But her achievements were much greater than that. As the BBC told, “Jacindamania quickly spread around the world, where she was hailed as the anti-Trump – a liberal beacon in a world that seemed to be dominated by right-wingers like the US president.”
It was her response to the horrific massacres at two mosques in Christchurch that defined her image as a compassionate and strong progressive leader. At a memorial service for the 51 people slaughtered in the racist killing spree, she told her country that the stories of the lives of the people killed would “be part of our collective memories”. And with that “comes a responsibility to memory”. She explained what this means:
A responsibility to be the place we want to be. A place that is diverse, that is welcoming, that is kind and compassionate. Those values represent the very best of us.
But even the ugliest viruses can appear in places where they’re not welcome. Racism exists, but is not welcome here. An attack on the freedom of any of us who practice our faith or religion is not welcome here. Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here.
She concluded: “We cannot face these problems alone, none of us can. But the answer to that lies in a simple concept that is not bound by national borders, that is not based on ethnicity, power base or even forms of government. The answer lies in our humanity.”
That resolute moral voice echoed around the world. But she offered more than words. As the New York Times reported, Ardern immediately enacted a ban on “all military-style semi-automatic weapons, all high-capacity ammunition magazines, and all parts that allow weapons to be modified into the kind of weapons” used to kill people in mass shootings . . In the United States, where such acts of violence are followed by “thoughts and prayers” rather than decisive action, her actions were a source of astonishment, if not awe.
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In short, Ardern paired compassion and empathy with decisive action, defying the right-wing caricature of progressives as weak or hesitant.
If there was any doubt about her strength and willingness to make tough decisions, she let it rest during the coronavirus pandemic. The BBC recalled that she “acted quickly and brought the country together under her oft-repeated slogan ‘be strong, be kind’.” “By the end of the month,” the BBC noted, “borders had been closed to almost all non-citizens or residents, and a nationwide lockdown had been put in place. The ‘hard and early’ policy seems to have worked. The economy took a huge hit, but is now Covid-free – apart from a few quarantined cases.”
In addition, her ‘Budget Welfare’ 2019 was widely praised. For example, the International Monetary Fund wrote on its blog: “The 2019 Welfare Budget aimed to prioritize five main areas: mental health, child welfare, supporting the aspirations of the Māori and Pasifika people, building a productive nation and transforming the economy. It revealed billions for mental health care and child poverty, as well as record investments in measures to tackle domestic violence.
No leader in a democracy can escape criticism or avoid losses. Ardern’s covid policies provoked an angry response from many residents, and she failed to meet all of her lofty household goals. But Democratic leaders should not be held to superhuman levels of perfection. If citizens find a leader who is compassionate and able to articulate their country’s values as she strives to address the major issues of her time, they are very fortunate.
Though she resigns, Ardern will remain an icon for liberal democracies. Perhaps she will find another public position internationally, such as UN Secretary-General or head of the IMF. Or maybe she continues to work on subjects dear to her homeland. Whether in public or private service, her youth gives her the opportunity to contribute for decades to come.
For her services to New Zealand and her contributions to liberal democratic values we can say well done Prime Minister Ardern.