It could be argued that the bucket list, in all its wondrous shapes and forms, may well be one of the more harmful aspects of middle-aged, middle-class humanity. It’s what’s creating havoc atop the most climbed bucket-list big mountains—Everest, Mont Blanc, and so forth—where the crowds are beginning to resemble the ones outside a Walmart during a 50-percent-off sale. It’s why Venice is sinking not only under the water of rising seas but from the weight of tourists wanting to see St. Mark’s Square before the seas claim it. It’s why Galápagos in the summer resembles Times Square at New Year’s. And it’s why two craven, upper-middle-aged opportunists have decided that the absolute topper in the bucket-list sweepstakes is running a country.
So, here we are, America and Britain, the two most powerful nations in the English-speaking world, with two bumbling bulls running amuck in the world’s china shop. Boris Johnson, the more learned, clever, and witty of the two, has never met an opinion he couldn’t embrace—if it meant advancing his career. Donald Trump, the more ignorant, vulgar, and ill-bred of the two, has never met a vile or racist statement he couldn’t embrace—if it meant advancing his standing with his Red Hat base. (This is not exclusive of his own vile, racist statements, of which there appears to be no end.) Both Johnson and Trump have marshaled disaffected older white voters in their efforts to drive their nations toward isolationism: Britain from the rest of Europe, and America from the rest of the Free World.
The absolute topper in the bucket-list sweepstakes is running a country.
Both men have an alarmingly loose engagement with the truth. Both men have somewhat shambolic private lives and an over-eagerness for the female form. Both men have signature hair: one, a yellow-orange frosted helmet; the other, studiously unkempt. Both are well versed in the writings and strategies of World War II leaders: Johnson with Churchill, and Trump with Hitler. At least one of those wartime leaders—you choose—would be appalled by his acolyte.
For the two current leaders, the collateral commercial interests from getting the top job appear to be heading in different directions. The Trump name, as a branding opportunity, is now toxic everywhere except for the most depraved corners of global-real-estate commerce. In New York, a long stretch of cookie-cutter apartment buildings along the Hudson River all once bore the Trump name in shiny oversize letters. In all but one case, tenants or condominium owners have voted to have the president’s name removed. Heaven forbid you own and want to sell a place in Trump Tower—the Reichstag of the president’s tattered empire. You can’t give apartments away in the building.
Boris Johnson may fare slightly better with regard to his outside endeavors. At least in the short term. Seventy-Two Virgins: A Comedy of Errors, the thriller he wrote 15 years ago, achieved respectable sales: 46,000 copies. The move to No. 10 should goose that figure considerably. The book centers around a terrorist plot to assassinate a U.S. president during a state visit to London. The hero, as Ben Macintyre describes him in his delightful column in this issue, is “a tousle-haired, adulterous, bumbling, charismatic, classically educated, bicycle-riding Tory MP.” With fiction and fact increasingly being merged in the minds of the two men, I suspect Johnson would be Trump’s first choice to lead the security detail the next time Trump visits the United Kingdom.