In the age of deceit
He was, it transpired, speaking on the basis of mere presumption: The Munich mass murderer, Ali Sonboly, proved to be a disturbed young man influenced not by Islamists but by the imprisoned far-right Norwegian mass killer, Anders Breivik.
Ill-considered outbursts are the trademark of this Conservative politician — just as they are that of US Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump. And like Trump, Johnson often goes in for extreme offensiveness. His unhappy utterances include describing black people as “piccaninnees with water melon smiles,” alluding to Barack Obama’s “part-Kenyan ancestry” and likening Hillary Clinton to a “sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.”
Johnson also specializes in fabrication. A journalist before entering politics, he was fired by the Times newspaper for making up a story. Later, as Brussels correspondent of the Daily Telegraph, he mocked petty European Union regulations in reports that increasingly derived from his own imagination. This summer as the leading campaigner for “Brexit” (British exit from the European Union) in the June 23 referendum on UK membership of the EU, Johnson embraced wholesale public deception. The “battle bus” in which he toured the UK was emblazoned with a wildly exaggerated version of Britain’s monthly financial contribution to the EU, a figure designed to encourage the belief that the EU plunders British pockets.
According to the old maxim “Truth is great and will prevail.” It is the greatness not of truth but deceit that Johnson and his fellow “Brexiteers” hold dear.
Yet by all accounts Johnson never really wanted the UK to quit the EU. His secret hope was that the Brexit campaign would suffer defeat by a slim margin — thus ensuring that the UK did not become saddled with protracted EU divorce proceedings while advancing his own long-cherished ambition of supplanting the leader of Britain’s Conservative Government, Prime Minister David Cameron (who campaigned for “Remain” and who has now resigned). That his scheming went awry was largely because, following the referendum result, his fellow Brexiteer, the former Justice Secretary, Michael Gove, publicly savaged his leadership credentials. That Johnson has nevertheless ended up as foreign secretary has much to do with the concern of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, to appease the anti-EU diehards in the Conservative party. She calculates, it seems, that putting him and other Brexiteers in charge of Brexit negotiations underlines that she fully endorses the referendum result, even though she did not campaign for it. She apparently calculates, too, that if negotiations fail, the Brexiteers themselves will take the blame.
Meanwhile, foreign observers are entitled to conclude that by appointing as its top diplomat a politician notorious for his lack of diplomacy the UK is saying to the world: “Whatever you think, we don’t give a damn.”
As a pantomime English eccentric Boris Johnson appears far removed from the brash Donald Trump. Yet the pair has much in common as exponents of flamboyant right-wing nationalistic populism. If Trump enters the White House they could yet form a lurid double act, a transatlantic axis of showbiz-style demagoguery. Trump was quick to signal his approval of Brexit. As a vote to regain control of Britain’s borders and thereby restrict immigration, it is of a piece with his pledge to shut out immigrants by building a wall along Mexico’s border with the United States. It might be felt that the two men have already done more than a little to erect walls of the mind and spirit.
Boris Johnson speaks of a cancer in the Middle East. But he and Donald Trump are symptoms perhaps of a cancer of the West. Against a background of rampant insecurity and collapsing faith in mainstream politics, they have achieved mass appeal by peddling prejudice and extravagant promises. Nothing quite like this has been since the dark days before the World War II. There is a stomach-curdling sense that they are waking sleeping demons.
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