America, in stereo
The birds, now keenly watched by a housebound and event-starved populous, seemed to sing a little sweeter this week with the departure of human migraine Donald Trump from the US Presidency and his timely replacement by the personification of two aspirin and a short nap, Joe Biden.
The unwinding of Trump’s power, equally nullified by his supporters attempting to overthrow the country’s elected government and by a Twitter ban, reached a new peak as even a few Republicans voted to see him impeached. The fact that he would also be banned from running for office again, leaving the field open for other Republicans to take power, was simply a happy happenstance.
The longer story of the last four years will take more time to emerge from the obfuscation and denial it has been wrapped in. The US is often described as a divided nation. But it might be more useful to think of it as simply two different countries which happen to share the same location. They are superimposed on each other, each imperceptible to the other on a day to day basis. The two populations have different broadcasters, entertainments, authors, leisure activities, school curricula, religious expression and career paths. The UK and Ireland are closer to being a single nation than the two USAs, and as an Irishman, I do not say that lightly.
One country is more populous, richer, has a much better educated citizenry and is preferred by foreign allies. The other country is increasingly authoritarian, riddled with disinformation, has a standing army of ill-controlled militia and cannot win in a fair head to head electoral contest.
If we were to hear about a developing conflict between two nations described so we might expect trouble ahead.
Brexit promised us it would be yesterday’s story, but it was the foolish person who believed it. The UK’s break with the EU is more a historical trend than a news story and it’s only just started to play out. Everything up until now has been about competing narratives describing possible futures after Brexit. You could pick between them, to match you personal preferences.
The problem with potential futures, as any Austrian physics professor’s purring pet will tell you, is that eventually they all collapse into a single true present. You can have infinite possible things to come, but there’s still only one reality while you’re in it.
If the last 20 years has taught us anything it is that there will always be people and institutions eager to defend and protect power. But, if people wake up to find their fishing business destroyed, or their shop shelves bare or international use of their global financial services sector diminished by €6bn in a day, it’s hard to spin the utopian story out for long.
Everyone focuses on the bit of Schrodinger’s thought experiment where the cat can be both alive and dead in the box. It’s an exciting time and everyone can argue their favourite option. But it’s important to remember the end of the experiment, when the box is opened and everyone may find it always held a dead cat.
Illustration: Av Dhatfield CC BY SA 3.0
Later this week
Let’s try to have a special edition of the Gist later this week, catching up with what we know now about the Mother and Baby Home Commission’s report and what the next steps are for survivors of this branch of Ireland’s 20th Century Gulag Archipelago.