These are fast and confusing times with technological, societal and economic change spinning our heads in all directions. Most of the changes are improvements, but some aren’t and sheer disruption is unsettling.
It is a psychological fact that in chaotic times people frequently allow narcissists and psychopaths to rise to the top of organizations, often faster than they do normally. Clinically the terms are almost interchangeable (not quite), but the differences are irrelevant here because Trump and Boris Johnson tick nearly all the boxes of both afflictions. It happens again and again in human history: the psychos rise to the top.
The fact that in turbulent circumstances humans look to and empower the worst of us is responsible for the majority of human misery probably for as long as our species has organized. Think of all the most terrible leaders and dictators throughout time and it’s hard to find many who couldn’t be diagnosed as suffering from psychopathy or narcissistic personality disorder. Both disorders are defined by recklessness and an obsessive will to put one’s own self-regard above the welfare of all others, even those close, as well as breathtaking dishonesty and cruelty.
The UK’s new Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is a narcissist straight from central casting and set to pour his country down the drain.
How did this happen?
They got into this mess in via a deeply strange and unpredictable path. Less than a decade ago the idea of the UK’s leaving the EU (“Brexit”) was seen as a lunatic fringe fantasy a few steps to the sane side of flat earth theory. It was an irritant idea put forth by a noisy bunch of racists and nostalgists so to put it to bed permanently the then PM David Cameron called a referendum hoping to silence the crackpots. It was the fail of the century.
So how did such a referendum pass, 52-48%? One reason was lies. The “Leave” (the EU) campaign’s spectacular dishonesty has been well documented here, but xenophobia was the core of the “Leave”/Brexit campaign’s fear tactics, encapsulated by the myth Leavers put about that Turkey would join the EU and 80 million Turks would “flood” Britain. In fact, Turkey was never, and probably will never be, able to join the EU but truth doesn’t get in the way of right-wing fanatics’ threats on either side of the Atlantic.
Thus far all EU citizens, but not mere residents, can travel to, move to and live in any other EU state by right: a Brit can move to Paris or Milan with no real paperwork and EU citizens can do the same in England. After the EU grew to 28 members in the last two decades several million Europeans – mainly from Eastern Europe (“Polish plumbers and Romanian fruit pickers”) moved to the UK.
Before the referendum in 2016, there was a sharp increase in the number of refugees and economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa landing by boat in southern Europe and moving to Northern Europe stoking fear in the UK they’d re-immigrate there. Few arrived in the UK, however.
The Leave campaign was partly funded by dark and Russian money; never let the facts get in the way of a good con job. In order for, say, a German to move to the UK, s/he must be a German citizen, which for a new arrival (from Syria for example) takes eight years and speaking German so none of those “hordes” would have been eligible to use Germany, the Netherlands (ten years of residence), Sweden (five) or Denmark (nine) as a stepping stone to the UK easily, assuming they even wanted to. Even for the unemployed, welfare is better in those countries than in the UK. That they’d want to re-immigrate to the UK in the first place was a big assumption as the data says refugees and economic migrants tend not to “country hop” after establishing social, occupational, linguistic and economic roots in their first port of call. So the “hordes of foreigners” touted by the British right-wing was a shocking lie.
There was also an obvious anti-black, anti-Muslim tinge to the campaign whose chief dissembler was Nigel Farage, a millionaire professional racist showman, and all-around con man. And another by-the-book narcissist.
More of the lies – bullshit at scale: for forty years the Murdoch press, particularly the newsprint tabloids, railed ceaselessly against the “EU Superstate”. Daily tabloid newspapers are extremely important to public opinion over there, particularly with older and less educated folks who resoundingly voted for Brexit. Like here in the US the elderly vote more. For decades just about everything that went wrong or caused pain in the UK, including the right-wing Tory party’s screw-the-poor austerity program, was blamed on the EU in Brussels by the huge Murdoch media machine. The right-wing Tory’s “austerity” policies were particularly horrible for working-class England but necessary to pay for tax breaks for the very rich. Sound familiar, fellow Americans?
Brexit was a very similar phenomenon to the American rust belt blaming a changing economy and de-industrialization on “elites”, helping Trump win. That truth, data, and facts all point to other causes didn’t matter: the Murdoch media and Tories spun this distortion of reality skillfully. Enough aggrieved Brits, battered by austerity, swallowed it and voted Leave, despite the fact the experts said leaving the EU would be an utter disaster, especially for the non-billionaire classes.
Even its backers, the Tories, though it would fail thus underestimating the wrath and broken spirits of “Little Englanders” who actually believed the clock can be turned back to Britannia Rules the Waves and a world map flushed with pink to represent the Empire. Ironically, they might actually lose one of the last scraps of that empire, Gibraltar (which voted 96% Remain), in this kerfuffle.
Now maximalist Brexiteers headed by a group of weird, incredibly rich ideologues, all with money in the game and often, second EU passports, look able to force the UK out of the EU with no trading deal in place, a probable disaster fueled by this crank group’s magical thinking and proven false promises.
