Liz Truss: the Normie who plays the rebel

Liz Truss started her career at the bold start-up Shell. She joined Cable & Wireless, which was founded in a storm of risk-taking and rule-breaking. The year 1869. Your joker as chancellor never made it to become an entrepreneur or (unless we count a hedge fund boss) to work for one. Truss is a scion of the public middle class. Kwasi Kwarteng could not have gone through more stable institutions – Eton, Harvard, JPMorgan – if he had been interned in the Vatican.

None of the outsider testimonies, but the whole pose: Whatever is said about the two, they are of their time. A jointly written treatise, if it were honest, would be called that Move slowly and say things.

When did the normies start doing this? Since when has status and glamor graced the establishment? What happened to joining? Truss and her supporters will believe that the financial markets are made up of “tinkers” addicted to “groupthink” and “orthodoxy.” The more stock markets cramp, the more confident the government will be that it’s on the right track. I don’t want to go into the question of whether they are right. Rather, the point is their lust for dissent. Why are such conventional people so fond of doing the minority report?

Americans will know the guy. The most intriguing Donald Trump voters I met there weren’t the most extreme. They were upper-middle class in many ways – age, income, education – who had never been able to play the rebel before. What he gave to these country club and chamber of commerce guys was the glow of transgression: a kind of second youth. Again, I’m not saying they were misguided. I’m just reporting the joy with which they cocked a snook. So much turmoil in the West of late has been caused by the contrarianism of the mundane.

How do you explain it? Samuel Johnson got it wrong that men think less of themselves because they’ve never been a soldier. Yet the further a society moves from its final existential test, the more desk-bound and temperature-controlled the texture of life becomes, the more an innate human need for risk becomes unmet. And so it finds alternative outlets. The martial arts boom is one that Chuck Palahniuk saw coming fight club. Another is the spread of a kind of phony loner in public life.

Truss’ supply-side reforms are reported to be known internally as Operation Rolling Thunder. Taste aside – the name comes from a bombing raid in Vietnam – who speaks like that? That’s going to a Rage Against the Machine gig at 50. That’s a collar pop and a long drag on a cigarette. It’s iconoclasm as interpreted by someone who has never risked anything. She’s less bad at that than some of the friendly nitwits and pundits (note the low-stakes work again) who get her to ‘crack’ Britannia’s chains.

This stuff is new. The rebel pose of a generation ago wasn’t de rigueur in the mid-life bourgeoisie. You haven’t been blamed for your “received wisdom” about cocktails from men named Hank and Bob. For all their inner zeal, the Thatcherites were stylistically handed down. But then memories of war and other dark times were not so far away. There wasn’t so much boredom to seek relief. Or to prove masculinity. Maintaining civilized order was just as important as “disrupting” it.

Norms of Acting Differently: If I’m vigilant about this fraud, it’s because I’m committing the reverse. Someone of my taste and sensibility should live in Hackney, not Hampstead, but anything, some arriviste chippiness needs the imprimatur of an established neighborhood. My instinctive reaction to being smeared as “elite” is to blush at the compliment. (“Done it, Ma.”) A psycho-babbler would say it stems from the childhood fear of waiting for the permanent residency letter from the Home Office, then the naturalization letter, then the passport. No one shies away from joining a club to change the rug and burn the house rules. “Provocative, disposable lines,” says a former Truss colleague, Rory Stewart, who trades them in. I can imagine the grin: the sense of security behind it.

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Adam Bradshaw

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