2 November 2018

American v British politics

You have to pass a driving test before you are allowed to drive a car, but you don't have to know the first thing about politics to have a say in who gets to run a country (any country where governments are elected). Which leads to the kind of situation we see in the US, where candidates get elected because they have been born again (there's one born-again every minute), or because they are the one to come up with the best one-liners in the televised debate (written for them, of course, by a team of highly-paid script-writers, copywriters, PR experts, psychologists and astrologers).

There are major differences between the US and Britain when it comes to electing political leaders. In the US, candidates garner support by drawing the public's attention to how rich, successful, experienced and terrific in general they are. This gives narcissistic psychopaths a natural edge on their rivals, of course.

In Britain, candidates get support by expressing humility, modesty, and self-effacement. For a British politician to say: "When I am elected Prime Minister..." would be political suicide. It would be seen as arrogant and presumptuous. People would say: "Who does he think he is?" In the US, by contrast, any politician running for office who used the phrase: "If I am elected..." would be seen as weak, dithering and lacking in self-confidence.

Positivity is one of the most highly rated qualities in American politics, and in American society at large. "Yes, we can!" said Barack Obama when he was running for office, and people believed him because he said it with so much sincerity and conviction. How could you not vote for a politician who could fake sincerity and conviction that convincingly?

One of the reasons Trump was elected was because he was rich. American voters like politicians who flaunt their wealth. It doesn't matter how or where they acquired their money, the important thing is that they have millions of dollars in the bank. Anyone who has millions of dollars in the bank is automatically considered good presidential material in the US.

The fact that Trump was famous from - among other things - his reality TV show also gave him a major boost. Americans like their celebrities, even when they're crooks. Billy the Kid, Bonnie and Clyde, Al Capone and various other nefarious characters throughout American history were feted like movie stars in their day. If Al Capone had run for president, he'd almost certainly have been elected. Not going into politics was his biggest mistake. Politics is the safest place to be in America if you're a gangster.

In Britain (and the rest of the civilised world), flaunting one's wealth is considered to be in appallingly bad taste. A British politician would never become Prime Minister if he or she let it slip that they were members of the fat cats club. Everyone knows they're rolling in it, of course; but as long as they don't draw attention to their wealth, voters are prepared to turn a blind eye. It isn't their their fault, after all, that they own three mansions and half of Buckinghamshire. Having money is a bit like having a lunatic aunt in the family. Nobody minds, as long as you keep her locked away in a secure asylum (as the Queen did with her two mad cousins).

British politicians even have a set of stock evasive answers memorised in case they're ever accused by a left-leaning interviewer of being rich.

Q: "Is it true that you're a millionaire?"

A: "Well, ha ha! I can't imagine where you got that idea..."

Q: "But are you, in fact, a millionaire?"

A: "If I am, my bank manager will be very pleased to hear it! Ha ha!"

Q: "But you are exceedingly rich, aren't you?

A: "If you say so! I don't know which dodgy tabloids you've been reading, but the reason I'm here today is..."

American election candidates, on the other hand, are eager to let everyone know how much money they have...

In American politics, family ties are important, and politicians aspiring to high political office do not hesitate to wheel out their wives, children, and family pets for "media opportunities" during election campaigns.

In Britain, the families of politicians are regarded as a liability and an embarrassment, and are kept out of sight until after the elections have taken place. (Tony Blair was a notable exception to this rule; which just goes to prove how sensible a rule it is.)

In the US, leadership contests are settled by the televised equivalent of a shoot-out at the OK corral. In Britain, the dilemma for would-be replacements is to make it abundantly clear to all and sundry that they want the top job and are prepared to kill to get it, while at the same time being careful not to express anything other than sincere and wholehearted support and admiration for the person whose job they are after.