Pretty much all the smart people in England – economists and historians particularly – are horrified at the turn their formerly respectable, the dependable country has taken, first with Brexit and now the formerly unthinkable “No Deal” Brexit which will damage if not bugger the economy. But people vote with their gut, not their brains and often believe charismatic psychopaths before actual facts and statistics. Pulling away from globalism and hiding under a tattered Union Jack will make their country more like North Korea economically, not like “Singapore in the Atlantic” as the Brexiteers promise.
Additionally, because it was so unthinkable to many, a large percentage of “Remainers” (those opposed to leaving the EU) didn’t realize that such a demented and self-destructive idea as Brexit would ever have a chance of passing so neglected to vote in a similar way many Democrats here (particularly the young in both countries) stayed home because “Hillary has victory in the bag.” It’s the bystander effect writ large.
Another cause of Brexit was the myth of the “Good Old Days”, a memory deficiency on behalf of the believer wherein there’s a psychological bias that in the past things were better, or seemed it in retrospect. Psychology tells us countries have “personalities” of a sort and can also be victims of delusions like the Good Old Days. Nostalgic, idiotic and often fake historical precedents were dusted off and paraded as being applicable today.
Brexit was touted as representing “Independence”: another lie. In the UK the EU accounts for about one percent of laws and government spending: a Brit can live his whole life and barely even notice any EU regulation, but the perception has been peddled for decades of a foreign Euro-Superstate crushing the indomitable British spirit, will, and independence. What a load of rot.
After this huge mistake, former PM David Cameron might be remembered as the only politician in history to wreck two international unions (the UK and EU) in one maneuver. Scottish independence, a popular ideal north of Hadrian’s Wall for a long time, was rejected in 2014 but that referendum was a vote to leave a united, fully functional UK. Two years later in 2016 Scots voted 62% against Brexit so all this may indeed be the final push they need to go it alone, ending the “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” (including Wales and Scotland for now) which was mainly established in 1707 by the Act of Union.
Similarly, the “Remain” (in the EU) majority Northern Ireland (56%), not wanting a “hard” border between itself and the southern Republic of Ireland with a re-ignition of “the troubles” of Northern Ireland may split as off as well and unite with the Republic of Ireland. The latter disaster is less likely than Scotland leaving the UK but nothing is completely off the table in the political crazy land this former world power has become.
To turn a disaster into a catastrophe, pursuant to the narcissist rising to the top dynamic, former Mayor of London and Foreign Minister Boris Johnson is now the Prime Minister. Mr. Johnson, a populist, is roundly considered a dangerous buffoon, a former (fired) journalist and bigot whose self-regard and ambition matches personality trait to personality trait his American equivalent, our orange narcissist in chief.
The two are similar in more respects than just their hilarious blonde hairstyles. Both are on-the-record racists, both leave behind them a trail of affairs, ex-wives, children or bastards, as well as long strings of former business or political associates and investors whose trust they utterly burned. To know either is to be ripped off by them or as one British politician anonymously noted: “Everybody likes Boris except anybody who has ever known him.” Johnson is a feckless, flippant moron with intellectual pretensions and Trump is worse than a moron, he’s cunningly perceptive, reflexively vicious and intellectually incurious.
The thing is with these mentally ill people: their defining value is self-regard at the expense of others, at the total expense of all others. They are cruel, combative, pathologically dishonest, and will tear down anything; a Constitution, a national and international union, freedom of the press as well the democratic heritage, power, and reputation of entire countries, all in pursuit of their own self-aggrandizement, glory, and profit.
Apart from a genetic component, a primary cause of both narcissistic personality disorder and psychopathy in humans is a childhood where the parental bonds of love have run off the rails: Boris’ early years exactly. The New York Times notes his “bluster [over] achievement, and a consistent disdain for hard work, probity or the truth.”
“We need a fighter, a rule-breaking bastard on our side” – is a Trump/Johnson defender’s refrain from the embittered, aggrieved right-wing on both sides of the Atlantic. But there is no “us” for the narcissist to fight for because “us” is always subsumed below themselves in priority, just as “the rules don’t apply to me” – another hallmark of the “dark triad” of narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.
The loyalty problem is a misjudgment people often make when falling for the narcissist or psychopath’s charm and often charisma. They are the worst humans and their mental illness is no excuse for their behavior, nor recompense for the damage they predictably cause. The soon to be dis-United Kingdom, severed from the greatest trading block in world history to be some kind of lonely Albania in the Atlantic is about to learn the consequences of the very human trait of trusting this personality type.
The UK was the top player in the world’s “A league”, the EU, and winning big time before this demented act of self-harm. Strategically, the EU must stay firm and has been incentivized from the start to give the UK a tough deal, if for no other reasons than hurt feelings (Europeans are humans) as well as to dissuade other possible national “ –exits”. So a bad deal was pre-ordained and the only thing worse than a bad deal is the no-deal option which, in his greater pursuit of personal glory an aggressive narcissist can grab. Come October Johnson (and friends) probably will and, true to his psychological profile, in doing so screw the UK ….royally.