There are some despairs in life that no amount of mindfulness practice and positive affirmations can alleviate. The fact that we’re facing the very real possibility of living through a time where Trump is the leader of the ‘free world’ and Boris the Johnson is our Prime Minister is one of them.
Two morally bankrupt, dangerously entitled men who have made failing their way to the top an Olympic sport. They don’t even bother to hide their disconnection from reality and contempt for those outside of their caste. They say it with their chest, wear their abhorrence on their sleeve and carry their own rulebook in plain sight. As George Monbiot writes: “Many of those who govern us do not in their hearts belong here. They belong to a different culture, a different world, which knows as little of its own acts as it knows of those who suffer them.” More often than not, they are as despicable in their personal lives as they are in the public lives.
It’s been a particularly wild week in that hotbed of white male privilege which is the Tory party. Mark Fields MP was filmed accosting/ assaulting/ ‘forcefully ejecting’ a climate protestor who dared to interrupt a black-tie dinner party. After he slammed her against a pillar and marched her out by her neck, he was met with claps of support from his fellow foie gras guzzlers. The fact that he has been suspended and the incident is being investigated by police has done nothing to stymie the tide of right wing commentators defending his response or calling for him to be awarded a medal. Tory MP Bob Stewart went as far as justifying Field’s actions as necessary because he “could not hold her by the chest”.
And then we’re back to Boris Johnson, current Tory leadership favourite and a man whose rap sheet is as long as the line of people ready to excuse him at every turn. Not satisfied with splattering buses with lies of a mythical £350m weekly boost for the NHS if the UK left the EU, he continues to base much of his leadership bid on misleading claims about what will happen to the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. The list of bigoted and inflammatory things he’s said keeps growing. Despite drawing upon his time as London Mayor as evidence of his Prime Minister-ly credentials, he presided over a number of blunders, such as squandering £52m of public money on the now scraped Garden Bridge vanity project before it even began. Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe is still separated from her family and on hunger strike in an Iranian jail after his ill-considered words as Foreign Secretary hindered efforts to secure her release. Known for having had a string of extramarital affairs in his personal life, he has four children with his estranged wife and a love child with a woman he had an affair with.
The latest saga in the Boris Show concerns a domestic incident between him and his girlfriend Carrie Symonds which, following sounds of smashing and screaming coming from the flat, spurred concerned neighbours to call the police.
One in four women in the UK experience domestic abuse in their lifetime; two women a week are killed by partners or former partners in England and Wales. The intervention of concerned neighbours has almost certainly prevented the deaths of more, so the reaction of Johnson’s neighbours is something that should be encouraged. It’s unclear what happened between Johnson and his partner that night, but the fact that the incident is being dismissed by many on the right as a “non-story” and the overreaction of “lefty neighbours” says everything it needs to about a) the lengths power and privilege will go to protect itself and b) why domestic violence remains endemic. Will this do much to damage Johnson’s leadership bid? Unless more details are revealed, I highly doubt it. The man who does everything wrong can seemingly do no wrong.
While it often feels as though we’re living through a dystopian nightmare, we cannot place the blame for this solely at the door of the 1%. Whilst the powerful undoubtedly protect the powerful, men like these are also democratically voted into their positions by a disturbingly high number of people who seem quite content (eager in fact) to swallow the poison they’re being fed. In the words of George Orwell: “A people that elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves and traitors are not victims, but accomplices.” This complicity buys no favours; only contempt and a continued free pass.
Gary Younge once wrote a brilliant piece imagining how people might’ve respond to Johnson’s ‘gaffes’ if he had been born black and female (basically, imagine if Dianne Abbott MP did half the things he did): “He cannot help that he was born rich, white and male. But being a rich, white man has certainly helped him. He has been afforded every privilege that his race, sex and class could provide. He has been given chances to come back from failure, which others would not be granted.”
Looking across the pond at another example of just how far rich white male privilege can get you, I often compare the carry-ons of Trump – a man who has been accused of sexual misconduct by over 20 women and whose behaviour is so consistently immoral and irresponsible it’s not worth listing – to the standard set for Obama. When Barack Obama came into power, alongside the feelings of elation his victory generated were prayers of “Please don’t mess up/ please don’t put a foot wrong/ please keep your dick in your marital bed/ please don’t give them any ammunition to doubt you”. And then there’s Trump.
Navigating spaces that are set up for you to fail is like traversing a tightrope above the Grand Canyon. There is no room for mediocrity, character flaws or human error. In professional settings I’ve found myself sat at shiny lacquered tables surrounded by white men in suits, desperately trying to swallow down my imposter syndrome with the words of my dad ringing in my ears: You have to work twice as hard to get half as far as them. As Younge puts it, your “…successes are understood individually (‘she’s one of a kind’) but failures are misunderstood collectively (‘they’re just not up to it’).”
It’s the most unfair of high jump contests; who you are determines how high the bar is set for your behaviours and ability, a height set according to your class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and so on. For those who have received the most generous leg-up in life, their bar is set lowest of all.
Image: 100_1274″ by Jerry Daykin is licensed under CC BY 2.0