We have in our midst two political leaders who possess remarkably similar characteristics. This is not just in their demeanor, but also in how they share a political perspective on the world, and what it means for global politics as populism remains on the rise and division and discord are sewn as the norm.
Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are two of the most powerful political leaders on the planet, but they are also two people who could not be more alike, sharing not just personality profiles but also how they are so apart from the needs and wants from the rest of the societies they seek to represent. Both are mendacious, hypocritical and have a terrible record in delivering any meaningful results.
Johnson vs Trump
Let us start with the physical and psychological. Both are fake blonds, have an inflated ego and sense of ability that is rarely if ever proven. Their prolific womanizing suggests a sense of prowess from which they draw their appeal among fellow members of the alpha male species who regard such behavior as perfectly normal. Such men occupy a narrow band of organizations and institutions, but they do so expectantly and in anticipation of “some richly-deserved prize” for their “natural abilities.” They regard such activities as “sport.” It suggests a degree of empty-headedness served by narcissism.
This perspective on exclusivism of a particular kind elides directly into racism, with comments from Johnson referring to “watermelon smiles on piccaninnies” to Trump’s glowing to the chants of “send her back.” Both men have a history of erecting huge architectural edifices, signaling their greatness in failed experiments that only leave the smell of over-ambition in the air, with the public footing the bill in the case of Johnson as mayor of London.
Concerning the economy, there are other parallels to draw upon. Both are protectionist, isolationist and inward-looking in relation to trade and investment. This line of thinking is meant to appease a voting base that has increasingly been disenfranchised by the political and economic realities of the last few decades. Chiefly since the further advance of neoliberal globalization, which accelerated after the end of the Cold War but precipitated the emergence of polarized economies and societies.
Populism acts to misdirect the fury of the populous away from the failures of centrally-determined policy and toward “the other” at home and abroad. In both settings, there is no sense of history — or rather deeply selective readings of history. It is the complete antithesis of what the world needs.
Leadership within two of the most influential countries in the world just went rogue. In Johnson and Trump, the world sees two peas from the same pod — populist, replete with bluster, narcissism and nepotism, and while vain they are vacuous too. Neither inspires any degree of confidence, only despair and dissent. They are both the symptoms of course as they reflect all that is wrong with the two-party system. They mirror the influence of media and corporate powers dictating politics and policy. They reveal the lack of imagination for what comes after late capitalism.
Words uttered and intentions presented suggest that this populist authoritarianism is post-truth and post-normal. It is also beyond reproach — forget fake news, this is fake power in the interests of the people for it is the projection of power for the sake of power alone. It is the allusion of politics within a system broken from within.
Britain Under Boris
On July 24, Boris was finally ordained as prime minister. So, what does this mean for Britain? First, it is likely to be a short stint at the top. He has put together a Tory cabinet that is the most right-wing since the early 1980s.
Second, the Liberal Democrats have witnessed a tremendous surge based on their no-Brexit position, one that that is clear and determined — whereas the Labour Party’s inability to take a firm stance on Brexit — largely because of the diverse positions of its constituents up and down the country — is costing the party severely.
Third, with the European Union firm in its resolve, and with no time for another withdrawal deal before the October 31 deadline, it is either no deal or no Brexit. If asked, most British people would probably prefer the latter over the former, but the Johnson cabinet is replete with ideologically-blinded demagogues hell-bent on serving the inward-looking interests of the very few. While keen to play tough so as to extract a stronger Brexit deal, it is pure folly.
The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn vs Boris Johnson at prime minister’s questions in Parliament could be political theater at its most intriguing — a Punch and Judy show with the fate of the union at stake but with no clear mandate for either party, both of which are arguably far more divided within than without. However, too many on the liberal-left satisfy themselves with the view that things cannot get any worse, but more often than not they do.
My own feeling is that a general election is on the way, and it is make or further break for the United Kingdom. The consequence of even more fissure in politics and society is a prospect too unbearable to fathom. A massive correction must follow, including the possibility of the Liberal Democrats and Labour forming a meaningful coalition — one that should have happened in 2010 — ultimately saving the day and the country after burying Brexit and all those who stand for it for good.
Nevertheless, this will not happen without a willingness to accept that we have reached a tipping point — and this where openings are already emerging beyond the present rose-tinted intellects of certain media and political pundits.
As the old adage goes, it is people who make history, not politicians. In the end, on both sides of the Atlantic, the people are speaking loudly and they will be heard.
*[An earlier version of this article was cross-posted on the author’s blog.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.