These days, for drama, there’s little to choose between Washington, D.C. and London. Each is the epicenter of a power corrupted by large, blond, bombastic men of qualities both impeachable and unprecedented. Each of the men has sustained wounds so considerable as to provoke their respective cities and the countries they rule into paroxysms of celebrations for a justice done – and anticipatory dread for a vengeance to come. Truly it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.
In London, Boris Johnson has been called a liar by a Supreme Court inured to his hastily assembled justifications for dismissing Parliament. They told him – and within her hearing – that he lied to the Queen when he told her that he was suspending Parliament an unprecedented five weeks in order to prepare for the next parliamentary session, and that it had nothing to do with Brexit. The leader of the opposition party Jeremy Corbyn has demanded Johnson’s resignation.
In Washington, Donald Trump has been called a liar by a Congress inured to his hastily assembled justifications for talking to the president of Ukraine about Joe Biden. They told him – and within their hearing – that he betrayed the American people, and that the American people’s Congress has replied with a remedy coequal to the evil inflicted, a remedy on a scale well within the scope of the treachery committed. The Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has called for Trump’s impeachment.
Boris Johnson has some tricks up his sleeve. He can turn around and dismiss Parliament again, but to do so could result in a constitutional crisis. It’s a perilous course and could end in the loss of his premiership. Getting rid of a British prime minister is much easier than getting rid of the president of the United States. He is prime minister by virtue of his being the head of the current party in power, and that party, given sufficient numbers and a will to do so, could simply vote him out. Or a general election could be called, and that party could lose its majority in Parliament and Boris would then be gone by default.
Donald Trump also has some tricks up his sleeve. He could veto every bill that comes out of Congress and effectively hamstring their function and frustrate their legislation. But this, too, could come at considerable cost to Trump. Many in America, including some members of his own party, will view it as Trump selfishly disrupting the function of government in the name of a corrupt, petty retribution – and they would be right to do so. It could even conceivably inflame enough members of the Senate as to convince them to vote him guilty when the impeachment process is handed off to them.
It is an odd juxtaposition, two supremely dishonest, debased, pathological liars at the forefront of scandal in their two respective English-speaking governments. The inexorable forward progress of events will undoubtedly diminish or destroy this accidental symmetry. But I cannot, nevertheless, see a glimmer of promise in these darkest days of destruction. It looks not unlike justice on the horizon that I can barely make out at this distance, but in the end, I see two beautiful cities and a brilliant people rising from this abyss.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.