Trump, declare his critics, is repugnant, he is gross.
            He is crass, uncouth and vulgar and insultingly verbose.
            Boris Johnson also treats his targets as a farce.
            He’s offensive, mean and vicious, but he does it all with class

            Trading insults is a popular American sport. Comedian Don Rickles was a master of the art. Donald Trump has used the device to endear him to his supporters: “Lyin’ Ted Cruz”,  :”Crooked Hillary”, “Low energy “ Jeb Bush”,  “Look at that face” Carly Fiorina, along with crude jabs at war heroes, minorities, and the disabled.

            Boris Johnson, the post-Brexit British Foreign Secretary, has been compared to Trump by some critics. Not that Johnson is a Trump fan. “The only reason I wouldn’t visit some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump” And: “I am genuinely worried that he could become President.” Yet there are similarities. Johnson, too, sports a trademark crop of fair hair. He is a media celebrity. His economic views are well to the right of center. And he is a bigot – in his case the old-fashioned Colonel Blimp type from the British Empire glory days (he calls black children “piccanninies”).

            Johnson is also a master of the art of insulting. Thus he was incensed when Barack Obama moved a bust of Churchill from his office to a neighboring room to make way for one of Martin Luther King. Obama, he said, was a “part Kenyan president,” who harbored “an ancestral dislike of the British Empire.” As for  Hillary Clinton: “She’s got dyed blond hair and pouty lips, and a steely blue stare, like a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital.” David Cameron he supported “out of cynical self-interest.” The centrist party Liberal Democrats he mocked as ‘not just empty. They are a void within a vacuum surrounded by a vast inanition.” When his speaking style was criticized by Arnold Schwartzenegger he fired back: “It was a low moment to have my rhetorical skills denounced by a monosyllabic Austrian cyborg.” Similarly caustic analogies directed at European and world leaders adorn his newspaper columns for the conservative Daily Telegraph as well as his much-quoted comments on TV and from his former rostrum as Mayor of London. His sharp wit and erudition (he loves to use words like  “polymorphous’)  are in sharp contrast to Trump’s crude jibes. Where Trump’s invective is at the level of the protruding tongue or the raised finger, Johnson adorns his insults with erudite analogies. Trump’s humor is at the level of the Three Stoogies, while Johnson displays a more genuinely satirical wit.    

            Even so, when the new British premier, Theresa May, announced  Johnson’s appointment as Foreign Secretary the unofficial reaction of most other countries was a mixture of disbelief and derision, of what The Guardian reported as “carefully retrained laughter.” Indeed, said a Guardian columnist: “The Boris news is not so much a cabinet appointment as a three-episode comic sub-plot in Downton Abbey”. Indeed, Boris, for all of his shambling misbehavior, is a prototypical member of the Eton and Oxford  Old Boys’ network. (“I’d like thousands of schools as good as the one I went to:True, it could have been worse. There were widespread expectations after he had headed the successful Brexit campaign that he would be the next prime minister. But earlier he had said: “I have as much chance of becoming Prime Minister than of being decapitated by a frisbee or of finding Elvis.” Even so, to have this absurdly undiplomatic man in this key diplomatic position appeared to many observers at home and abroad to be as ridiculous an idea as any than he himself customarily proposed.

            But perhaps it is not so ridiculous. Perhaps it is the new Prime Minister’s way of assuring that Boris Johnson cannot turn his satirical lance at her administration or become a source of embarrassment for her foreign relationships. For there will be no more “piccannini” references from her foreign office, nor will foreign leaders be analogized to sadistic nurses in mental hospitals.

             A loss perhaps to the annals of satire. But a significant gain to the prospects for civilized international relations.  



Posted on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 (Archive on Monday, April 22, 2019)



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