‘Let’s be honest, 2016 has been shit’ – The beginning of the British Green Party’s New Year message. No, really.
Let’s start with the obvious, unforeseen horror of David Bowie’s death. This should have been a warning, really, if you’re inclined towards magical thinking. The only upside to it was the outpouring of love and grief in Brixton which saw a sudden, unplanned street party and singalong that still honestly brings tears to my eyes when I see it. But we should have known then that the transgressive, unifying force of love for the other that Bowie embodied was about to take the worst kicking of my lifetime.
I’ll try to avoid discussing other celebrity deaths in this piece, that’s not really what it’s about, but I would probably be remiss in not mentioning Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan,, Victoria Wood, Prince, Caroline Aherne, Gene Wilder, Pete Burns, AA Gill (who I disagreed with often and profoundly but still enjoyed), George Michael, Muhammed Ali, Leonard Cohen and a ridiculous list of others. With every passing month there was another front page obituary which could not help but add to the sensation that the world we recognised was vanishing.
There were some moments of hope in 2016. Not many, admittedly. The Panama papers leaked, giving the world an insight into the rampant corruption we all sort-of knew was happening around the world. The first solar powered aircraft to circumnavigate the world. The USA and China ratified the Paris global climate agreement. The first proven vaccine for the Ebola virus was developed. The good stops here, though, and I’ve got to talk about the darkness.
Brexit came first. It arguably isn’t as bad as the other big political story of 2016 but it’s still disastrous. A lot of my friends, some younger than me, some relatively new to politics, felt repulsed and lost. They felt, I think, that the world they believed they lived in was an illusion. It’s interesting to me how much they all, bar one or two exceptions, leapt to the remain side of the Brexit debate.
Now I know that a lot of Brexit supporters roll their eyes at this phenomenon. They write off all the Remain voters as a naïve, liberal, metropolitan elite and, actually, I think this is a mistake on their part. The truth of it is that Remain voters are by and large involved with the world in a way Leave voters aren’t. There is a generation of voters who now feel disenfranchised, betrayed and furious with their treatment and they have no love for an isolationist world they neither remember nor care about. It’s been the habit of commentators to examine the Leave voters meticulously, I’d like to see some more attention paid to the fact that the people who are going to inherit the fallout of Brexit are never going to forgive those who stole the future from them.
Nevertheless; Leave won. The campaigns they ran were a disgusting, racist, toxic nightmare and even when a neo-Nazi supporter murdered a left-wing Remain supporting MP in the street they shamelessly carried on with the empty rhetoric of nationalism and race baiting. For forty years the repellent right wing newspapers of Britain had been screaming hysterically about the evils of the EU, nobody dared publically defend it and even Jeremy Corbyn, who ostensibly supported the remain campaign, said he was only ‘about 70% in favour’ of staying. David Cameron, the other half of the Remain campaign leadership, brought out banker after banker to announce the dangers of leaving and how much it might damage their bonuses.
Does anyone really wonder why Remain lost? And then the hate crimes began. An undercurrent of disgusting blood-and-soil nationalism was implicit throughout the Leave campaign, so naturally the racists took the referendum as a victory for their fucknugget philosophy. Suddenly Mr Farage is even more ever present in our media than he was before, constantly babbling crap about how those who do not support Brexit are treacherous scum, and the right wing press lap it up and repeat it. We’ve seen judges attacked in print for rendering a judgement, in a democracy, that the press did not like. We have a government so weak that they barely bother to mention that this is unacceptable. We have the disgraced, possibly corrupt former defence secretary Liam Fox in a position of what looks like power. We have Boris Johnson as foreign secretary. We have Theresa May as a prime minister. And the more they go on the more convinced I am that they have no idea what the hell they’re doing.
Enough. I can only talk about Brexit for so long. I have to talk about Trump now.
The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency of the United States of America should have come as more of a surprise than it did. Not only were the polls trending heavily against him, he was a monstrously awful campaigner by the standards of a normal campaign. I think we forget, in the rest of the world, just how abysmally racist America can be. It’s a paranoid, insular place with some of the most appalling wealth disparity in the world and a terrifying tendency to glorify in its worst aspects. Even more than Britain it refuses to look elsewhere for inspiration, when it seeks inspiration it looks only to its own past. Now, finally, its rapacious worship of the dollar, its cult of celebrity and its bigotry has reached its culmination; a man who has praised internment camps, admitted to sexual assault and expressed admiration for Vladimir Putin. If you are a left wing person still somehow under the impression that being enamoured of Putin is no bad thing then you need to read about Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov and the invasion of Ukraine.
He will be a disaster and he can’t bring back the world the people who voted for him want. It’s gone. Yes he’s a dangerous fascist and he should be treated as the pariah he deserves to be but for the next four years he’s going to be POTUS. Gods help us all. So much has been said about him that I feel anything I add here might be redundant.
So what’s to be done in 2017? It’s probably going to be worse than 2016, if only because Trump will actually take office and get to work dismantling the rights people in the USA have fought so hard for. Nationalism is an empty, vile creed that wins because it is the creed of selfishness, it is Adam Smith’s vile maxim; ‘all for me, and nothing for anybody else.’ There’s more to it than that, obviously, but I have neither the space nor the inclination to go into it here. It will have to suffice to say that internationalism represents the hope of humanity at this point, that closing the blinds and pretending that the world ends at the borders of your nation-state is not a healthy or good way to govern the world. We’re going to need to fight for this, but we’re also going to need to examine our own failings. The rate of homelessness has soared in the last few years, the use of food banks has become commonplace, a contempt for the poor has become the watchword of all of our political classes across the whole spectrum of ideology, and the poor are being seduced by the filth who will not help them but will use them as a stepping stone to power.
In the meantime, and more urgently, we will need to stand up against the casual cruelty of this blinkered, nostalgia-led fascism. From Farage, to Trump, to Putin, to Le Pen, the hope of the world is under threat. They are the past, shuddering through a final, convulsive last gasp, we’ll all have to be ready to resist them and repair the damage they do.