Western People 5.9.2023
Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are birds of a feather that once flew together. They were two of a kind, cut from the same cloth – tousled-haired, arrogant, lawless, chaotic, self-absorbed to the point of being narcissistic, unable to value truth or recognise moral boundaries, disloyal, failing to stick by decisions and people, notoriously unreliable, unmanageable, often absent and with a marked facility for making things up as they went along.
Trump, with the Republican nomination for president more or less in the bag, is still flying high, claiming the luxury of being so far ahead in the polls that he doesn’t really need to debate with his rivals and is even considering whether he will campaign at all. Boris, on the other hand, through a mixture of incompetence, outrage and mendacity has burst his political bubble and is now ploughing the dismal though lucrative American circuit of public lectures.
Both seem to have coldly and calculatedly asked themselves how they might plot a route to the highest office in the land and arrived at the same strategy: get attention regardless of content, respect or good taste; colonise your respective political party by taking a populist line; appeal to the lowest common denominator on every issue; and capture the imagination of the mindless and the gullible by promising what most sentient beings know is impossible to deliver.
Boris saw Brexit as a gateway to becoming prime minister but discovered that it was a cul de sac from which there was no exit – in the short term at least. Covid left a trail of over 200,000 casualties under his haphazard watch. And the rest of his chaotic term as PM exposed his inability to focus on the basics of government, even to the extent of not attending crucial meetings, his lack of organisational skills, his opportunism, his willingness to violate constitutional and ethical norms, his practice of choosing ministers who were loyal rather than competent, his inability to tell the truth to save his life and a lack of ability with numbers.
Eventually and inevitably, Boris was found out. And the latest account of his prime ministerial tenure by historians, Anthony Seldon and Raymond Newell, has him sitting at home lamenting the ruins of his tattered reputation, a latter-day Napoleon mulling over an improbable return from another Elba. Boris, despite his patent unsuitability for high office, was lauded by a foolish cohort of Brexiteers who imagined that he would resurrect the glory days of ‘Rule Britannia’.
Unfortunately for them the difficult truth was that Boris, in deciding whether he believed in Brexit, resorted to the none too subtle assessment of throwing a coin in the air. Brexit won, the United Kingdom lost, Boris’ career went up in flames and the rest is history.
But whereas Boris succumbed to the inevitable dawning of political reality and the multiple disasters for which he was personally responsible, his alter ego on the other side of the Atlantic, Donald, is (as with his demented supporters) still living the fantasy that, like Alice in Wonderland, words can mean what we want them to mean – even that black is really white or white is black depending on what day of the week it is or the mood ‘The Donald’ happens to be in.
Trump is, of course, one of the greatest con artists in political history but what sustains his progress, despite a series of incredible and undeniable disasters, is the extraordinary capacity of the American people to believe the unbelievable, to trust the unreliable and to be unashamed of the grotesquely transparent antics of another tousled-haired entertainer.
Trump’s present predicament is represented by a mug-shot taken in a prison in the state of Georgia in which he scowls at the camera. It seems the ultimate humiliation for a past USA president but unaccountably, in turning a usually embarrassing experience on its head, Trump is now circulating the mugshot as a symbol of honour bereft of shame, on the basis that as he moves with his motor cavalcade from court to court defending a series of crimes and misdemeanours, the more he can contrive to represent it as a form of persecution the higher his ratings become.
This begs the obvious question as to what has happened to America? In most democratic countries, Trump’s CV – not to speak of his obvious lack of personal and other credentials for high office – would be sufficient to disabuse him of the notion that anyone would waste a vote on him. Yet, the record states (i) that 70-plus million actually voted for him and (ii) that the more shameful his record, the more popular he becomes.
Here’s a glowing example. Trump lost the last election and, under the pretence that he hadn’t, begged a federal official to ‘find’ 10,000 votes somewhere, and a live recording of his words is relayed regularly on television. In legal terms, it is the equivalent of what Americans call ‘a slam dunk’, meaning roughly that he is guilty as charged. Finito. Goodnight.
And yet, in the tangled priorities of American society, here is a candidate for the highest office in the land, positioning himself not for certain defeat (as might be expected) but for possible victory.
Can anyone really explain how such a transparent manipulator could convince so many of his rectitude when the evidence to the contrary is so overwhelmingly convincing? What’s with these people? Can they not see, that as with Boris, it will all end in tears?
We Irish like to think we’re a sophisticated electorate. It’s hard to imagine a Donald or a Boris catapulting themselves into Leinster House on the back of such shenanigans. But let’s wait and see.