There are many things to say about the UK election last week, and so far commentators have said many of the smart and insightful things and some of the out-of-left-field things. I want to comment on some key differences between the personalities in the UK’s 2019 election and in the upcoming US 2020 election. This cuts against the general grain of the commentary, I think, by suggesting that there are important differences as well as important similarities in play.
Johnson is not Trump, except on partisan Twitter. Johnson, it seems to me, is a ruthless and clever politician who sometimes disguises himself as a buffoon. Underneath the disguise he is, yes, ambitious, but also smart and with a will to carry out his party’s program. Trump, on the other hand, is a buffoon who would like to disguise himself as a ruthless and clever politician, but it’s not in the nature of a buffoon to be able to pull it off. His political program, such as it is, is so divorced from traditional Republican policy and from consensus views about what is in America’s interest as to defy any real explanation outside of Trump’s personality. Thus I think that even for people on the left, a Trump victory in 2020 would be much worse for the US than Johnson’s victory may seem to be for the UK.
Corbyn is not Sanders, either. (I make this comparison rather than a comparison between Corbyn and any of the other Democratic contenders because the vibe of Corbyn supporters seems most like the vibe of Sanders supporters in the US). A Labour majority would have been able to put Labour’s hard left platform into law, but in our system there is essentially no chance that our new socialists would be able to do the same. And while Sanders is uncomfortably close to the new antisemitism on the left, via his association with figures such as Linda Sarsour, he himself is not in the same class as Corbyn, who has spent a political lifetime on the “dotty left” naively supporting groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. (I should add that Trump has a more traditional kind of antisemitic tendency, giving speeches to Jewish audiences that feature traditional antisemitic comments about Jews and money and their supposed dual loyalty, and connecting himself with extremist Christians such as the pastor who calls the impeachment proceedings a “Jew coup”).
It’s right to think seriously about whether the UK elections have any lessons for the upcoming US elections, but I think it is also important not to carry parallels too far.