An Age of Great Pretenders

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”

That’s the way Charles Dickens described his world as he opened his epic description of the confused world in which he lived, and the great French Revolution exploded. We haven’t quite reached Dickens’ point of ignition in his 1859 Tale of Two Cities, but with U.S. President Donald Trump’s trumpeting south of the 49th Parallel about to be joined in chorus by vaudevillian Boris Johnson, newly elected Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, our world is getting close.

We remember other times when major nations had bouts of insanity and elected leaders of doubtful morality and boastful national pride. We remember the control the people of Germany and Italy gave to their leaders in the 1930s for the promise of restored national glory, better lifestyles – and trains that ran on time.

Some of us are old enough to remember how we grew up shaking our heads that the people who elected such leaders could be so easily deceived. And, we assured ourselves, “it could never happen here.”

As we voice that assurance and re-assurance, we do so in ever softer voice as we witness what could never happen in our world – happening.

In the U.S. we see a Commander-in-Chief President who appears to be searching for a reason, however remote, to launch a “total destruction” attack on a middle east nation; who thinks and speaks racist observations and believes women who have complained about his wandering hands and intent are all lying or envious. He seems convinced the world rejoices when he spits out social media messages, apparently unaware the world is laughing at him, not with him.

On the other side of the Atlantic sits newly sworn Prime Minister Boris Johnson, elected a few days ago by the Conservative Party of Great Britain. In the UK, the party with the most elected seats forms the government with its leader is automatically the PM. (And, yes, that means the Tory Party membership, comprising roughly .02 per cent of voting age population, elected Johnson PM.) 

So be it, Boris is in until he solves the Brexit problem or he’s defeated in Parliament on a confidence motion and forced to call a general election.

Media in the UK has already taken to referring to his “predictably slapdash” speeches as “pifflepafflewifflewaffle” and is still laughing at his acceptance speech promise to “deliver, unite, defeat” – a phrase to which he hastily added “Energize” to change DUD to DUDE.

I leave you with a Guardian assessment of his first brief speech as PM: “The Tory MPs who backed him, the party members who voted for him so overwhelmingly, the media cheerleaders who hail his accession – they all know exactly what he’s like. They don’t believe him – they just willfully suspend their disbelief. They cannot say they were taken in by a plausible charlatan – they choose to applaud the obviously implausible, to crown the man they know to be the Great Pretender. They go along with the fiction that Johnson is a Prince Hal who will metamorphose into the hero to lead England to a new Agincourt while knowing damn well that he will always be a Falstaff for whom honour is just “a word.”

It would be safe now to think Trump-Johnson and add “interesting and scary times” to Dicken’s version of a world in angry turmoil.

One comment

  1. I have always liked this quote: “The qualities required to be a good leader are usually incompatible with the qualities required to become a leader.” It seems to apply to both Trump and Johnson.

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