Cost of political disengagement: Indifference opens door to tyranny

The possibility that Boris Johnson might greet President Donald Trump as UK prime minister when he arrives in this part of the world cannot be discounted. What an appalling vista; what a victory for shamelessness and what a crushing defeat for the belief that politics is the agreed process to advance towards a brighter future that eventuality would represent.

Johnson’s elevation is far from certain even if it is certain that Theresa May has reached the end of the road. There are other ambitious Conservatives — Gove, Hammond, Hunt or even Leadsom — but it is impossible to predict what an angry, divided, stubborn, insular and fixated Conservative party might do. Rational assessment guided by any kind of moral compass seems almost a memory for a party whose influence once reached far beyond its natural bailiwick.

Should a Johnson premiership transpire, Trump’s arrival would bring together one man who built his prominence on inventing fantasies about the EU when he worked as a journalist in Brussels and another who treats the media — and its audience — with contempt. It would be as if the fake news circle had been closed.

Two great English-speaking countries would be represented by irredeemable narcissists who lie as easily as they breathe. Each shows their contempt for democratic norms differently. Just this week Trump, like a child rampaging in a creche, quit a Washington meeting, saying he would not work with Democrats unless they stopped investigating him and lifted the threat of impeachment. Imagining yourself beyond the reach of the law is characteristic of a tyrant.

That Trump has been called Cadet Bone Spurs over a 1968 diagnosis that allowed him avoid Vietnam; that caddies call him Pelé because he kicks the golf ball so often reveals a character unperturbed by the limitations of integrity.

It is easy to rage at this darkness but that is not an indulgence we can afford, especially as Trump and the possibility of Johnson in Downing Street no matter how slight, are part of a worldwide rejection of moderation. This rejection all too often motivated by baseless fear of the other encouraged by everyone from Nigel Farage to Jair Bolsonaro, and from Jaroslaw Kaczynski to Matteo Salvini. This fear-mongering may reshape the European parliament elected this weekend in a most negative, darkening way.

How has our world, one that seemed to have learned the lessons of the last century, reached this terrible point? That same question could be asked about climate change — could we, by our actions, and by political inaction, threaten the stability of our world if not its future?

We may have taken far too much for granted. Too many of us disengaged and left the heavy lifting of democracy to others. Too many of us are more interested in Game of Thrones than we are in ensuring our society advances rather than regresses.

This has consequences one of which may be a low turnout in today’s elections and a result that will undermine liberal democracy. Today’s vote should be a starting point in a re-engagement with politics unless we are prepared for the idea of Prime Minister Johnson standing on a red carpet waiting to welcome President Trump. Shudder the thought.

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