Will the new year, twenty-four hours away as I write, possibly be as bad, or, depending on your point of view, better than its predecessor?
It can hardly be either, almost by definition, since what was sowed in 2016 will be reaped in 2017.
Six months ago frustrated Britons voted to leave the European Union; this coming year Brexit, as we have come to call it, will be formally implemented, a vexing process that optimists say will take two years, and pessimists claim could take ten.
Two months ago American voters bizarrely elected Donald Trump to the White House; this year he will occupy it.
Now, as the Americans like to say, the rubber is about to meet the road on both sides of the Atlantic.
My feelings of trepidation, verging on alarm, manifested in the last six months of 2016, remain unresolved.
My objection to Brexit was, in part, that it represented a leap into the unknown, a business decision reached without the benefit of a business plan – not the kind of business decision that I would have made in my glorious career in commerce. Negotiations with the EU might, of course, go better than expected. They also might go horribly wrong. There is no way of telling, which means that, while we can all hope for the best, we must equally plan for the worst. Some business plan!
Brexiteers remain curiously both fearless and triumphant, dismissing their doubt-filled opponents as voracious consumers of sour grapes. Why they feel so vindicated I can’t imagine. It is true that nothing bad has happened to the British economy so far, as they never cease to crow, but then nothing has happened to make it so. The consequences of Brexit will not be known for years to come – how many years being one of the many unanswered and unanswerable questions.
As for the potential of a Trump presidency, even more remains unfathomable. That the man is shallow, flip, inarticulate, and inexperienced to a degree unknown in the whole history of American presidential politics is a roster of charges that is unanswerable. I have heard Americans who distrust and fear him of late express the hope that he will be a surprise package, the man from nowhere who becomes a great leader. It happens in western films. I doubt that it can in Washington – though by Jiminy, I hope they are right and I am wrong. All I know is what I heard issuing from his mouth during the campaign, and what, since, can be discerned from his cabinet picks. On neither basis am I reassured. The latter in particular, since it is now clear that for the next four years, America will be run by a largely white, male, reactionary, confrontational gaggle of billionaires, split evenly between climate-change sceptics and religious zealots.
Hardly, one can’t help feeling, the kind of people who We The People would normally choose to represent them.
There may well be more to come of this populist uprising, or however it is to be known. France, the Netherlands and Germany, all hold general elections in 2017. My guess is that the respectable right will win in France; that the Dutch will hold out for something better than Wilders; and that Merkel will hold on in Germany. But there will be no resolute predictions from me. Once bitten, twice shy.
I am not a Jeremiah by nature, but the short-term prospects fill me with dread, though dread of what I’m unable to articulate.
I was considering a ‘dry’ January, a state of self-denial in which many of my friends righteously, and in most cases pointlessly, indulge.
Not this year for me. I have a feeling I’m going to need a drink, even before the month is out.