Crazy hair. Talks endless nonsense, most of it verifiably false. Alleged by many to have achieved his political objectives only by Russian interference.
Did the UK just elect a "British Trump"?
This has been suggested to me by enough people today that I thought I should write about it. The idea was not helped at all by Mr 45 himself drawing the same comparison. It's not quite true, but there are some interesting parallels.
Alexander Boris Dpfeffel Johnson (was there ever a full name more fun to pronounce?) is certainly not Prime Minister material. A journalist by trade, fired from multiple newspapers for printing things which weren't true, he entered politics after promising his boss at a UK magazine that he wouldn't do so. He will not confirm the number of children he has, or by how many hapless mothers (best guesses run at 7 and 4 respectively). So how does such a man come to lead the 5th largest world economy?
Two important things have died, which I think can help explain this.
Boris, like The Donald, puts on a patriotic show. Trump lacks the intellectual capacity to do anything other than hug a flag and wear a red baseball hat, but Boris can recite Kipling and speak with gusto about Perfidious Albion, which endear him to a crowd who long to belong. Many in the U.S. and the U.K. scorn patriotism because they view their own country's history as so tainted as to overcome any national pride. But millions of people don't feel this way, and instead see their country as the largest possible rallying point. If some say with a straight face that "what we have in common is our diversity," everyone else can see through this to look for a common identity, and find it in their homeland.
Trump does this to position the whole world as America's enemy, challenging other nations to a fight. Boris' patriotism, by contrast, views Britain's interest as best furthered by getting along with as many other countries as possible. What he doesn't accept is the tendency of many to sing "imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do, nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too." Lennon wrote many great songs, but the naivety of Imagine has been evidenced by every syllable of recorded time both before and after he wrote it.
If the death of Patriotism gives Johnson and Trump a launch pad, the death of Truth gives them a rocket.
Listing Trump's fallacies would use up the rest of the internet, and I'm already at 75% of my data for the month. Johnson, though, is interesting. Last week, at the final "debate" between Boris and Jeremy, the man sadly tasked with playing his opponent in The Hunt Fore Gone Conclusion, Boris produced a fish. He then explained that as a result of EU legislation, fishermen now had to include expensive ice pillows when shipping their fish, the cost of which nearly drove them out of business.
Except this isn't true. The fish packing rules are imposed by the British. It also doesn't stand up to any logic (who is going to argue in favor of putting rotting fish in the mail, except when sending in payment for parking tickets?). But the crowd laughed and laughed, and applauded Boris' patriotism for wanting to stick it to those continental European busybodies. Alternative facts abound.
Is there a way out of all this? The left need to learn that people naturally love where they live, and spending all of your energy talking about the sins of the fathers will give rise to those who salute the flag, whatever their motives. The right, by contrast, need to discover veracity. You might brush off the lies of your own side for the sake of political point scoring, but the measure you use will be measured against you - there will be no room to complain about socialist economic projections in 10 years if you play fast and loose with the truth when you're in control.
I maintain that "British Trump" is unfair to Boris. A philanderer and a clown he may be, but no worse than that. It's more like the UK found and elected a British Jeff Foxworthy (no doubt with a collection of "you might be a redcoat if..." jokes).
There's another reason I'm worried by Trump and not by Johnson. In the U.S., the executive branch sprawls across every public appointment such that the Senate spends most of its time approving the civil service. Trump has seen fit to fill the cabinet with wholly inadequate cronies, like the winner of an elementary school class election declaring his lardiest friend "the King of Lunchtime!"
But in the U.K., by the grace of the past, elected politicians hold all the great offices of state. So, for better or worse, Boris' pool of acolytes is limited to those whom voters have already endorsed. The one good thing he did while Mayor of London in the aughts was to establish under him a reasonably competent cadre of deputies, who were happy to keep the city lights on while their boss took all the credit. This same pattern seems likely to repeat itself, and so long as Team Johnson has the rudder while Alexander DePfeffle shouts nonsense from the deck, the U.K. will enter the 2020s with far less damage to its democratic institutions than the U.S. will.
If there's a more British ending to a column than quiet, conflicted optimism, I'm not sure what it is.