Irish Examiner View: Odd things are afoot in politics

Irish Examiner View: Odd things are afoot in politics

It was the monumental Mr Johnson — Samuel, not Boris — who declared that nothing odd lasts long. Usually an astute observer, his words of wisdom have stood for more than 250 years, but they are being sorely tested on a number of fronts in both foreign and domestic settings.

Across the Atlantic, we have witnessed some very odd behaviour by two senior politicians, in the form of petulance in the US House of Congress.

US President Donald Trump, giving his State of the Union address in advance of his acquittal by the Senate on impeachment charges, snubbed Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Seeing Ms Pelosi for the first time since she stormed out of a White House meeting four months ago, Mr Trump declined to shake her outstretched hand, as he gave her a paper copy of his remarks, before starting to speak.

It was an unprecedented display of presidential ill manners. In response, Ms Pelosi ripped up her copy of Mr Trump’s speech, as he finished addressing the joint houses of Congress.

In the UK, Mr Johnson — Boris, not Samuel — is extolling the virtues of Britain’s mé féin policy, while ignoring the importance of securing a comprehensive trade deal with the EU.

Even if no agreement is reached by the end of this year, the British prime minister says he has “no doubt that Britain will prosper mightily”.

Asked by the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg whether he accepted that leaving the EU with no comprehensive trade agreement could have significant cost for jobs, businesses, and the economy of the UK, Mr Johnson replied: “We’ve got a deal; it’s a great deal: We’re out.”

Here at home, political oddities include the rise of Sinn Féin to dominant party, according to the latest opinion polls.

That is a situation it has not enjoyed since it won 73 seats in the Westminster general election of December 1918. Hence the decision by RTÉ to include party leader Mary Lou McDonald in the leaders’ TV debate on Tuesday night.

Even more odd, at a local level, is the decision by Fine Gael to take down 100 posters featuring Pa O’Driscoll, one of its candidates in Cork East, apparently because they were on the wrong side of the constituency.

Odd or not, it looks like Samuel Johnson, the English critic, biographer, essayist, poet, and lexicographer, and one of the greatest figures of 18th-century life and letters, may have got it wrong. He made his remark by way of a critique of The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, a book by the Irish writer and clergyman, Laurence Sterne.

“Nothing odd will do long. Tristram Shandy did not last” may be one of the greatest critical misjudgments in English literature, as Tristam outlasted most of Dr Johnson’s own writings and is still in print.

In 2013, it was elevated to sixth in The Guardian’s list of 100 great novels and, in 2018, the newspaper declared it “one of the most inventive, idiosyncratic, funny, and deliciously conversational novels ever written”.

By that account, we are destined to see a lot more of Boris, Donald, and Mary Lou and to witness their further progression — odd or not — for some time to come.

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