I think Dominic Cummings is a smartarse.
He’s been all over the news recently, trashing the government he was once part of, and tearing pounds of flesh from the Prime Minister he helped get elected. It could be argued that his testimony was revelatory, in a “we knew that already” kind of way. It confirms many of the things, anyone who’d been paying attention for the last year, already suspected. One thing is for certain, his evidence to the health and science select committee, was a damning account of Boris Johnson’s negligent response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Side note. I hope Cummings’ critique of Johnson raises more than a few red flags for those faithful to our dolt of a Prime Minister. Hopefully it will make them look at their foppish leader with fresh, critical, eyes. Unfortunately, as blind allegiances is all there is these days, that’s about as likely as Johnson remaining faithful to his new wife. Johnson’s supporters, it seems, have hitched themselves to his chariot, and are happy to drag their naked king wherever he wants to go. Thus spake the binaries of a political landscape Cummings helped create. Us and them. Be one of us, and tow that line, or be a “bed-wetting” heretic.
None of that’s why I think “Cummings is a smartarse”.
If you listen to him talk. The tone of his voice. Those long sentences. Information heavy. Corralling. It feels as if he has the answer before the question has been asked. I don’t think Cummings is an idiot. Far from it. But I do think he’s a know-it-all. And in this instance, one with a narrative to sell. He’s cast himself here as a hero, battling a world of incompetence. The one with the answers. If only people listened.
Some take this “know-it-allness’ for genius. Personally I don’t see it that way. To me he’s just another smug smartarse. The way a first year undergraduate is a smartarse. The way Clark, in the bar scene from Good Will Hunting (1997), is a smartarse.
Good Will Hunting was written by Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and directed by Gus Van Sant. At its core Good Will Hunting is a coming of age story. Will, played by Damon, must come to terms with the traumas of his childhood, accept his genius, and earn the love of a good woman. If you haven’t seen it, you should. It won Best Original Screenplay for Damon and Affleck at the 70th Academy Awards.
The scene in question, the one with the smartarse Clark, starts on page eighteen of the screenplay, and finishes with one line of dialogue on page twenty-two. It’s part of the films set-up, and is the “meet-cute” between Will and his love interest, his good woman, Skyler.
Cummings and Clark both have the same paternalistic swagger. They’re self-assured. Certain they have all the answers. Possessed by the kind of conviction you only ever see in people with faith, or a privileged education. They’re the kind of people that go through life seemingly unencumbered by doubts. They’ve read all the right books, and retained all of the correct information. What neither of them have done is really examined that information they’ve read, reorganised those theories, and found something unique to their own understanding of the world. It’s all there in the way Will taunts Clark. “Do you have any thoughts of your own on the subject or were you gonna plagerize the whole book for me?”
It’s not hard to reason why.
These characters, one fictitious, the other real, both had privileged upbringings. They remain untarnished by the harshness of life. They’ve never known the kind of desperation you feel when deciding to pay your rent or feed yourself. Neither have they felt the cold that comes from not having money enough to feed the gas meter. The harshness of things hasn’t knocked the corners off their arrogance.
They know everything and nothing.
One thing’s for sure, Cummings has never butted heads with the likes of a Will Hunting. No-one has ever ripped Cummings open the way Will eviscerates Clark. I very much doubt if Cummings has ever been in that type of confrontation. Perhaps the closest, was the time Karl Turner cornered him “in the lobby of Portcullis House to protest at the aggressive language being used by the Prime Minister during Brexit debates in the House of Commons”.
Turner is angry, and all Cummings has in response is a smartarsed “get Brexit done”. Throughout their exchange Cummings looks lost, the way Clark is lost, and “searching for a graceful exit, any exit”. Both characters fall back on what they know, and continue with their smartarseery. I get the feeling Turner wanted to thump Cummings, the way Will calls out Clark, “I guess we can step outside and deal with it that way”. Turner and Cummings didn’t come to anything, but we can all guess how Cummings would respond. Probably the same way as Clark, when he “decides not to take Will up on his offer”.
This encounter exposes Dominic Cummings for what he is, a sniper, a griper, a bitcher, and backbiter. He is not a fighter.
And that’s why I think he’s a smartarse.