The UK’s new prime minister shares more in common with the president than just hair. GABRIELLE BRUNEY Writes…
Donald Trump was pleased to learn Tuesday that Boris Johnson will become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, succeeding Theresa May as both the head of that nation’s government and leader of its Conservative Party. “He’s tough and he’s smart,” said the president of the former Foreign Secretary and Mayor of London. “They’re saying, ‘Britain Trump.’ They call him, ‘Britain Trump,’ and people are saying that’s a good thing. They like me over there.”
They do not like him over there; just a quarter of Brits approve of his presidency, and his two visits to the nation drew tens of thousands of protestors. He’s right on the first count, though, and the similarities between the two leaders are as clear as the straw-colored birds’ nests on both their heads.
They both entered politics from careers in the media
The commonalities started early; technically, both men might be considered native New Yorkers. Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was born in Manhattan to British parents, though he left the city while still an infant. And though both rode waves of right-wing populism to their position at the top of their nations’ governments, they were born to privilege—though Johnson, descended from academics and nobles, was reared amid a different brand of wealth than real-estate scion Trump.
Their careers took different shapes: Trump stood in his first election with his presidential run, while Johnson entered Parliament 18 years ago. But both men used careers in the media as launchpads for their political ambitions—Johnson from his position as a political columnist, and Trump from his role on The Apprentice. And they share a reputation for favoring performance over substance. Famed journalist Sir Max Hastings once wrote that Johnson’s rise “confirms the Tory Party’s increasing weakness for celebrity personalities over the dreary exigencies of politics.”
They’re not politically principled
Neither is known for holding strong political viewpoints; Trump has changed his party allegiances five times in the past 35 years, and Johnson apparently once confessed to a newspaper colleague he possessed no political views, save being “against Europe and against capital punishment.”
But in his opposition to the European Union he has been steadfast since his days reporting on the body in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. At that time, he earned a reputation for being willing to stretch the truth in order to smear the EU—a trait that he deployed in the run-up to the 2016 Brexit referendum, when he toured the nation in a bus plastered with the claim that Britain sends £350 million weekly to Brussels. The figure was actually closer to £160 million.
They have turbulent personal lives
Trump has been married three times and is a notoriously unfaithful husband; Johnson has been divorced twice, and has a child born of an extramarital affair. In 2004, Johnson was fired from his Cabinet positions after it was revealed that the married member of Parliament had lied about a different affair he’d had with a colleague at The Spectator. And during his campaign for Prime Minister, police were summoned to Johnson’s home after neighbors allegedly overheard a screaming fight between the politician and his current partner.
Johnson seems to actively cultivate a disheveled look, with rumpled suit jackets and his infamous wild crop of blonde hair; Trump has his parade of what once were called gaffes. Johnson memorably fell into a river while working on a promotional clean-up, and during a zip-line ride pegged to the 2012 Olympic games, the then-mayor became stuck in mid-air and dangled, holding miniature British flags in each hand. He participated in a game of touch rugby with school children during a 2015 visit to Japan, and was seen bowling over a 10-year-old.
Johnson is also a skilled writer fond of seasoning his remarks with Latin, marking a striking departure from the at-times barely coherent Trump, whose speech was found at times to have complexity ranking at a third-grade reading level. But despite possessing the trappings of intellect, Johnson has not proven himself to be a particularly competent politician.
He has a reputation for disdaining the details of governance, and his mayorship was marked by brash, costly errors, including a proposed garden bridgeacross the Thames that cost tens of millions and yet never materialized. He also acquired “three, 25-year-old German water cannons that he purchased in the name of dispelling possible rioters,” reports The New York Times. “He volunteered to be blasted by one himself, to show it was safe, and went forward with the purchases despite warnings from experts that they were ill suited for London. Theresa May, then the home secretary, soon outlawed them, and they were finally sold last year as scrap at a £300,000 loss.”
They’ve both made a whole lot of racist, sexist, and Islamophobic statements
Much like Trump, Johnson has a history of making bigoted and hateful statements—and in this regard he may have his American counterpart bested. In his column in 2002, Johnson wrote of black “piccaninnies” and Congolese “tribal warriors” with “watermelon smiles.” In the ‘90s, he wrote that the resignation of a gay Labour party cabinet member would elicit tears from “tank-topped bumboys” in London night clubs, and penned a column assessing physical appearances of women—one of whom he dubbed “hotty totty” at a party conference. While campaigning for his seat in Parliament, he joked that “voting Tory will cause your wife to have bigger breasts.” And he’s deemed Islam “a problem,” and wrote that it’s “absolutely ridiculous” for women who wear burqas to “go around looking like letter boxes.”
In all, both men are beneficiaries of nepotism who position themselves as politicians for the common (white) man, deceptively clever jesters who nonetheless lack the skill for real governance, and frank bigots who fueled their ascents on noxious nationalist resentments. Welcome to the club, Britain.