US politics tends to be a more colourful and kinetic affair than our own variety, although of course there are always parallels to be drawn says MITCH BENN.
As I believe I’ve mentioned a few times before in these pages, I pay about as much attention to American political news as I do to developments in our own country.
One thing which seems common to the political spheres of both countries is the phenomenon whereby left-wing or liberal parties, even after scoring a convincing electoral victory, tend to proceed cautiously and magnanimously, extending a consoling hand to those who voted against them and seeking out consensus before enacting even a modest agenda.
Whereas victorious conservative or right-wing parties extend a middle finger to those who voted against them before putting their biggest and heaviest boots on and jumping in two-footed, pursuing their agenda with gleeful abandon as if they’ve been handed an absolute and unanimous mandate, even if they’ve squeaked in by the most slender of margins, or no margin, as in the case of Donald Trump’s administration, or indeed not been elected at all, like our own freshly-minted government.
Since the inevitable rise of Boris Johnson to Number 10 the comparisons to Donald Trump have been coming thick and fast, but annoyingly they’ve tended to focus on the fact that they both have silly haircuts. This is doubly irritating as not only are there far more salient connections to be made (I’ll make some in a moment) but their hairstyles, while equally bizarre, serve entirely different purposes.
Trump’s hair is a symbol of his vanity. It’s not a wig; in order to wear a wig Trump would have to admit to himself that he’s gone bald. As it is, he can kid himself that he spends a portion of each morning scooping his remaining strands up into that bizarre lacquered-down helmet because that’s just how he likes it.
“Boris”, the amiable, harrumphing buffoon character portrayed by a ruthlessly ambitious politician called Alexander Johnson, sports an unruly blonde mop because it’s all part of the act. It suits his affected absent-minded old duffer persona. Johnson is not in the least absent-minded; he’s intellectually lazy, but that’s not the same thing.
Trump’s hair is there to fool himself; Johnson’s hair is there to fool other people.
Nonetheless we do now find ourselves in a situation where, on both sides of the pond, a blustering demagogue has come to power against the wishes of the people by means of an archaic quirk of the political system, and is now pursuing a harder-than-hard right agenda, declaring his intention to bypass the rest of the government to do so if necessary, while being hailed as the nation’s saviour by cringingly loyal right-wing news outlets.
And I’m finding myself thinking the same thing about our own opposition parties that I’ve been thinking about the Democrats for the past 20 months: you are being WAY too relaxed about all this, guys.
The Democrats’ reluctance to impeach Trump is understandable but regrettable and possibly suicidal. I know they’re haunted by the way the Republicans’ remorseless pursuit of Bill Clinton over Monicagate in the late 90s only bolstered Clinton’s numbers, and they’re terrified that a failed attempt at impeachment would succeed only in re-energising Trump’s currently dwindling base enough to re-elect him, but there’s an essential difference: Clinton was caught lying about extra-marital shenanigans; he wasn’t in the process of dismantling every check or constraint on his own power, as Trump now is. If Congress doesn’t act soon it might find its authority to act at all yanked out from underneath it.
And the apparent decision to wait until Trump can be defeated at the ballot box next year is folly: as Robert Mueller’s report made clear, and as the man himself more or less stated in Congress last week, the only reason Trump hasn’t yet been charged with multiple felonies is the convention that a sitting President can’t be indicted, only impeached. The Republican Senate is already blocking proposals to tighten up election security despite evidence that the Russians are planning on meddling again, and Trump now looks certain to go into the 2020 election knowing that if he doesn’t win, there’s a reasonable chance he’ll die in prison. So if you thought the 2016 election was stitched up, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Meanwhile, we now find ourselves governed by Steve Bannon’s second most famous protegé, who has, among other appointments, moved his own Bannon analogue Dominic Cummings in as special advisor.
Dominic Cummings, who was described as a “career psychopath” by David Cameron, who coordinated the Vote Leave campaign, who was held in contempt of Parliament for refusing to answer questions about his use of targeted fake news Facebook ads to win the EU referendum for Leave, and who has already started posting targeted Facebook ads bigging up his new boss.
To misquote the late Mrs Merton, what was it that first attracted you to the vote-manipulating, rule-bending, election-hustling mastermind Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson?
It’s also worth bearing in mind that unlike Trump, Johnson isn’t limited to two terms.
We are being WAY too relaxed about all this.