The 19th-century English writer Lewis Carroll was a keen observer of human nature in all its manifestations. In his book,, the main protagonist Alice meets the White Queen, who informs her that her age is: “…one hundred and one, five months and a day”.
“I can’t believe that!” said Alice.
“Can’t you?” the Queen said in a pitying tone. “Try again: draw a long breath, and shut your eyes.”
Alice laughed. “There’s no use trying,” she said: “One can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Fast-forward to the 21st century, and belief in the impossible is commonplace in the real world, particularly among the political elite in the US and Britain and their uncritical supporters. The sane, sensible and, at times, sedate manner in which politics is generally conducted in Ireland makes us ill-prepared to understand how otherwise civilised nations can tolerate the most outrageous shenanigans of their political leaders.
For four years, we witnessed the implosion of politics in the US with the arrival of Donald Trump, more a popular cult figure than a president, who led millions of Americans down the rabbit hole of lies, deception, and believing the impossible while defining reality as ‘fake news’.
Closer to home, we have witnessed this week on television the spectacle of the British prime minister insisting that he didn’t break strict Covid restrictions when he attended a party in the garden of 10 Downing Street in London.
Boris Johnson apologised in the House of Commons for attending a “bring your own booze” party in May 2020, during Britain’s first coronavirus lockdown. However, he insisted he believed it was a work event and could “technically” have been within the rules.
In some respects, Johnson is like Trump’s transatlantic twin. While he did not help launch an assault on parliament as Trump did a year ago, he has also subverted democratic norms, exhibiting the lowest of ethical standards. Both men have turned their respective parties into something akin to personality cults. Both have damaged their countries’ international reputations.
The wonder is that both men remain powerful political figures. Although Trump is no longer in the White House, he still enjoys huge support and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he could run for US president again.
Johnson’s premiership hangs by a thread, given the latest polls that show Labour well ahead of the Tories. Conservative backbench MPs now know Johnson is no longer an election-winner and are likely to be fearing for their seats. Yet some yesterday were tweeting seemingly vociferous praise for him.
It would be tempting to see if they get up in the morning convinced that he is honest, upstanding, truthful, sincere, trustworthy, and genuine. If so, that would mean believing in six impossible things before breakfast.