A year ago I wrote here: “Amid all the apocalyptic gloom, there is a chance – just a chance – that 2015 will be remembered as the year things started to get better. The year the world looked over the edge into the abyss … and stepped back.”
Oh dear. I could hardly know then that the popular response to reaching the cliff’s edge would not be a mere step forward, but an enthusiastic leap.
I wasn’t predicting Brexit, or a Trump presidency, but then, who was? I did, in fact, describe Trump exactly 12 months ago as “frontrunner” – because that’s what the polls said at the time – but I never imagined that would last.
History is full of events, characters and direction changes that appear inevitable in hindsight but were unpredicted, unpredictable, beforehand. I fear 2016 was one such landmark year.
Not that I entirely believe all the talk – dangerous talk – about the rise of “populism”.
Why should racism, sexism, nationalism, war-mongering violence be any more popular, or “populist”, than more valuable values?
I’m pretty sure they’re not. The danger is that the nasty parties, having achieved slender, even debatable, victories, have taken not only power but dominance of the public debate. To criticise, even to question, their position as victors is to be shouted down, belittled, threatened.
They claim to be “the people”, as if everyone else weren’t people. But to describe the self-styled “alt-right” (a.k.a. fascists) as populist is an insult to the populace.
It’s worth remembering that Hillary Clinton, for all her considerable faults, actually got 2.9million more votes than Donald Trump.
And that however much the government – and, shamefully, the supposed opposition – may talk of “a clear mandate” or “the will of the people”, only about a quarter of the British people actually voted to leave the European Union.
It wasn’t the people that got us into these fine messes. It was a combination of misguided leadership, misled electorates, and serious flaws of democratic process.
We are where we are. But exactly where that may be remains unclear.
Even one of the greatest of American thinkers, Noam Chomsky, appears to have had crystal ball failure. His thoughts are generally too sophisticated and complex to summarise easily, but I’ll try.
Before the US election, he said a vote for Trump would be “a vote for the end of the world” – or at least for the end of life as we know it. Irreparable damage to the biosphere, that frighteningly thin layer of soil, water and air that supports all life.
A few days after the election, Chomsky found a brighter side to look on. He suggested then that four years of Trump might prove so devastating for America in the short term that longer-term prospects for a different kind of leadership would inevitably be improved.
It may be a slender hope. It may also be the only one we have right now. But we know how inevitability has a habit of shifting its ground. And how unreliable New Year predictions are.
A 'healthy' demand for warplanes and bombs
Round about the time Boris Johnson was putting his foot in it by telling the truth about Saudi Arabia and its “proxy wars”, a business conference was taking place in Palm Beach, Florida.
In it, investors were assured that things were looking up. That the Saudis’ various adventures – and the Syrian war which has brought such horrors to Aleppo and elsewhere – were yielding what one company vice president called “indirect benefits”.
Bruce Tanner of Lockheed Martin told the Credit Suisse conference that events in Syria provided “an intangible lift because of the dynamics of that environment and our products in theatre”.
This is not a play. What he calls a theatre, the rest of us call a war zone. Which is precisely where his firm makes its profits.
Lockheed’s F-22 Raptor jet was much in evidence this past summer in the skies over East Anglia, despite its “stealth” label. Demand for it and the new F-35 is very healthy in the Middle East just now. Healthy in a business sense, that is, not in a health sense.
At the same conference, head honchos for other military manufacturers were upbeat too. Raytheon’s CEO Tom Kennedy reported “a significant uptick” for “defence solutions across the board in multiple countries in the Middle East”.
“It’s all the turmoil they have going on,” he explained, “whether the turmoil’s occurring in Yemen, whether it’s with the Houthis, whether it’s occurring in Syria or Iraq, with Isis.”
It’s an ill wind, and all that. And it’s not just the Yanks making a killing.
We may not share the Americans’ insane attitude to guns in our own homes and streets. But we still get a significant slice of our national income from making and flogging weapons for use elsewhere.
Britain is now officially the world’s second largest arms exporter. Which is why Boris got so roundly ticked off for upsetting the Saudis, now the world’s largest arms importer.
Doesn't it just make you proud to be British, and glad that we're "taking back control"?