The NZ prime minister set foot in the US and immediately became a media sensation. Hayden Donnell looks at Ardern’s transformation into a beacon for our troubled world.
At home, Jacinda Ardern’s life is filled with stress, trouble, and Winston Peters. She’s somehow involved in a multi-week scandal involving a person that willingly donated a year of his life to Richard Branson. Audrey Young is forensically examining her texts. Her biggest opposition party is tweeting out apocalyptic visions of a tahr-less New Zealand ruled by gun-toting DOC rangers.
Overseas, Jacinda Ardern’s life is perfect. Everyone loves her. She goes on all the biggest shows. The best shows. She speaks on-stage at the UN. There’s no Leighton Smith. No Mike Hosking. In just three days out of the country, Jacinda Ardern has transformed into a beacon of hope in our dark world.
For Americans especially, our prime minister is a star shining high above the mound of fetid waste they’ve made their home. Progressive website The Daily Kos even gave its readers permission to enjoy a brief respite from their unending despair yesterday, saying Ardern’s visit to the US had shown there could be more to life than MAGA hats and unending assaults on the concept of shared reality. “In all the stress and diabolical degeneration of basic functions of US government, New Zealand is sending you Jacinda Ardern for a visit,” its story begins. “Take just a minute of your time to recharge your progressive batteries and draw a deep breath.”
Just don’t do it too close to this meeting room at the UN.
Ardern’s joint appearance with Neve at UN headquarters in New York has been lauded for its symbolic significance. Where in New Zealand, her small concessions to motherhood have been met with stern admonitions from the likes of Duncan Garner, overseas media have praised her for bringing Neve to the epicentre of the world’s bureaucracy.
All the stories touched on the fact that Neve’s presence normalises motherhood in the workplace. Jezebel said Ardern’s decision to visibly be a mother in the most public and esteemed of places was important for women everywhere. “She is expecting to be taken seriously in an elevated position while also visibly existing as a mom. You’re not supposed to do this. You’re supposed to compartmentalize, to not let one realm leak… into the next, to show that you can return to work entirely unchanged, just as a man might,” wrote Tracy Clark-Flory. “We probably need more babies at the UN – and visiting all workplaces – until it doesn’t look so weird.” That sentiment was echoed by former US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power.
The Today show also covered parenthood in its interview with Ardern. “What is harder? Running a country or taking a three-month-old on a 17-hour flight?” asked host Savannah Guthrie. “It felt at the time on par,” Ardern replied, sitting in front of a wall of pictures of herself and a New Zealand flag cropped in what looked suspiciously like the shape of Australia.
Christiane Amanpour covered similar ground on CNN. “Could you ever imagine that the perfectly normal act of a woman giving birth would be so incredibly viral all around the world and everybody would just want to talk to you about that?” she asked.
They went on to talk about other how other countries don’t think enough about New Zealand. Ardern complained that we’re often missed off maps. “Well I’m sure Peter Thiel can single-handedly put New Zealand back on the map,” Amanpour said, causing Ardern to make this face.
Amanpour later tweeted a photo where Ardern is – for some reason – standing in front of a photo of herself.
It’s all good for Brand New Zealand! Ardern was also the subject of five paragraphs in the Washington Post, explaining why she refused to sign up to Donald Trump’s new war on drugs. This afternoon she met Anne Hathaway, and tomorrow she’ll be interviewed by Stephen Colbert. No-one has criticised her on the radio in three days. No-one there has mentioned the words “Derek Handley”. No-one has even asked her to think about the political implications of instituting a capital gains tax. To us, she’s PM Jacinda. But to people in the US, she’s proof that someday, somehow, they won’t have to spend their every waking moment screaming internally about Donald Trump, or at least that they’ll maybe eventually get even a single measly day of government-mandated paid parental leave.
Is it possible the prime minister won’t want to come home?