What we have in both cases are examples of anti-meritocracy. Both men have achieved office not despite their flaws but because of them. To their supporters, obnoxious sexism is a positive qualification, as it’s fighting against the “PC brigade.”
We can see this more clearly by contrasting both to Lord Adonis. The judgments of a man who rose from a humble background through hard work and intellect should are devalued, we are told, because he’s one of the elite. Just as boorishness is a virtue, so intellect is a vice.
I’m not making a partisan point here. I for one would have no objection to a rightist being appointed to the OfS if s/he were someone of ability and character. And of course, we see a similar thing on the left: you can all think of second-raters who are lionized simply because they rant about neoliberal economics.
In this context, Janice Turner’s claim that Mr Young’s obnoxiousness is an act misses the point. Why does someone wanting to achieve prominence do so by acting the charmless buffoon rather than sophisticated intellectual?
There have always been many mechanisms which select against ability. The culture wars have exacerbated these: ability and character don’t matter, as long as someone is on the right side.
Insofar as neoliberalism is a real thing rather than a boo-word, one of its features is the celebration of wealth, power and fame – howsoever achieved – and devaluation of what MacIntyre called the goods of excellence. In this sense, the rise to prominence of Trump and Young are characteristics of the neoliberal era.
How costly is this? Anyone who values social mobility will deplore it. It’s hard to imagine anybody from a working class background succeeding by following the Young-Trump-Johnson route; you’ve got to be posh to be anti-elitist.
Personally, though, I’m not much troubled by this. Like Young’s dad, I’ve never found the prospect of a meritocracy attractive.
In fact, there might even be something to be said for anti-meritocracy. It’s possible that Trump’s character flaws will prevent him using his presidency to do great irreversible damage, and they might even eventually discredit his policies: imagine if somebody of ability had his agenda.
And it’s possible that the knowledge that success in politics and the media requires obnoxiousness, self-promotion and a wealthy background and the right backers will deter good people from entering them. Whilst this would degrade public life, it would improve the talent pool available to other occupations and save good people from being disappointed; the embittered old hack is a fate to be avoided. Those of us who are comfortably off can safely tend our gardens and ignore the imbecilities of elite politics.
Whether we want an anti-meritocracy or not, it’s what we’ve got. The question is how to make the best of it.