Cherchez the scapegoat

Canada is buzzing about the fund an Edmonton real estate broker has established to pay Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau not to govern.

Boy, the real estate market around Edmonton must be really depressed!

The Trudeau Early Retirement Fund has set itself a goal of $5 million. A check for $1,000 was the largest received at the last auditing. But a fellow in Alberta has promised his 3,200 employees a $10 bonus if they will contribute to TERF.

The world is not going well at the moment, and world leaders are being cast mostly as scapegoats, blamed for everything from high interest rates to crime in the streets and the rain that fell last week on Aunt Agatha's picnic.

It would be inaccurate to argue that a short tolerance for public figures is a modern phenomenon. The phrase ''uneasy lies the head that wears a crown'' is almost 400 years old, and the practice of exile -- the original early retirement -- goes back to a supposedly golden age when Athenians blackballed one leader because they were tired of hearing him referred to as Aristides the Just.

Nevertheless, the quick hook does seem to be a symptom of the day. In the States the law of well-paid early retirement has just been illustrated -- again! -- by George Steinbrenner, a man who makes the old crowd at the Roman forum look positively patient. As Mr. Steinbrenner threw to the lions his second New York Yankee manager of the season, Gene Michaels, it needed no financial wizard to figure that the owner is paying his ex-managers more money not to manage than he is paying his latest manager, Clyde King, to manage.

Would we all be pushing the ejection button for the nearest prime minister or big league manager if we had the nerve of an Edmonton real estate broker or the power of a George Steinbrenner? The question hardly flatters us. Fickleness is not a lovely trait.

Certainly it seems easier to organize a protest or collect signatures for a hit list than to sponsor something or somebody. We may well worry that ''anti'' is a more popular prefix than ''pro.'' But about the time we all decide we live in the age of ''I know what I don't like,'' conflicting evidence appears. Just as TERF was being founded and Mr. Steinbrenner struck again, there was the usual summer ritual of commemorating Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe.

It is as if we have a ''Bring back . . .'' sticker on one bumper to compensate for the ''Get rid of . . . '' sticker on the other. It is no longer impossible for a poll to show the same personality as ''most admired'' and ''least admired'' -- a paradox that besets Howard Cosell and Nancy Reagan.

Mr. Steinbrenner has been known to rehire managers he has fired. It is not inconceivable that, if the ''Get Rid of Trudeau'' movement works, a couple of years from now a ''Bring Back Trudeau'' movement might be launched by Canada's amnesiacs.

Perhaps we are not so much negative as confused -- negative only in the sense of Keats's phrase, ''negative capability.'' Keats argued that being too precise, too absolutely certain was a deception on the part of human reason. A margin for mystery must be allowed.

History is not permitting us to be dogmatic -- proudly consistent. So many people, so many theories are proving less than infallible. All this can put us into a temper, but if it ends by making us a little humble, is the effect bad?

With this suitably ambiguous thought in mind, we await the day when the Edmonton real estate broker and George Steinbrenner take upon themselves just a bit of the responsibility for the Sorry State of Things. At that moment, things will begin to look less sorry.

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