The show now begins here in Great Britain.
A vote by the dues-paying members of the Conservative Party elected Boris Johnson prime minister. U.S. President Donald Trump immediately fired off congratulations, saying Johnson was Britain’s Trump and would do a great job.
It’s easy to see why the president would feel a kinship with the new prime minister.
Johnson, like Trump, has a messy personal history. He’s been married and divorced twice and, at 55, is preparing to move his 31-year-old girlfriend into 10 Downing Street, a move novel in British history that has the scandal sheets all agog.
Johnson also has a record of making racist, homophobic and otherwise divisive statements. Like Trump, he rarely finds a national divide that he does not seek to widen.
Perhaps worst, he has a Trumpian reputation for treating the truth with contempt. Early in his career as a journalist, he was sacked from a newspaper job for making up quotes and sources. He’s continued in his political career to pass off fiction as fact.
That is why players in the European diplomatic corps say, diplomatically, that Johnson has “a trust deficit.” Others speak less euphemistically and call him a liar.
There are Johnson supporters who say their man is not a Donald Trump knock-off. They say Johnson’s understanding of policy is more profound than that of the U.S. president. They also say his disposition is sunnier – that he’s more likely to ape Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” than Trump’s carnage in the streets.
Perhaps, but the reality is he confronts the same sort of political problems the American president has faced.
He was elected to office by a minority of his fellow citizens on the strength of their fervent devotion to him. He now somehow must govern a diverse and contentious nation while reassuring his base that he hasn’t abandoned them or their causes of concerns and resentment.
The odds are long.
The storm cloud, an ever darkening one, overhanging Johnson’s premiership is of course Brexit, the plan to withdraw Britain from the European Union. It is Johnson’s wall, the thing he pushed for and promised without having a clue how to achieve.
His predecessor and fellow Conservative, Theresa May, came up with three different plans to strike a deal with the EU for Britain’s exit. All three failed to achieve majority support in Parliament.
In the meantime, polls revealed that support for the Conservative Party had plummeted by 24 points.
If anything, Johnson will have a harder time of it.
A substantial portion of his own party is opposed to him on political, policy and personal grounds. The opposition party is entrenched in its resistance. And, even if he by some miracle manages to get a majority of Parliament behind him, the European Union is likely to give him next to no room to negotiate.
Johnson has vowed to have Britain leave the EU by Oct. 31, deal or no deal. Not having a deal will touch off a firestorm.
In the United States, Trump has used legal protections to forestall challenges to his presidency. The obstacles to removing a chief executive from power in America are formidable ones. Impeachment is a complicated process.
Not so here in Britain. A vote of no confidence in the House of Commons is relatively easy to call and muster. That would trigger a general election and possibly another referendum on Brexit.
The nation is a tinderbox. As in America, the intransigence of the leader’s supporters has encouraged similar intransigence in the opposition.
A few days ago, when I was in London, I took a stroll in Hyde Park and found myself struggling against an exodus of thousands of demonstrators. They all wore stickers on their shirts that read “Bollocks on Brexit: It’s not a done deal.”
Here in Edinburgh, the Scottish minister issued a statement that at the same time congratulated Johnson on his victory and questioned Johnson’s character and competence. People here mutter about “the idiots in England.” Discussion has started both here and in Ireland about having those two lovely lands leave the United Kingdom.
Johnson, like Trump, parlayed a television career into political campaigning that led to his nation’s highest office. Both demonstrated that the curtain separating politics from entertainment now is an unsubstantial one.
Are we not all entertained?
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.