pressley was, no doubt, applauded by Nancy Pelosi, who, after withstanding a bid to oust her as speaker of the United States House of Representatives, made Trump blink not long ago over the government shutdown.
I feel that Pelosi, an undeniable badass, would have approved of Emma Thompson last week backing out of an animated movie for which she was scheduled to do voice work, after the studio hired a director who has been accused of making unwanted advances toward women.
I think that she was probably right there in front of the television, clapping away while watching Selma Blair, the actress, who has multiple sclerosis, lean on her badass cane on the red carpet at the Academy Awards.
Look, for all I know, she might have even taken a break from the hubbub in Washington this Wednesday and switched the channel on her television to a justice committee meeting in Ottawa.
Then she may have watched the mesmerizing spectacle for a while, just as we did.