Will UK still laugh at Boris Johnson’s antics if he continues to liken Muslim women to letter boxes as Prime Minister, asks Laura Waddell.
Donald Trump has always been a racist, and other -ists beside. Every time there is a new event that would topple any ordinary president – were these ordinary times, and not, as it sometimes feels, like weird, weather-warped end of times – Trump carries on unperturbed by consequences. Opposition from fellow Republicans, where it exists, like the smattering of resignations when he was sworn in, has barely registered. Republicans didn’t abandon Trump during the ‘pussy grabbing’ or Charlottesville episodes, which now feel like previous eras, because so much has happened since. He’s held fast during increasing public horror at the dawning reality of Concentration Camps.
Why now does it feel like his most recent stunt – telling four congresswoman, born in America, to ‘go home’ – is finally causing a mild ripple in his support, not least with world leaders who’ve condemned it, even if, like May, they’ve previously held his hand?
On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed an unusual resolution to condemn Trump’s “racist comments that have legitimised fear and hatred”, with support from only four Republicans. But others among his base appear less keen to vocally defend Trump than before – although many do with the fervour of televangelists. Quieter Republicans haven’t suddenly developed conscience. Standing with the administration and backing Trump’s grotesque campaign is a failed test. But with legal webs tightening around figures who have been close to Trump, like personal friend Jeffrey Epstein, and as 2020 elections loom, perhaps reality is sinking in that there will, one way or another, be a post-Trump era. If it’s too late for their souls, perhaps it’s not too late for them to follow the direction of power wherever it surges next, for pay-off in this lifetime at least.
With a new Prime Minister coming in the UK, we might get our own mini-Trump soon, the shadow self of the blimp across the Atlantic. While May has submerged the true catastrophe of Brexit under surface of stern respectability, frontrunner Boris Johnson has of course always traded on clown antics. If he wins the two-horse race, it will be a new challenge for Conservatives to stand under him.
In the circus, who follows a clown? Only other clowns, who pile into the clown car, inevitably going on fire. For all the UK has felt like the wheels have come off entirely in recent years, there has been the feeling that things are even worse stateside. It will be less easy to pretend things are just about holding together, with Johnson leading the charge, tripping over his untied shoes.
Scottish Conservatives have had a fairly easy ride distancing themselves from difficult-to-swallow policy established by Conservatives in the south, particularly when clashing with outwardly progressive credentials. May’s legacy will not be remembered as friendly to women, nor the policies she inherited. In this time, Ruth Davidson published her book Yes She Can, billed as a “rallying call for generations to come”, telling the stories of some high achievers. (At the time, my request for a review copy was not answered, but I’ve subsequently had a good flick through it.)
Banal ‘yas queen’ platitudes do little for those who’ve borne the brunt of Tory policy – thousands of people who died after being found fit to work, the rape clause, sanctions, widening gap between rich and poor, rising numbers of children in poverty... But a book is a nice feather in the cap for personal profile, which helps when spinning a public face at odds with reality of systemic Tory cruelty.
Like overseas, the UK is now entering a new phase to test followers of shambolic leaders. The risk of embarrassment is higher. But for those who’ve willingly been led this far, it’s merely going to be a bit trickier to straddle a tank and carry on laughing next time Johnson does something on a par with likening Muslim women to letter boxes.