The only consolation I can offer my fellow Brits is that for now our American cousins have it worse – but they can and surely will eject the vile Donald Trump in November. We are stuck with Boris Johnson way beyond that. The comparison between Johnson and Trump is eerily apposite. Morally there’s little to choose between them.
You might say that it doesn’t matter if our leaders are serial philanderers if they are competent and inspiring leaders – the Lloyd George defence if you like. But when you fuse on to amorality prejudice, ignorance, laziness and a willingness to be the tools of shadowy “advisors” of the Hard Right then Trump/Johnson surely in any rational world disqualify themselves from office.
Boris and the Donald are not ideologues but their strings are pulled by those who are. Barack Obama maybe didn’t achieve as much as he himself and his millions of supporters would have liked but he admirably got up the noses of the American Right. David Cameron’s Coalition Government was similarly anathema to our eurosceptic Hard Right leading initially to the emergence of the populist Nigel Farage and his xenophobic UKIP party. In 2015 Cameron defeated his erstwhile LibDem friends in a cunningly fratricidal General Election and soon he marginalised Farage by calling for and then losing a referendum on Europe.
In 2016 David Cameron and Hillary Clinton both tumbled to electoral defeat – both beaten by ideologies of the Right. The similarities are startling, the crucial technique being to find a scapegoat. In white trash America it was the Establishment represented by the Uber-mainstream Clinton. In Britain the Establishment represented by the pro Europe majority in both the major parties. It’s arguable that Trump and the “Leave” campaign didn’t win their elections so much as Clinton and “Remain” lost theirs.
No rational voter would vote for Donald Trump or for Brexit the Metropolitan elite would say, and in a way they’d be right. But before the 2016 election Jeremy Paxman visited poor white America for a TV documentary and they were voting Trump out of desperation not reason. The Brexit voters in Britain weren’t desperate but they were similarly defying convention and being bloody-minded. There is a hard core of flag-waving nationalism both sides of the Atlantic and the Trump and Brexit campaigns knew this and exploited it.
The libertarian and Nationalist Right in America and in Britain successfully colonised the Republican and Conservative parties and got an electable patsy into the Party leaderships. They also got their ideologues into positions close to power. In America Steve Bannon set the Trump course initially and since his brief but crucial day others have kept the Donald on track. In Britain Dominic Cummings has been the puppet master and is so important to the increasingly incoherent and shambolic Johnson that he has so far retained his “advisor” despite overwhelming calls for his dismissal for recent grievous mistakes.
America in November has the chance to banish Trump and in so doing defeat his Hard Right string-pullers. Britain does not have this opportunity and we will have to suffer longer. Whether our democracy will survive is a question some of us wonder – with justification.