Hundreds of us watched in awe as Dominic Cummings – the man who travelled to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight at the height of the first lockdown – tore apart the current government’s coronavirus response using… Spider-man memes? We live in a simulation and you can’t tell me otherwise because things are definitely glitching right now.
Over the past decade, there appears to be a trend in politics where powerful men create goofy & aloof public personas to get away with shockingly bad political decisions. Everything can be conveniently reduced to a joke, but we fail to notice that the voters are often the punchline.
It’s easy to look at Trump’s (now deactivated) Twitter feed and marvel at the idiocy. How did this man get into the Oval Office? I remember scrolling through his timeline, as if looking at roadkill – repulsed but unable to look away.
When the book Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House released in 2018, it depicted Trump as an oblivious presidential candidate, who neither expected or wanted to win in the first place. For a man who sought the presidency for three decades, this description could not be further from the truth. Yet this representation of him as a clueless moron – rather than a corrupt one – was a calculated strategy. It seems almost unfair to hold someone who didn’t want to be there in the first place accountable for what happened when he was.
We needn’t look all the way across the pond for examples of this either – Boris Johnson, a man with a £37,000-a-year Eton education also loves to present himself as a foolish clown. We are all familiar with the infamous photo of him hanging limply off a zipwire, the Union Jack flag clasped in each hand. This man who desperately needs a haircut has also somehow stumbled into the most powerful position in British politics. It really starts to seem that a certain trend is emerging here, doesn’t it?
Boris is not a good man and is by no means stupid. He could sense the shift towards populism within Europe over a decade ago and knew to hedge his bets on Brexit. This bet paid off, and now he lives on Downing Street with his *checks notes* third wife? Just like Trump, Johnson did not ‘stumble’ into his position, despite what he wants you to believe.
I’d similarly like to argue that George Bush knew the difference between Austria and Australia. The man who acquired the reputation of being one of the less cognitively gifted presidents in US history managed to get away with a slew of bad political decisions by appearing dim-witted. While we were all laughing at his inability to tell the difference between Sunni and Shiite muslims, he sent troops in to occupy Iraq, resulting in the deaths of 4,000 American soldiers and 100,000 Iraqi civilians. Ignorance is not the same thing as stupidity.
Aside from a general absolving of responsibility, these tactics also serve the benefit of giving these politicians extensive media coverage. As the saying goes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity, especially in the business of gaining votes in a system which prioritises personality politics over policy. These people aren’t stupid, they’re using stupidity to cloak their thirst for power, masquerading themselves as aloof, relatable and even endearing; giving newspapers something to write about. One study showed that Trump received nearly $2 billion in free media coverage during the 2016 election, more than double any other candidate.
All of these men have something in common – they have all contributed to the deaths of thousands of people. Be that through mishandling the coronavirus pandemic, the Iraq war or inciting their followers to storm the Capitol. These are not stupid men, their tactic of projecting bafoonery, a careful PR ploy, designed to let them get away with a lot of bad choices relatively unscathed; all the while accumulating more power and avoiding any repercussions.
We have all been gaslit into thinking that we’re being governed by a bunch of fools – they are anything but.
By Tamara Krivskaya