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Boris Johnson, like so many other populist charlatans, is a symbol of all that has changed in modern politics, for the worse.
But first, here are three new stories from Atlantic.
Over the past few days, watching the final collapse of Boris Johnson’s career, I thought of John Profumo.
Who, you say? Exactly my point.
In 1963, “Jack” Profumo was British Secretary of State for War. He was also a married man in his late 40s who had recently had an affair with a 19-year-old woman named Christine Keeler – who was also, as was once delicately described, a “call girl”. That would have been bad enough, but it turns out that Keeler was also flirting with the senior naval attaché at the Soviet embassy in London. (You may have seen the 1989 movie Scandal at one point, which was a dramatization of the whole mess.) And then, to compound all his other sins, Profumo tried to lie when he was caught by the British tabloids.
Profumo resigned in disgrace. But that’s not why I think of him these days. On the contrary, I’m nostalgic for what Profumo did next.
After leaving government, Profumo made a choice that, in 2022, might be unthinkable for today’s generation of political opportunists: he left the public eye, repaired his marriage and spent the rest of his life in do charitable works for the poor. Twelve years after his resignation, he was invited to Buckingham Palace and honored by the Queen for his charity work. He continued to lead a quiet life and died in 2006.
Profumo was the model of a man who made a terrible mistake, resigned, and made amends as a good citizen for the rest of his life.
Which brings us, of course, to Boris Johnson, who refused to budge in the face of multiple mistakes and scandals. Finally, after the exodus of dozens of his ministers and appointees, Johnson called it a day. His resignation speech ticked the right boxes (he promised to stay on as caretaker and then help his successor), but like so much else in his career, and like the man himself, his announcement was graceless and egocentric.
He complained about his colleagues, attributing his fall not to his errors and lack of judgment, but to a kind of senseless panic: “The herd instinct is powerful and when the herd moves, it moves. He boasted of his own insight and added that he was convinced that Britain’s “brilliant and Darwinian system” would replace him, as if “Darwinian” were a compliment.
Johnson also took a victory lap to finalize Brexit. This is extremely cynical, because until power was within his grasp, Johnson ridiculed Brexit. As she tells in her essential book Twilight of democracymy Atlantic his colleague Anne Applebaum was at a dinner with Johnson just a few years before the 2016 Brexit referendum when he scoffed at the idea. “No serious person wants to leave the EU,” he said. “It will not arrive.”
In a way, Johnson was right. No serious person wanted to follow through with a single referendum won by a 52-48 decision, so the Tories handed the job to one of the less serious people among them. And when all was lost, Johnson always tried to hang on – a twitter user compared to the Titanic refusing to admit the iceberg’s victory, which raises the possibility that the Queen herself is embroiled in a parliamentary crisis.
As Applebaum noted in his book, Johnson may be a narcissist, but he’s also extremely lazy. Eventually, he gave in to pressure to resign. (He is still, apparently, planning to throw a big wedding party at Checkers.)
That’s how much things have changed. John Profumo resigned and devoted his life to good works. Johnson has quit and is hosting a wedding party himself before leaving.
The parallels with another narcissistic charlatan, Donald Trump, are obvious here, but Johnson and his clownish reign are a symbol of the rise of populist chicanery across the world. Johnson, along with Trump, Narendra Modi, Jair Bolsonaro and many others, is one of many wealthy populists who have risen to power by fueling resentment among ordinary people. This is the great danger to democracy in the 21st century, and it is the work of men and women who have no sense of decency or duty.
Good riddance to Boris Johnson, but he is just one of many.
Read all of our Boris Johnson coverage here.
- Brittney Griner, the American basketball player detained in Moscow since February, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking charges.
- James Caan, an actor best known for his role as Sonny Corleone in The Godfather, died aged 82.
- The IRS has demanded reviews of the rare tax audits that former FBI Director James Comey and his deputy, Andrew McCabe, received, and which some members of Congress have suggested were linked to Comey’s investigation and McCabe on Donald Trump.
Unstable Territory: When a nation fetishizes guns, says Imani Perry, no one is immune.
Brooklyn, Everywhere“I would rather have a dumber phone and a cleaner, maybe happier me,” writes Xochitl Gonzalez.
Work in progress: Derek Thompson asks, Why are the police so bad at solving murders?
deep shtetl: Contrary to initial headlines, the Jewish Agency in Russia has not been shut down, reports Yair Rosenberg. But the repression of Jews in the country is real.
Cities are not made for children
Story of Stephanie H. Murray
To the east of Amsterdam’s city center is Funenpark, a quiet little neighborhood in the shape of a triangle. Its edges are lined with shops and public spaces, including a daycare centre, bookstore and primary school alongside a large playground. Dotted around the enclave, apartment buildings sit amid patches of grass that merge into smooth stone walkways. There are no courtyards or private driveways in Funenpark, and no cars. On a beautiful afternoon in early June, I left my daughters at the jungle gym with their dad while I rode my bike.
Read the article completely.
Lily. “King of the River” – a poem published in Atlantic in 1970 – deals with the Pacific salmon, a creature with a dramatic life cycle.
look. The new Minions movie, in theaters now, will probably put a smile on your face, as long as you don’t think too much about it.
Play our daily crosswords.
Speaking of Boris Johnson, if you’re looking for views on British politics that might surprise you, I have a recommendation. We often rely on former presidents of the United States for their experience and insight (well, with the exception of Donald Trump, who we might rely on to respond to a subpoena at some point). My favorite source for such advice is the 37th President, Richard Nixon, who, contrary to vicious rumors, is still alive and tweeting like @dick_nixon, as well as writing a column that you can find here. (There’s a rumor that New York playwright Justin Sherin writes as Nixon, but I just don’t believe anyone can replicate Nixon’s idioms and speech so accurately.) Nixon’s Twitter feed is a delight to read on a number of issues, and his political sense is undeniable: he predicted Johnson’s downfallamong others.
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Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.