The year is not over yet, but it is not too early for this writer to categorise it as one of the worst in memory. Bad for politics, bad for the environment and bad for natural disasters – the latter two possibly related – 2017 seemed not so much to unfold as unravel by the month.
Three figures on the world political stage dominated the headlines, at least in this country: Donald Trump, Kim Jong-un and Theresa May. The first two, exchanging puerile insults that would have been considered excessive even in a reform school playground, revived fears, dismissed since the end of the Cold War, that the world might once again be threatened by a nuclear conflict: this one between two super-powers but between a super-power and a tin-pot dictatorship with a population smaller than New York State’s.
Trump, sworn in as president in January, after winning an election that most pundits – and to her eternal discredit, Hillary Clinton – thought he could only lose, proceeded in a disorderly manner to prove that he would be the most controversial and unpredictable in the history of the presidency.
Many observers chose different words: mad, unqualified, unfit, dangerous, narcissistic, childish and vile among the printable. This writer would not argue with any of them.
Kim proved to be more than a match for Trump, and not just on rhetoric, conducting one ballistic missile test after another, each one the biggest ever, so feeding Kim’s obsession to make North Korea into a nuclear power and thereby a force to be reckoned with. Trump derided Kim as ‘little rocket man’ and Kim responded by calling Trump an evil megalomaniac. Yah-yah, so there!
In beleaguered Britain, as commentators resorted to calling it, Ms May became personally the most beleaguered person on the island. Having called a general election to increase her parliamentary majority, she managed to wipe it out altogether, so ensuring that when Britain triggered Article 50 – the opening gambit required for Britain to leave the European Union – her negotiating position was so undermined that her survival was cast into doubt. Bets were laid, many of them by punters in her own party, that she would be gone by the end of the year, if not before.
She still occupies Downing Street, embattled and at times apparently friendless, at least in the Conservative Party, which, far from uniting behind her, engaged in Machiavellian plots to oust her. In the end, the plotters recognised that nobody likes a scheming rat and slunk back into their rat-holes – at least, for now.
Meanwhile, Trump revived the climate change debate by repudiating the Paris Climate Agreement, although the United States did not formally leave the club, merely threatening to do so which would be quite sufficient to dash hopes of further progress on that front.
As if to repudiate Trump, nature unleashed a series of Hurricanes (and earthquakes) the severity of which in each case was unprecedented. Harvey, Irma and Maria respectively wreaked havoc, respectively in Texas, Puerto Rico and U.S.-governed Caribbean territories, leaving hundreds dead and millions homeless. Trump, as expected, said none of this had anything to do with climate change. He deigned to visit Puerto Rico, only to berate the local authorities for not doing enough to help themselves, and for putting a dent in the Federal budget. He does not need Hispanic votes anyway, having earlier threatened to throw large numbers of Mexicans out of the country, and to build a wall – not yet under construction – to make sure they stay out.
The Middle East simmered away as usual, without boiling over, although the governments of Iraq and Syria claimed that they, with American help, had finally and for ever disposed of the threat of ISIS. At what cost in civilian casualties and property damage, they failed, for understandable if not creditable reasons, to bother to mention.
Trump – again – early in December poured oil onto the region’s troubled waters by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. He did so, apparently, against the advice of the Secretary of State and other senior defence advisors. This was hardly a random or unique event, since Trump has made it his modus operandi to ignore any and all advice as doing so might suggest that others know better than he does on any subject under the sun.
Back home on this isle, which seemed more septic than sceptred, and on which I happen to live, the country was consumed by the so-called Brexit talks. These moved forward at a pace set by a confused tortoise. Finally, early in December, both sides announced a breakthrough: sufficient progress had been made on preliminary issues that the negotiators could now begin to talk about the ‘real’ issues – the nature of Britain’s trading relationship.
The political right, including a sizeable and vociferous rump of Tory rebels in parliament, cried sell-out. Everyone else just seemed confused, or bored, by the whole thing, and lazily reverted to whatever opinion they had exercised during the referendum. May emerged with a hollow triumph, one that might keep her in her job for a while longer, but signally failed to ensure as much.
And so, as Churchill once said in an entirely different context, Britain keeps ‘buggering on’.
Natural disaster did not have the headlines all to themselves. In England in May a terrorist bomb went off at a rock concert in Manchester, killing 22 and injuring 100. It was the third and most effective terror attack of the year, following lesser but still morale-sapping fatal incidents on the streets of London.
As if not to be outdone, the Americans in October suffered an attack by a lone sniper at an outdoor music concert in Las Vegas. The shooter, one Stephen Paddock, was described, almost inevitably, as a nice and rather ordinary man – except that he had – also inevitably when that kind of description is bandied about – been busy accumulating an impressive arsenal of guns. He had nursed some kind of resentment against … there the question ended. Against whom or what was a question the police never did answer, as if establishing a motive would have explained the event which, on a varying scale, has become a daily occurrence in American life.
The obituary writers were kept as busy as usual.
We all particularise the lists of the departed. I was personally said about Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, rockers who had defined the Sixties for this impressionable youth, barely out of his teens when they were in their heyday. I suppose Sir Roger Moore makes my list, too, if only because he was James Bond, certainly not for his acting, which was as terrible as his ‘comic’ interpretation of Bond. For me, he came close to wrecking the series. Obviously, millions disagreed.
We also said a happy farewell to the mad Charles Manson, often described as a mass murderer, though he supervised others to wield the axes and knives employed in the dozen killings for which he was imprisoned.
And so, on to a new year, then, with the hope that it can hardly be worse than its predecessor.
My Christmas wish list for world events includes the following:
1. Trump is disgraced and resigns or is impeached (even at the expense of being landed with that lick-spittle Pence);
2. Britain decides to hold a second referendum on Europe, in which Brexit is overturned by a decent margin;
3. Israel and Palestine reach a two-nation agreement;
4. England’s cricket team unearths a couple of fast bowlers.
I travel hopefully.
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