News from Nowhere: Less Trust
With her clumsy rhetoric and her propensity for gaffes, Truss stands as an extraordinarily easy target for opposition politicians and opportunistic comedians.
Last month, the Anglo-French writer Celya AB described Britain’s new Prime Minister as resembling ‘the zany woman in the office who's gone too far’ or a character comedian who got stuck playing a satirical caricature years ago and who now just can’t drop the act.
Indeed, she has increasingly come to resemble a comic parody of a Tory mum, hollowly echoing the views, tones, and even the dress sense of the late lamented Margaret Thatcher. She tries to come across as a reboot of the Iron Lady in her prime, but she’s more of a windbag premier, a tinpot boss, Maggie in her later, more demented days.
She spews forth eager yet meaningless soundbites with all the empty bombast of her most immediate predecessor, and with that same notoriously optimistic disregard for expert opinion and hard facts. Like Mr. Johnson (and indeed like Mr. Micawber), she appears to develop policies with little consideration of the relevant evidence or arguments but merely in the vain hope that ‘something will turn up’.
Her proclaimed faith in the beliefs of those supply-side economists once so beloved of Ronald Reagan (but generally discredited by those weary of the relentless cycles of boom and bust) supposes that if one cuts taxes and regulations for the richest corporations then countless opportunities to generate wealth will trickle down to the toiling masses. Yet, her proposed cure for the UK’s rocketing rates of inflation – to inject more cash into the consumer economy – would have had the fiscally prudent Mrs. Thatcher spitting vitriol, or indeed these days spinning in her lead-lined urn.
Her understanding of macroeconomic theory goes way past the counterintuitive, impetuous, and unorthodox, all the way through to the entirely irrational and possibly insane. This is the realm of what her leadership rival Rishi Sunak called a ‘fairytale’ financial strategy. It recalls what in 2017 former Tory Prime Minister Theresa May famously depicted as a magic money tree. It is the delusional thinking of a knee-jerk populism of big promises and minimal strategic detail.
There is a degree of inconsistency amounting to a virtual divorce from reality in the new British Prime Minister’s view of the world. She has this in common with the previous incumbent of Downing Street, a bullish (and, for some, heroic) denial of those more difficult, inconvenient, and uncomfortable truths that do the work of government, favoring instead a fantasy version of politics, society, and nationhood in which the solutions to all our problems are childishly simple and staggeringly easy to implement. In this sense, then, Truss feels rather like a slimline Boris Johnson, or merely Trump 2.0.
Last month, in a particularly improbable intervention, the satirist and filmmaker Armando Iannucci said that he would like to ask Liz Truss whether she thought that the star of the long-running British TV series Doctor Who should be a white man. He pointed out that, following the casting over the last few years of a woman and then a black man to that traditionally Caucasian male role, even this ostensibly trivial matter had been ‘weaponized’ by elements within the UK’s Conservative Party and the right-wing press. While those papers denounced the programme's belated attempts at moderate pluralism as political correctness gone mad, one Tory MP even went so far as to argue that giving the part to a woman had led to an increase in crime among young men.
Iannucci suggested that such trifles had been deployed on the front line of a culture war that those reactionary forces claim is being waged between the traditionalist defenders of established values and the snowflakes of a generation of avocado-eating, woke-minded leftist youth. It is an illusory conflict that suits the metanarratives of those purporting to defend the bastions of civilization against the advances of a ruthlessly progressive phalanx of digital-native millennials.
These invented tensions represent both the latest raison d’être and the casus belli of the entrenched and intractable Right. This may sound irrational, even crazy, but it's pretty much the state of British politics today. With so much in the country so desperately in need of being fixed, this war cry against the woke offers a distraction from the government’s much more urgent and difficult tasks.
While it seems unlikely that Ms. Truss' time in the UK’s highest office will ever reach the peaks of absurdity attained by her eminently ridiculous predecessor, she already seems sufficiently risible to have inspired some of the most fecund imaginations in the British comedy industry with such fundamentally eccentric thoughts. For that small crumb of consolation, we might suppose we ought to be strangely grateful. At least we’ll have something to laugh about as our world falls apart.
Yes, her elevation has certainly been good news for the UK’s satirists and for British Labour Party. This overly zealous captain of the high school hockey team, this cringeworthy orator, is hardly the reincarnation of her idol Margaret Thatcher. In fact, she seems little more than Boris Johnson lite, a sop to the die-hard disciples of the blond buffoon, her shamefully shameless predecessor in a slighter and neater form, with less Latin but with a functioning comb.
Her victory speech itself last week was typically stilted. Her attempt at a joke about the length of the leadership contest provoked a polite smattering of embarrassed laughter. Her tribute to her predecessor elicited a mixed response from her audience of Tory MPs. When she unexpectedly described the UK’s Conservatives as ‘the greatest political party on Earth’, a surprised silence briefly preceded an orchestrated round of applause. When she pledged that ‘we will deliver, we will deliver and we will deliver’, she might have sounded like one of the nation’s finest postal workers if they hadn’t been out on strike at the time.
She stressed that she had campaigned for the leadership of her party ‘as a Conservative’ and that she, therefore, intended to ‘govern as a Conservative’. It was not immediately clear whether there had been any uncertainty over either point, but it was probably sensible to put any doubts about her political allegiances to rest and ensure her colleagues felt assured that she was reasonably committed to the party that had just put her into power.
Indeed, she had once commented that her left-wing father had always hoped that she was in truth a ‘sleeper agent’ for the socialist cause. Maybe she thought it was important at this moment in her career to emphasize that she really wasn’t.
She came across, as usual, as a bit of a klutz.
With her clumsy rhetoric and her propensity for gaffes, she is, after all, an extraordinarily easy target for opposition politicians and opportunistic comedians. Taking potshots at Liz Truss sometimes seems like shooting dead fish in a barrel, a barrel filled only with dead fish.
Yet the fear is, of course, that this barrel of dead fish might soon come to seem an apt enough metaphor not only for her premiership but for the state of the nation under her misguided and incoherent rule.
It would be wrong, however, merely to characterize Ms. Truss as a zealous imbecile in the style of her fabulously incompetent predecessor, for there is malice in her madness, and real dangers lurk behind her blinkered ideological vision.
There are sometimes certain signs of sociopathy to be seen in those who seek and attain political power, and it seems that, in the remorseless ambition that has brought her to this place, Britain’s strange new leader may share these traits. To live without conscience or empathy, without the capacity for guilt or self-doubt, must be profoundly limiting and yet also extraordinarily liberating. But the freedoms of tyrants – like the license of fools – can prove devastating for all those whose lives feel the impacts of their indifferent touch.
This is a new Prime Minister now faced with rampant inflation, a cost-of-living crisis, a collapsing healthcare system, soaring energy and fuel prices, the threat of a resurgent pandemic, conflict with the country’s closest trading partners, legal challenges to key policies, climate emergency, water shortages, war in Europe and in her own party, massive government debt, renewed calls for independence from two of the four nations that comprise the United Kingdom, public trust in government at an all-time low, and a politically progressive black Scotsman playing Doctor Who.
You’d have to be an idiot or a lunatic to want her job. In that sense at least, though sadly in no other, Liz Truss sometimes appears awfully overqualified.