This week, Boris Johnson will almost certainly become the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. His elevation to one of the most prominent and visible positions in the western world represents the latest threat to liberal multi ethnic democracy in an era of growing social and racial strife.
Johnson, a former professional writer and provocateur has much like the current US President displayed a zig-zagging political ideology throughout his public life. But unlike Trump, Johnson has been voted into elected office repeatedly, and as Mayor of London his tenure was marked by grand ideas and very little substance. Then a liberal by Conservative (Tory) Party standards, Johnson acted as Mayor, more as a comedian with a bully pulpit than a serious figure of governing.
Among his more zany proposals was an island on the Thames Estuary to build a new airport- an absolutely ridiculously mockable idea akin to flying cars. But that was nothing new for Johnson who as a journalist would often say crazy things for shock value, including many statements that were outright racist or sexist. His former boss at the conservative Daily Telegraph, Sir Max Hastings has warned the world as to the potential perils of a Johnson Premiership in an eloquent prose all should read it carefully.
Now reborn as a right-wing populist, Johnson’s rhetoric is not only as dangerous as Trump’s but his timing could lead to a complete collapse of the nation he will lead, as a meaningful world power. Johnson’s history as a social liberal with a comedic streak has led some commentators to excuse his eccentric and racially-charged commentary. It has led others to label him as a “moderate,” because if you are liberal on social issues you cannot possibly be a right-winger, correct? However in the opinion of this writer, irrespective of one’s views on social issues even if they are to the left, ethnocentrism in multiracial democracies cannot be seen as an endearing liberal or centrist trait.
Johnson will find an ally in Donald Trump, whose similar race-baiting and anglicized ethnocentrism is a newer phenomanh, but has become a key trait in his governing philosophy and professed ideology. The “special relationship,” as it is referred to annoyingly, will enter a new dangerous phase. This is a time where Britain needs America more than ever, as led by Johnson, they will turn their back on continental Europe and the Republic of Ireland via a hard Brexit. This is an opportunity for Johnson and Trump to forge a new alliance, based on ethnicity and right-wing populism.
Whether the United Kingdom as a functioning entity will survive Johnson is another question – Scotland where support to remain in the EU remains high is also as a Democratic Socialist bastion is fundamentally mismatched forever more in an increasingly ethnocentric conservative-looking United Kingdom which is becoming dominated by English nationalism. Northern Ireland’s unionist and religious-driven violence is a thing of the past and a potential hard border with the U.K. should Johnson push a no-deal Brexit will probably turn many prior unionists toward looking south at the Republic of Ireland.
Johnson’s pushing of Brexit and his attacks on the liberal institutions of Europe are not without some merit. I personally do not subscribe to the neoliberal view that all multilateral institutions are sacrosanct.
Racism and ethnocentrism is nothing new for Johnson. Despite his liberal views on social issues, the American-born Johnson who has both Turkish and French blood has moved British ethnocentrism into the mainstream in a way even the polarizing Enoch Powell, Nick Griffin and Nigel Farage have not.
Johnson has decades worth of racially-charged writing and statements, a list too lengthy to discuss here. In fact, Johnson’s history of racially-charged, ethnocentric commentary is so long, it’s a real sign of the times the Conservative Party rank-in-file feel it is safe to put him in office after the relatively moderate David Cameron and Theresa May won national elections by narrow margins.
On her way out of 10 Downing, May has become very aggressive in attacking the populist fringes and pushing “moderation,” as an ideology, perhaps posturing for the history books more than the current electorate which she will likely never again face. Her views are no longer mainstream in her own party, and she spent her three years as Prime Minister trying to placate a right-wing populist movement that she could never really connect with. This too is a lesson for moderate Republicans in the United States.
It’s worth noting at this point, in the U.K. a debate has broken out about whether or not the Jeremy Corbyn-led left should also be labeled populists much like the Nigel Farage-led right. Discussions on whether Bernie Sanders should be called a populist can be tabled for now, but that discussion should be had at some point in the future. Unfortunately though the left doesn’t want to admit it, too many similarities in rhetoric and behavior of supporters means it is a question worth pondering in the future.
