Like a lot of people I know, I’ve been avoiding social media for the last few weeks. Not just in the spirit of new year self-improvement but out of a desire to avoid the panic of world events; to focus on family and friends and fiction. To stick to what is manageable.
A million people have written about Brexit, about Trump, about the insidious rise of the far right. As I watch more insanity emerging from the White House on a daily basis, I find myself wondering if this is what moderates thought as they watched Hitler’s rise to power. Did they stand on the sidelines, half-bemused and half disbelieving, thinking that surely people were going to see the cards up the magician’s sleeve?
2016 was a good year for me personally. I feel a bit weird about that; like Nero grinning and playing a fiddle while Rome burned. Brexit was devastating because the EU has always been as much an ideal as the actuality of what it’s become. I appreciated what it stood for – a commitment to peace. Negotiation and compromise.The freedom for people to seek a better life or at least a little more sunshine and sangria.
The majority of people in NI voted to stay in – but not by the margin there should have been. The staggering amount of subsidies we received; the peace money. The EU grew out of the aftermath of war and perhaps that’s why there was so much sympathy for our plight here. The EU helped rebuild us, just as it helped the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities in the UK.
Many of these communities voted for Brexit because they wanted something different. And although this was akin to punching themselves in the face by way of protest, it’s what happens when people get left behind. One of the lessons we never seem to learn from history – that inequality on a grand scale never ends well. That even when we think we have nothing to lose, we’re usually wrong – and we only figure that out when it’s too late.
But the other lesson we never learn – point the finger at a scapegoat – is proving just as successful. It was Jews in the third Reich, just as it’s Muslims in Trump’s White House. In the UK, it was ‘Schrodinger’s immigrants’, who according to the right wing press were simultaneously living it large on benefits AND stealing all the jobs. All this bile and hatred and deceit about making Britain great again while the real culprits are busy dismantling all the things that DO make Britain great – the NHS, our libraries, our education system. The things that gave people a shot at some kind of level playing field, however imperfect.
In November it was America’s turn to choose lies over truth. Soon France will have to look in the mirror and contemplate the state of its soul. We’re all failing and we’re failing our young most of all because they will inherit the earth or what’s left of it.
A fortnight ago, I went to a gig and one of the acts was soul singer Dana Masters. She spoke with pride of her family’s involvement in the civil rights movement in America and her frustration at the backward steps. But, as her mother and aunt pointed out, our generation tends to think that all the battles are over, when that’s so far from the case.
The freedoms we take for granted were hard won. We can’t be the ones who dropped the baton; we have to take our turn. We all have a part to play in making things better.