Saturday, July 2, 2016

Quote of the Day (Boris Johnson, Anticipating His Brexecution)

"My friends, as I have discovered myself, there are no disasters, only opportunities. And, indeed, opportunities for fresh disasters. Nothing excites compassion, in friend and foe alike, as much as the sight of you ker-splonked on the tarmac with your propeller buried six feet under."—British Member of Parliament and former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, quoted in Rose Powell, “How Gaffe-Prone Boris Johnson Could Become UK Prime Minister,” Sydney Morning Herald, Aug. 7, 2014

With his highly idiosyncratic approach to the mother tongue and his penchant for getting into one scrape after another, Boris Johnson can sound at times like Bertie Wooster let loose in Parliament. Put that together with his keen sense of Fleet Street’s voracious appetite for copy (he was a former reporter and editor of The Spectator), and you have a journalist’s dream candidate, a virtual English Channel of quotes and gaffes.

Except that, at least for the current cycle, it doesn’t like as if he’ll be a candidate for Prime Minister. The astonishing last week in the U.K.—starting with the vote to leave the European Union, David Cameron’s announced departure from Whitehall, and the vote of no confidence in Labour Party leader Jeremy Corwyn—climaxed with the out-of-left-field statement by Johnson, a Conservative leader of the Brexit forces, that he would not, after all, seek the P.M. post.

Cameron’s loss of power led observers to reach back in history for another Conservative
P.M. undone by a grievous miscalculation: Anthony Eden, in the wake of the Suez invasion. But Johnson’s abrupt slide down the greasy pole led commentators to look to drama: House of Cards, where treachery and the velvet power thrust abound.

Briefly, after the Brexit vote, when he still looked like The Coming Man, New York Post columnist Michael Goodwin likened him to Donald Trump in how he outraged elites. All seemed to change once Michael Gove, his comrade-in-arms atop the Leave forces, cleared his throat, said his old college friend couldn’t “provide the leadership or build the team for the task ahead,” and put forward the best man for the job: himself. Now, unlike The Donald, Boris is looking up mournfully at the post he tried to attain.

You are unlikely to see Trump—or, to be fair, any current U.S. politicians—drop allusions to Greek and Latin literature in their speeches, as Boris has been known to do. But the derailed politico’s story and tone are going to seem oddly familiar to Americans long since used to Trump, and for reasons going beyond the tonsorial styles that made them presumptive hairs apparent to their nation’s highest office. Consider the following:

*Brashness. Johnson’s style is unfiltered, running counter to the typical British reserve (including that displayed by recent occupants of 10 Downing Street). In Trump’s case, “brash” seems to be permanently connected to the word “billionaire” (and, I suppose, will do in a pinch, to avoid overusing other “b” words such as “bumptious,” “bombastic and “bullying”).

*A libido that, in years past, would have marked him politically Dead on Arrival. Boris has had three known affairs resulting in an abortion, a miscarriage and a child born out of wedlock, not to mention his sacking from the Tories’ “front bench” back in 2004 when he was less than candid with party chief Michael Howard about one liaison. Despite that, he rebounded back into contention in the race to become PM until his latest stumble. Trump, of course, is a twice-divorced adulterer, world-class female objectifier, and even a guy who creepily said his daughter was so hot that if they weren’t related, he could date her. None of this, of course, made the slightest difference to religious conservatives, who voted for him in great numbers in the primaries.

*Lying. Boris is a glib liar. Even before he prevaricated to Howard, he got fired from a prior job in the newspaper business, by making up quotes. The sheer brazenness of that act prepared him well for politics, where—as demonstrated in the latest Brexit campaign—he could make promises and offer "facts" on flimsy evidence, then walk them back. Trump is an even greater master of mendacity. Long given to hype, he is now utterly unable to distinguish truth from falsehood. He lies about masses of Muslims celebrating 9/11, about never settling cases, about Ronald Reagan liking him, about always being against the Iraq War. Not content with being a chronic liar, he is also a pathological one, a tendency born of ineradicable narcissism.

* “Did he REALLY say what I thought he said?” There’s an entire book called The Wit and Wisdom of Boris Johnson. Personally, I’m not too sure about the “wisdom” part, but the outrageous factor in it is quite high. The following is as good an example as any to illustrate the point: “For ten years,” he once wrote, “we in the Tory party have become used to Papua New Guinea-style orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing, and so it is with a happy amazement that we watch as the madness engulfs the Labour party.” Forced to apologize to the government and people of Papua New Guinea, he offered a non-apology apology: “I meant no insult to the people of Papua New Guinea, who I’m sure lead lives of blameless bourgeois domesticity.” As for Trump, once you start on all the individuals and groups he’s insulted—Mexicans, the disabled, reporters, Iowans, African-Americans, POWs, Megan Kelly, Rosie O’Donnell, Pope Francis—the question then becomes, who hasn’t he dissed? Imagine Spiro Agnew, but with a billion dollars.

* Non-ideological conservatism. Boris has been known to be oddly blasé about his convictions, including the degree of his devotion to Thatcherism: "I realise that there may be some confusion in my prescriptions between what I would do, what Maggie would do, and what the government is about to do or is indeed already doing ... I don't think it much matters, because the three are likely to turn out to be one and the same." Trump is similarly blithe about his beliefs: “Folks, I'm a conservative, but at this point, who cares?”

*Irresponsibility. Johnson lent the Brexit movement a credibility lacking from its most diehard zenophobes. Once he won, splitting the EU, his party and perhaps his nation in two, he tried to downplay the positions he had only recently taken. This, as much as anything, may have sparked the rebellion of Gove, who had been set to serve as campaign manager in his PM bid. Similarly, Trump has divided his party and the nation as a whole with his inflammatory rhetoric.

*Faux populism. Boris contends that he speaks for the working class. It would be more correct to say that he has exploited its real troubles and that his closest associates are more likely to come from the tony schools from which he graduated, Eton and Oxford.  Truman’s advocacy in this vein is even more preposterous. How the populist mantle can be worn by a billionaire landlord who has tried to hustle tenants out of his buildings and imported foreign workers to work on his signature Manhattan property is beyond me.

*Branding. Boris is such a well-known quantity in the U.K. that he is one of the few politicos to be known by his first name, in the manner of Madonna. Trump’s business holdings use his name, based on the notion that they will exert a broad brand recognition. His rise to the top of the GOP field was smoothed by this high recall, as well as with their recall of his role on reality show The Apprentice.

* “Who Do You Think You Are?” Boris appeared on an episode of this BBC series about family history. The tone of the question for the series’ subjects is meant to be quietly inquisitive, but voters on both sides of the Atlantic would be best advised to adopt a far more challenging—and, yes, derisive—tone as they consider the record and damage left by Boris and The Donald.

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