Back to Johnson and Trump. Both have successfully inflamed racial and ethnic tensions in a way that threatens open conversation and freedom of expression in a liberal democracy. Worse even now, Johnson has allowed Trump to essentially interfere in the diplomatic process dictating to the U.K. who can properly serve as Ambassador to the US.
A fear many have in the United Kingdom that has been boiling right below the surface is that post-Brexit, the U.K. will become even more of a United States dominated satellite state than currently. Trump’s actions and Johnson’s comments regarding the diplomatic row between the nations lead us to believe that this “alliance” based on populist ethnocentrism might involve a senior partner dictating to a junior partner how to conduct itself.
Using talking heads who fan racist rhetoric like Tucker Carlson, Trump can push the envelope and promote a new populist ethnocentric “special relationship.” It’s almost certain FOX News will find Johnson acceptable and promotable as a Trump partner, even if he has previously been sacked from a Rupert Murdoch-owned media outlet, The Times for embellishing sources and quotes.
While Liberal Democrats Leader Sir Vince Cable contrasts Johnson from Trump by saying perhaps hopefully in a recent interview with The Guardian’s Politics Weekly Podcast that Johnson is pushing English nationalism out of political convenience and doesn’t have Trump’s convictions on the issue, Brexit being the central issue, perhaps the only issue in UK politics means for the foreseeable future Johnson will be indistinguishable from Trump ideologically.
Donald Trump is the most blatantly ethnocentric President since the pre-Reconstruction era and the most openly racist since Woodrow Wilson. Often excused as a man of his times and glossed over because of his progressive economic views, Wilson’s racism led directly to violence against African-Americans and even Catholics and Jews.
Trump’s rhetoric could lead to a loss of historical perspective, which is what happened under Wilson. The below passage from D.W. Griffith’s blatantly racist silent film “Birth of a Nation” came from Woodrow Wilson the pre-Presidential historian that helped pioneer the infamous Dunning School of Ivy League thought that excused the white south for racially violent behavior.
While the obvious retort is that Trump is not an intellectual on the level of Wilson, so his viewpoints carry less weight with elites (not to mention Wilson on economics was to that point in US history the most liberal President ever). However with the likes of Carlson, Laura Ingraham and Ann Coulter having outsized influence in today’s decentralized media culture, Trump could have the same impact.
Woodrow Wilson Presidency as was often glossed over by history books written by Democrats was the trigger on official segregation in federal appointments, increased violence in the south, and the rise of Ku Klux Klan which was for all intents and purposes non-existent when Republicans controlled the White House from 1897 to 1913.
The Wilson years allowed white southerners to feel further emboldened – they no longer had Republican Presidents who sought African-American votes to counter, so essentially an ethnocentric ideology not only developed but led to such things as eugenics, anti-misogny and racial purity laws. Lynchings increased exponentially after Wilson became President.
While Trump’s time may not lead to such stark legislation, the violence and perhaps the modern version of Jim Crow type laws will no doubt get a boost. Across the Atlantic, hate crimes and other racially-charged activity has noticeably increased since Brexit – a new English nationalism (not British importantly, it is English even if some might claim Britishness) now has an even more prominent spokesperson in Johnson. Mimicking Trump, he will no doubt have a similar effect on public behavior.
Make no mistake about it, Johnson’s elevation creates a crisis in the Anglo-American world. Trump now has a partner who practices the same sort of celebrity politics and shock jock behavior as he does. America’s closest traditional ally will now be run by a Trump imitator whose own record of comedic, public service and journalistic folly might even be more embarrassing than that of the Donald himself.
The USA will survive Donald Trump but the UK may not survive Boris Johnson whose elevation might eventually break the nation up. But both will have an impact, like Wilson did a century ago to push a very racially-charged purist view of nationalism. This ethnocentrism could threaten both nations international standing and soft power even in the cultural realm for decades to comes.