“Ek na shud, do shud.” (We were not done with one, and now we have two)
There is a quantum leap in derisive mirth that stand-up comedians on both sides of the Atlantic are generating ever since a Donald Trump look-alike entered the black door at 10, Downing Street. In fact, if Boris Johnson disciplined the outside of his head with a touch of Brylcream that would confirm a twin-like Boris-Donald duet.
There are other dubious comparisons: racism, for instance. It was a common story at Trump Towers that, “When Donald and Ivana came to the Casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor.” Johnson measures up quite well. His description in one of his columns of blacks as “piccaninnies with watermelon smiles” remains a classic in racial insensitivity.
Little wonder Britain’s 77th prime minister has been greeted dismally by major newspapers. A “New Nadir” in British public life, screamed the Independent. “A shameless clown” it went on.
The Guardian thought Johnson and Trump made for a pair: “two loud-mouthed man-children,” singularly lacking in character. Scheming, devious, lying, unreliable are some of the common adjectives being employed.
In a sense, Trump’s election was clearly more democratic than Johnson’s. Even though he trailed Hillary Clinton in the popular vote, he won at least 46 percent of that vote. Johnson has been elected by the members of the Conservative Party, which works out to 0.2 percent of the population.
After three years of a non-descript Theresa May, is Great Britain only capable of producing a prime minister who the British intelligentsia dismisses as a man of doubtful ability and character? Similar things are happening elsewhere, but let me confine myself to the trans-Atlantic cousins.
To make my point, let me in a few sentences, describe the scene on November 2016, election night at my friend’s Dumbo Loft in Brooklyn, New York, where we had collected, say, 20 friends from all sorts of disciplines: State Department veterans, World Bankers, Columbia University faculty, artists, writers and a Fox News journalist. Everybody was eager to pop bottles as soon as Hillary Clinton’s victory became imminent. But when Trump won Florida the party was suddenly in the grip of something between hysteria and melancholia. The woman from the World Bank was shrieking like she had seen an apparition. A woman from the neighbouring loft was banging at the door. “Please let me in; I can’t bear being alone.”
It fell to my lot to commiserate with the crestfallen. They, each one of them, had difficulty digesting my diagnosis. “If you make Bernie Sanders impossible, you make Trump inevitable.”
How does this maxim apply to the elevation of Boris Johnson?
Well, “if you make Jeremy Corbyn impossible, you make Boris inevitable.” I am aware that these formulations would be anathema to friends who are sworn to “liberalism” according their lights.
Liberalism, which defined one’s life in the 60s and 70s, is an open minded accommodation of diversity in faith, tastes, manners and customs. Economists, committed to capitalism, ignore the warts it has developed. Crony capitalism, for instance, which renders the people redundant except for casting their votes during elections. The control this system has on the media helps perpetuate the Corporate-Government nexus. It is then a simple barter deal: you promote my interest, I promote yours. Come next elections, scramble to devise some new strategy to market yourself. Turn to terrorism if other issues do not work.
The perpetuation of this arrangement in democracies worldwide has caused a fatigue factor. In an earlier age, people revolted against the feudal system; they are now trying to bring about radical change through the ballot box. There are known and unknown eruptions in parts of the world where people are “struggling” outside the system altogether because, in their perception, the ruling class controls all the instruments of the modern democratic state.
The unending post 9/11 wars, the continuing ascendancy of the Deep State, disparities leading to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party in retaliation, generated an anti-establishment wave. This is what Bernie Sanders sought to ride. But the establishment in its Democratic Party avatar, had set its heart on Hillary Clinton who was up to her neck in deep state plots in Syria, Libya and, of course, Putin’s Russia.
In an anti-establishment atmosphere, projecting Clinton as the candidate was clearly a risky hand. Clintons, after all, were The Establishment in Washington. Hence the consequent gnashing of teeth at the Brooklyn Loft party.
Reverting to Britain, once Prime Minister David Cameron’s referendum on Brexit in June 2016 had gone wrong, the Conservatives have been on a weak leg. Theresa May, limping from London to Brussels with a hundred stops en route, always empty handed did the Tories no good. In direct proportion to the Conservatives vulnerability is the right wing media’s tendency to paint Jeremy Corbyn in lurid colours as a raving anti-Semitic, a friend of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez. The Economist has made him up as Che Guevara.
The spirit of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist witch hunt of 50s permeates American public life to this day. But its resurgence in the UK is all part of the establishment digging its heels in to keep the centre of gravity of global discourse so far to the right that leaders like Corbyn and Sanders look like communists.
There must be deep consternation in Conservative power structure at the BBC’s prestigious Panoroma programme which, with rigorous research, knocked the bottom out of the anti Corbyn campaign. It will now be impossible to pin the anti-Semite label on him.
Meanwhile, the media spotlight is on Boris and his cabinet choice like Priti Patel, the new Home Secretary. According to The Guardian she was sacked from Theresa May’s cabinet two years ago for failing to disclose secret meetings with Israeli Ministers on “India-related matters.” With Patel by his side, Boris Johnson has connections which can help win the elections which, by some calculations, can be soon, given that half the Conservative party has its knives out for him.
The writer is a journalist based in India.