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To Meme or Not to Meme: Politician Edition

By Riya Sood, Contributing Opinion Writer
Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

It seems as though we might have found the next man who would be perfect to lead the United States.

He’s a world leader who trips children during a game of soccer in order to get the ball — sounds like the tenacity and dedication we need in this country! The last time he cried was when his beloved bicycle, nicknamed Bikey, was stolen outside Parliament — sounds like the sensitivity we’ve been looking for to deal with tragic natural disasters or gun violence! And he is so impressive that he got trapped in a zip wire while holding two Union Jack flags — sounds like the patriotism we hold near and dear to our hearts in America!

In fact he sounds almost too familiar. It seems as though the United Kingdom has Donald Trump 2.0: New and Improved — also known as United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

There have been countless articles written that compare the two men. They both have absurd-looking hair, they both are known for saying extremist or inflammatory remarks and unintentional “gaffes” that make people cringe, and the list goes on and on. It seems as though these men are trying to become memes half the time. I almost feel bad for Canada being stuck with Justin Trudeau for a second term instead of getting one of these worldly men.

Sounds like we should try to figure out a trade of some sort, right? Evidently these men are fairly interchangeable from the looks of it, so we might as well try to take the one who has some prior political experience. And he was born in New York City? Even better!

Johnson even has the extremist views that have become such an essential part of American politics. Who wouldn’t want a president who compares women wearing garments like niqabs and burqas to “looking like letter boxes”? Or one who refers to Africa as “that country” entering the “global economic system”? Or how about one who reads an inappropriate Rudyard Kipling poem in Myanmar’s most sacred temple? How could we ever doubt the current state of global politics when men like this are running the most powerful countries in the world?

It seems as though we’ve found our perfect replacement president — and maybe some people won’t even notice the difference!

And in some ways, we Americans almost want Johnson to be another Trump. If we are stuck with such a mess of a leader, why should other countries not have to face the same struggle? But despite his comical behavior and controversial opinions, Johnson does not actually have as much in common with Trump as many Americans seem to think.

He is not just a walking meme. More than anything, Johnson is an intelligent man — something that would be difficult, if not impossible, to say about Trump. A bookish child who attended the boarding school Eton on a prestigious merit-based scholarship and then went on to study classics at Oxford University, Johnson is a man who loves Homer and Aristotle, and has written his own book on Winston Churchill.

Furthermore, unlike Trump, who in some ways just fell into the presidency, Johnson has been orchestrating his rise to power for decades. He was a two-term conservative mayor of the liberal city of London, and yet still managed to leave office with an almost 60 percent approval rating. When he was unable to transition from being an unofficial leader of the Brexit “Vote Leave” campaign to becoming prime minister, he didn’t give up. He served within his rival Theresa May’s cabinet, then resigned and continued to undermine her leadership as an outsider in an effort to oust her so that he could finally ascend to prime minister.

Clearly, this is not the same brand of world leader as the one currently occupying the White House. No, Johnson is actually adept at seeming like an unprepared buffoon while accomplishing political goals in a strategic manner.

Sounds like we’ve got this man figured out! He is a funny, intelligent, politically savvy, extremist, messy-haired 55-year-old who makes Islamophobic comments and is running the United Kingdom. Seems pretty straightforward, right?

The problem is that people are constantly underestimating him, especially in America. It seems as though we’ve gotten so used to meme culture where we laugh at our world leaders instead of respecting them, to the point that we almost stop paying attention to their political adeptness.

In such dark times, it makes sense to take a step back and laugh at how absurd things have gotten. It helps give us perspective, it helps us cope, and it helps us stay happy. But especially in cases like that of Johnson, what happens when the laughter means we might forget the problem entirely?

Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.

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