Two great democracies, their political processes paralyzed by attempts to deny the will of the people. In Britain, voters in a referendum told their representatives they want to leave the European Union and its overweening bureaucracy, to snatch sovereignty back from Brussels to Westminster. The Establishment is having none of it, and has Boris on the run. In the United States, a majority of state electors, chosen by the people, decided that they have had enough of the Establishment’s free trade and globalization, and of their chosen standard bearer, Hillary Clinton, whose campaign was based on the theory that it was her turn to be President. Instead they preferred to have a flawed, vulgar, self-described billionaire move from his Tower in New York into the White House. Not so fast, replied the Establishment, and appointed Robert Mueller to find some crimes that would allow them to impeach the President. Mueller disappointed, but the search goes on, the Never Trumpers firm in their conviction that Trump is an illegitimate President.
Both Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have much in common. Both want to end the transfer of sovereignty to international institutions, the EU in the case of Johnson, almost any international organization you can name in the case of Trump. Both believe their governments should have complete control of the quantity and nature of immigration. Both have a sometimes-unhealthy disregard for established procedures. Both enjoy nothing more than the enmity of Establishment media, which Johnson (himself a columnist with an uncertain fidelity to the facts) accuses of creating a climate of fear about the consequences of Brexit, and Trump insists prefers “fake news” to his version of the truth. Neither is famous for self-control in his personal life. Both often take aim at their own foot and pull the trigger.
Like Churchill with his cigars and Franklin Roosevelt with his jaunty cigarette holder, both understand how to make themselves recognizable, Johnson by carefully uncombing and tousling his blonde hair, Trump by erecting neat, combed constructs with his.
Their policies and personal similarities are reflected in the economic conditions of their nations, although in Britain’s case Johnson cannot claim credit or be assigned blame for the state of the British economy. Both countries have unemployment rates below 4%, well below the eurozone rate of 7.5%. The property market in London is facing real difficulties, rather like the situation in New York City. The UK FTSE 100 is up this year as is the S&P 500, the former by about 9%, the latter by more than twice that.
Both countries are facing man-made trauma. In Britain, the Prime Minister is creating uncertainty by insisting he will somehow overcome the Establishment’s opposition and carry out the expressed will of the people, and by October 31, even if he cannot get a deal with the EU. Trump is creating uncertainty with his trade-policy-by-tweet, with the prospect of a settlement alternating with grim news about the impossibility of a deal with the perfidious Chinese almost hourly.
Both pols have powerful, self-interested opponents. The EU bureaucrats have a strong incentive to leave Britain worse off after Brexit, lest other countries, especially those lumbered with Germany’s favourite currency, the euro, see the virtues of abandoning the organization that pays their handsome salaries. China’s Xi Jinping has an equally strong incentive to avoid a deal acceptable to the American president because to abandon stealing intellectual property, massive subsidies for the industries of the future, and forced technology transfers would be to abandon his plan to Make China Great Again and challenge the US for global leadership.
Both politicians have an uneasy relationship with their powerful central bankers. Both would like to see their backs asap. Johnson can rid himself of Mark Carney when the governor’s term expires in January — if Johnson’s premiership has not expired first — and find a candidate less prone to fear-mongering about the effects of Brexit. Trump, who feels Jay Powell is a “bonehead” who does not understand the virtues of ever-lower interest rates and a declining dollar, cannot rid himself of Powell, although he can and does make life unpleasant for the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board with a barrage of tweets that would drive a lesser man from office.
All of which is why Boris Johnson, educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, fond of quoting his classical heroes, and Donald Trump, educated at the more down-to-money Wharton School, and quoting, well, himself, get along so well. Add Trump’s inclination to thumb his nose at foreign Establishments as well as America’s, and you have the reason he repeatedly promises Johnson that a trade deal with America awaits Britain’s departure from the EU. No details mentioned.
No need to say that there are major differences in the economies of the UK and the US. Britain’s fiscal policy has reflected the austere prudence of a chancellor unwilling to stimulate the economy to prepare Britain to leave the EU. Johnson has promised to put an end to such pence-pinching. Trump never did have much use for matching income to expenses, or vice versa, which threw several of his business entities into bankruptcy, and according to some is forcing America to run unsustainable trillion-dollar budget deficits. Also, the pound is under pressure while the dollar is too strong for the taste of a President who believes that by debasing the currency he will stimulate exports and growth and reduce the possibility of a forced return to Trump Tower come 2021.
The future of the Boris-Donald relationship depends on the futures of these embattled politicians. Johnson, who would rather be “dead in a ditch” than postpone Brexit, is an escape artist capable of escaping the import of his words and actions — and of handily winning the general election his revanchist Labour opponents are trying to avoid. Trump is threatened with impeachment that could end his presidency, but even if the House votes to do just that, it is highly unlikely that the President’s mortal enemies could muster the two-thirds vote in the senate necessary to convict. The electorate in our two great democracies most likely will decide the fate of these politicians. As well it should.