"All the world's a stage, and men and women merely players"
In a year that has seen some of the greatest entertainers pass away, two moguls of the British and US establishment continue to go from strength to strength. Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are both manifestations of their respective societies, shaping their public image to resonate with the unassuming, disenfranchised public.
Trump's creation may admittedly have more cracks - specifically racist cracks - in the façade. Yet, the more he is criticised by the media and political opponents, the higher his ratings climb. Ahead in the GOP nomination by an almost untouchable distance, only an unlikely Republican hierarchy intervention will stop him from seizing candidacy. If this move were to take place in July, it would undoubtedly throw the party into a civil war that would spell catastrophe at the presidential election, regardless of who fronts the Democrat presidential bid. The party itself is in a lose-lose situation.
Still, despite his success, there is far more than what meets the eye when it comes to the 'straight talking', far-right billionaire. Donald Trump has donated to both political parties throughout his lifetime, and was in fact a Democrat between 2001 and 2009. Trump is a political shapeshifter that likely believes little of what he exclaims - hence the countless contradictions in his words at the GOP debates from what he professed earlier in his career. He deliberately expresses opinions that cause enough shock and coverage in the mainstream media, subsequently turning the head of a previously apolitical demographic. Those who have so publically opposed and scrutinised Donald Trump's rise have helped propel his campaign to this unprecedented level. The more media outrage and establishment disapproval, the more this disenfranchised section of American society thrives upon the hysteria of an out of touch elite.
Across the pond, Boris Johnson may not alienate and divide in such explicit style as the Republican favourite, but what the current London mayor lacks in abrasiveness he makes up for in deep-rooted popularity. On the surface, the most popular politician in Britain may only appear to be a bumbling old Etonian whose most immoral act was describing his £250,000 salary for a weekly Telegraph column as mere "chicken feed". However, this slip of the tongue is only the tip of a deeply submerged iceberg. The British public warm so greatly to this goofy persona that they choose to see Boris as this carefully constructed front, dismissing homophobic and elitist remarks in a manner reminiscent of Orwellian doublethink. The quote below, written just after Johnson's 2012 mayoral re-election, highlights the private consensus of the man beneath the floppy hair:
"Most politicians are ambitious and ruthless, but Boris is a gold medal egomaniac. I would not trust him with my wife nor -from painful experience - my wallet. It is unnecessary to take any moral view about his almost crazed infidelities, but it is hard to believe that any man so conspicuously incapable of controlling his own libido is fit to be trusted with controlling the country.
His chaotic public persona is not an act - he is, indeed, manically disorganised about everything except his own image management. He is also a far more ruthless, and frankly nastier, figure than the public appreciates."
You would be forgiven for thinking these were the words of one of a number of left-wing political opponents, perhaps an angry response to his second victory over Ken Livingstone. However, in reality, this could not be further from the truth. The quote is taken from Max Hastings, the former editor of The Daily Telegraph, who Boris worked under when Hastings was EU correspondent at the newspaper. As much as any left-leaning columnist critiques the incumbent mayor, you would do well to find a more revealing description than one from a man that has known Johnson for over twenty years.
Shamefully, I am unable to rule out whether I would be able to resist warming to this faux charm and eccentricity. I have not met Boris myself, but one of my former teachers worked under him as an intern at The Spectator. He once recounted stories of a maverick editor that would, Shrek-like, stick Neal's Yard ear soothing candles into his earholes and subsequently light them in a bizarre attempt to clear his sinuses. The whole brand of 'Boris', an image his former schoolmate David Cameron could only dream of, exemplifies the power that such 'Britishness' can have on an ever-increasing world of appearance politics.
Both Trump and Johnson, in their respective campaigns of presidential candidate and Brexit broker, are beginning to experience the inevitable cracks in their increasingly publicised personas. John Oliver exposed Trump's contradictions and fraudulent claims on the greatest scale yet in a video that went viral. Boris' appearance on Andrew Marr saw the charisma and entertainment of the rock-star wordsmith stripped back, exposing the man who had once basked in establishment chaos as a campaigner struggling to keep his head above the water.
Yet, crucially, none of this seems to matter. Both of these straw-haired sociopaths are too big to fall to rudimentary smear, continuing to fulfil the public's fascination with political mavericks. Trump has lowered the bar so significantly that there is nothing any columnist or talk show host can say to sour his reputation amongst his supporters. Boris also continues to outscore David Cameron in public opinion polls, as he has done consistently throughout Cameron's tenure as Prime Minister.
It is a sad reality that both these white, male, wealthy public figures resonate with significant sections of their countries. Trump, though unlikely to win a presidential election, exposes with his popularity the growing discontent of a faction of the white, protestant working class population that feels increasingly out of touch with its governing Washington elite. If nothing else, the opposing Democrat presidential candidate must address the discontent that is fuelling Trump's rise.
Over the Atlantic, Boris has been crafting and implementing a far more insidious campaign for power over a far longer period. Hijacking the EU referendum and turning it into a proxy leadership contest was almost Shakespearian in the way that it shook his old Etonian confidant's Bremain campaign and overall mandate. And worryingly, it is only the most recent chapter in the tale of a man that will stop at nothing to become Prime Minister. A story that is far, far from over.
Images courtesy of Simpsons pictures that I gone and done and Reuters respectively