Many people on social media have admitted to feeling immense, almost disproportionate anger at Cummings’s performance in the Garden of Number 10 yesterday. It has surprised them that they could still get so upset by this kind of political theatre of the absurd and tragic. His absurd lying amid so many peoples’ tragedies. I was trying to work out why my feeling about it was more one of resignation than even indignation. I watched at my desk on my phone while continuing to work. I kept thinking of course he will get away with it. Even as he clearly lied. As his body betrayed him with his awkward scratching and averting of eyes: looking down and to the left. Even as absurdity was piled on absurdity. We know them all by heart now. I assumed he would escape. Writing on the evening after, he seems to have done so. There may be a backlash that is sufficient to topple him, but I doubt it because narcissism is the dominant psychological state governing both the UK and the US amid this pandemic.
There are probably more narcissists in politics than in other walks of life. I believe this and I believe that lots of people in politics are interested in the public good. Narcissists can be immensely public spirited, they can be generous, they can live lives that add to the sum of human happiness. But to do this they need others on whom they can feed. Others who will be the believers. Who can verify their vision of the truth, the uniqueness of their goodness. That is perhaps why so many go into and are good at politics and the arts. They find stages on which to express their truths and they find audiences who will feed them in their belief that this truth is at once real and universal. Writers of course communicate this in novels and books of acute personal revelation. They do not think of the consequences of these actions on those they include in their perpetual retelling of the self, ever greater exposure of the private and in the intimate, in the name of the truth of their art. They hurt fewer people, usually their immediate family, children, lovers, partners, and they do not make or break the fate of once great nations.
When one narcissist reaches the top of politics, propelled by the crowd, the votes, the self-belief, the articulation of a truth, they can destroy entire generations.
Imagine having two.
The narcissist is not deploying a will to power because of the force of their genius. That is only what they think they are doing. They believe that their truth is universal and is therefore the truth. In Cummings’s case this means a reading of the science of causation which when applied to politics had a string of successes accredited to it. The referendum. Johnson’s election as leader. The General Election. So his truth became the truth. When he falls, and his political career like all political careers, will end in failure, he will not acknowledge this. The world will have failed while he will continue to speak truth to power, to people and to the Durham police. We will have collectively failed to be good enough to be governed by his genius. His kind of narcissism does not so much seek to bend reality to his world view, that would imply at least some consciousness of objective reality. For this kind of narcissist his truth is the same as reality. Humanity cannot fail but let him down because the rest of us live in the mess of actual reality.
Johnson’s narcissism has a different relationship to reality. His is the more subtle form of narcissism that is based on his manifest destiny. This allows for wrong turns, for lapses of judgment. The writer of this kind might decide that all her early novels were trash and she will never tell a story again so that her new work of self revelation can triumph. There is flexibility here, the admission of mistakes. That can be allowed because in the end fate will rescue our hero so he can finish his journey or least write the best memoir about it. Advent is a necessary precursor to resurrection. Reality for this kind of narcissist is something that needs to be outsmarted, out run, out blustered. If you talk for long enough and loudly enough, eventually the wagon upon which you could hitch your star will pass. And the rest will be history. As long, that is, you keep hitched to that wagon. And make sure you write that history.
Two different kinds of narcissists are now locked in a slow dance to death in Number 10. A union of narcissists wielding power. Brecht would have written an opera about it if he had been here. This is a fusion of psychic dependency, which cannot be broken by reason, or public opinion. If the narcissists are to have limits placed on their power they must encounter non-believers. Those who do not drink their kool aid. The problem with our current government is that the PM was made by the kool aid that Cummings has been selling. His own kind of narcissism means that he cannot allow an admission of failure on the part of his familiar. The source of the power of his own magic. Johnson had probably got about as far as he could have before the referendum dropped in his lap. Hedging to see which truth to follow, he took the winning side and discovered Cummings.
So now we see the interdependence of these two. Their truths intertwined, codependent, fused. A marriage of two narcissists must be a kind of living hell but one from which you cannot escape unless you escape together or one betrays the other. That is the only way this ends. If Johnson is seriously challenged for the leadership of the Conservative Party, or loses an election, Cummings will be blamed. Cummings will be fine with that. Johnson was not good enough. As for Johnson, I suspect, the turn will one day be complete. Cummings will become the alibi for the lack of greatness. If only he had not put his trust in Cummings, it would have been different. He will write many books of memoirs and eventually he will emerge as the saviour, if only, in his own imagination.