This week the 2020 presidential election season formally begins with the first Democratic debates. Steadying infusions of comic relief will be required if we’re to survive the next 16 months. And there’s rarely a more reliable source of comedic relief than the Brits.
Our country has become a laughingstock. Our executive branch, a convocation of clowns, hate-mongers and grifters, daily sets new standards of incompetence.
It’s cold comfort, but we’re hardly alone in suffering under misrule. Think of England, the Mother Ship, our dearest ally. They too are making a mess of their country, and they’ve been at this governance stuff far longer than we. Plus they’ve got an actual queen in reserve, kept on generous retainer, to put a stop to any nonsense. She’s lost the right to lop off heads, but still.
The Brits are very busy with Brexit, their national suicide pact. And the Conservative Party is about to gift them with a controversial new prime minister, Boris Johnson, to replace beleaguered Theresa May, who resigned after three tries to get Parliament to agree to terms of a divorce agreement with the European Union.
Endowed with an arresting shock of blond hair, Johnson is a fabulist posing as a journalist. A careless, deliberate purveyor of fake news, he was fired by the Times of London for making up a quote, falsely attributed to one of his illustrious forbearers. Born in New York City, he’s also an American citizen.
Johnson’s only opponent for prime minister is Foreign Secretary Jeremey Hunt, who caused bewilderment when he described his Chinese wife as Japanese. Said to lack charisma, Hunt unkindly has been dubbed “Theresa May in trousers.”
Johnson turned his firing into a springboard for career advancement by signing on with the Daily Telegraph and filing amusing but false reports about the European Union from Brussels. Johnson’s groundbreaking “euro-myth journalism” is credited with being a major driver of the Brits’ antipathy to the EU.
Last year Johnson secretly accepted coaching from politically toxic, far-right Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon on a speech, according to The Guardian. Johnson vehemently denied any link to Bannon, calling it “preposterous.” However, footage shot for the documentary “The Brink” recorded Bannon working on Johnson’s speech.
What’s up here? Hello?
Educated at Eton, an elite boy’s school, Johnson ran with a gang of young Etonians who specialized in vandalizing restaurants. Johnson served two terms as mayor of London, where he memorably made news when he was left dangling on a mysteriously malfunctioning zip-line, clutching a Union Jack in each hand, before of a crowd in Victoria Park, where he was being honored as a “special guest” during the London Olympics. Disorganized and fuzzy on facts, he’s often described as “shambolic.”
Johnson was conflicted about leaving the EU. He wrote two essays, pro and con, to decide which argument would best resonate with the voters. The “leave” essay won, and Johnson became the voice for the movement to exit the EU. He falsely, and repeatedly, insisted that England sends 350 million pounds per week to the EU, a vastly inflated claim that led “stay” proponents to sue him in court, to no avail.
The Brexiteers’ story line is that the EU unfairly drains too much of Britain’s tax money to help other nations, imposes too many constraining rules on business, etc., and requires Britain — which once ruled nearly 25 per cent of the globe — to accept too many immigrants.
Johnson himself comes from cosmopolitan stock; his great-grandfathers were a Russian Jew and a secular Muslim Turk. Yet this doesn’t seem to have sharpened his ethnic sensitivities. Muslim women wearing burqas and “looking like letter boxes” are “ridiculous,” he has written.
Johnson’s recitations of resentments against the EU were entertaining enough that many voters believed them. And so they voted to leave the EU. The day after the vote, though, internet sites reportedly were swamped by British-based searchers asking: “What is the EU?” Oops.
The habit of a nation’s most vulnerable, under-informed citizens voting against their self-interest is a confounding feature of democracies everywhere. It’s not the best argument for the wisdom of self-rule.
So what is the EU? I think this admittedly imperfect union of 28 formerly unfriendly nations agreeing to live as friends under the same laws has made the difference between war and peace in Europe. I freely admit to bias on this point, earned by living there under Nazi rule.
The Conservative Party’s efforts to actually leave the EU recently were described as an hallucinogenic “steeplechase of unicorns.” Some “leave” enthusiasts say never mind getting a divorce agreement with the EU, let’s just go. This hurtling over the cliff in a free-fall to certain doom is known as the “Thelma and Louise” option.
Oct. 1 is the date for cutting the cord to the EU. But if the Brits are given another chance to vote — as demanded by citizens who now understand that the Brexit campaign was built on deceit — the EU may extend the deadline. Again.
Meanwhile, last Friday around midnight, police were summoned by alarmed neighbors to the apartment Johnson shares with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, said to be his political handler. These neighbors helpfully recorded screaming, loud crashes, Symonds yelling, “Get off me! Get out!” and other endearments during the couple’s altercation.
And they haven’t yet even moved into 10 Downing Street.
God Save the Queen.
Solveig Torvik lives in Winthrop.