Why does Vladimir Putin bother trying to destabilise the West? It seems to be doing a perfectly good job without Russian mischief. Or, for that matter, Chinese perfidy.
Britain, divided over Brexit at every level from cabinet meetings to saloon bar forums, staggers towards an abrupt and unplanned departure from the European Union. Even as the political centre collapses, the Conservative Party’s right-wing isolationists, taking leave of whatever senses they possessed in the first place, cry “Attack!” Meanwhile, the Labour opposition, under an ineffectual and politically autistic leader, embraces a return to time-worn Marxist principles.
The United States, even more polarised, languishes under the increasingly autocratic rule of an ignorant, semi-literate buffoon. Now we hear that one of the few voices of reason in the White House, Defense Secretary James Mattis, has resigned, citing differences with President Trump. Chief of Staff John Kelly leaves next week. Nearly half the high-level staffers who began working for Donald Trump have left, some to face criminal charges. The swamp is being drained all right. It will soon be a desert.
None of the other leading western democracies, leaderless and adrift, are doing much better. There have been riots in the streets of Paris, against a government that has been in power less than a year. A German Chancellor has been driven from office, or at least has thrown in the towel to avoid such a fate. Would-be despots are taking over in the recently-liberated countries of Eastern Europe.
Such scenes of chaos, and their attendant threats to democracy, have not been witnessed since the advent of the Second World War.
No wonder stock markets are tanking. Wall Street, if nothing else a reliable barometer for the sentiment of national well-being, is now in a state of concern verging on despair. Those bankers and corporate executives, who cheered lustily last year when the President of the United States pushed through a programme of eye-watering tax cuts, even applauding when he challenged China’s restrictive trade practices, are only now beginning to understand the dismal complexity of the consequences. The United States deficit balloons alarmingly. A recession looms.
Presidents Putin and Xi must be quietly chortling. Soon, it will not be so quietly.
This dying year has been awful. Good riddance, one might say, except that 2019 does not hold the promise of anything better.
Theresa May will stumble on doggedly, ignoring the wreckage that she has left in her wake, until the inevitable day of reckoning. Whether her successor will be one of her erstwhile back-stabbing colleagues or Jeremy Corbyn remains to be seen. The voters are merely bemused, thankful for the distraction of a prolonged seasonal orgy of desperate excess.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump will continue to look into the mirror each morning and see the face of the saviour of the nation’s soul rather than that of the author of its decline into madness. Only Mueller can save America from two, possibly six, more years of mayhem. The Democrats might, if they can find a presidential candidate who has not yet gone well beyond the biblical age of three-score-years-and-ten. So far the probable candidates are all older than this 76-year old writer. Still, anything, even a geriatric leader, would be better than what we have.
I am making no predictions for the coming year. There are no solid, rational grounds for making any, other than a Micawber-ish hope that ‘something will show up’.
Perhaps something will. So far I can’t see what it might be.
Happy holidays, everyone, and here’s to a healthy, safe and constructive New Year.