It is quite likely that in a few months time Donald Trump and Boris Johnson will meet as Heads of Government of the United States and the United Kingdom respectively. The great Tom Lehrer famously said on the awarding of the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger “Political Satire has become obsolete”. No doubt Tom will have a suitable phrase for a Trump/Johnson summit, but whilst the idea of Nobel Laureate Kissinger was just preposterous the idea of these two dummies being the guardians of the “Special Relationship” is deranged and dangerous.

The common feature between Trump and Johnson (aside from their manifest unsuitability for a great office of state) is their mendacious populism. As Joseph Goebbels once said “Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” – but to do this all the time requires a malignant personality  and a deep contempt for the little people (that’s you and me). Trump and Johnson are liars, from the small lies they told when cheating on their wives to the big lies they told in political campaigning. They don’t care, they really don’t care. The evidence is that the voting public (or enough of it) factor out personality and character defects in these two that would fatally damage the prospects of more conventional politicians.

It is the “Age of Absurdity”  there is a disconnect between genuine proven competence and ability and the illusion given by the facade of fame. Both Trump and Johnson are famous for being famous. They are recognisable – a good start for any aspirant politician. On both sides of the Atlantic we are used to there being revelations about famous people who turned out to be deeply flawed. Just before the 2016 Presidential Election Trump’s  “when you’re a star, they [women] let you do it, you can do anything… grab them by the pussy” seemed certainly to end any prospects of his election. It didn’t.  Addressing a UK business forum in October 2017, Boris Johnson told how fighting in Libya had prevented a group of investors from transforming the coastal city of Sirte “into the next Dubai.” Johnson added that “the only thing they have got to do is clear the dead bodies away.” This crass remark did nor damage his political prospects one bit.

It is easy to call Trump and Johnson “Buffoons” and in many ways they are. But they are clever buffoons – the paradox of the “Idiot Savant” –  a person who has a mental or moral dysfunctionality but is extremely gifted in a particular way. Trump and Johnson are gifted populists often, one suspects, creating an admiring “Did he really say that?” reaction. If we accept the statistical reality that 50% of people have an IQ of less than 100 and that within that a subset of around 20% are of very low intelligence  we can see that there are likely to be plenty of people you can fool all the time. Trump and Johnson know that. (If this seems elitist I suggest you read “Foreign Policy” analysis of the 2016 election which concluded that “Trump owes his victory to the uninformed.”)

Populism appeals to the gut instinct of the electorate. It reaches the hearts rather than the minds. The simplistic raw appeal of a Trump or a Johnson may offend the intellectually squeamish – but it’s a reality I’m afraid. The two men are different in almost every way apart from their understanding of how to reach out and press the hot buttons. Johnson is well-educated and cultured and has written more books than Trump has read. It matters not – there can be and will be an alliance of faux-patriotic nationalism between the two that will have popular appeal. As a “Financial Times” correspondent put it:

“Boris Johnson has lied his way through life and politics. This week he lodged a public application for Theresa May’ s job as Britain’s prime minister. By any judicious test of character, the former foreign secretary is unfit for high office. Britain’s Conservatives do not seem to care. Brexit has anaesthetised their moral sensibilities. If America’s Republicans can put Donald Trump in the White House, why not Mr Johnson in Downing Street?”   

 

 

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