Bristling Brock speaks out...
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In BB's last blog there were some observations about the dangers of civil strife surrounding the new US President's inauguration and ultimate direction of policy. What could have been an ugly transition turned out to be something of a damp squib in terms of opposition and hostility. That must be counted as a bonus.
Here in Britain, whilst no major electoral change is happening just yet, there is the potential for civil dissatisfaction erupting on a number of fronts - social restrictions, vaccinations, priority lists, flood defences, universal credit, building cladding, overseas aid, defence, etc, etc. There is always a plethora of issues that seem to get folk uppity. The underlying question that is never really addressed is, "How much state intervention in your lives is good for you ?" and, conversely, "How little state intervention in your lives is too little ?" The essential issue seems to be that when things are a bit rocky and people start to feel the pinch, in their pockets principally, they moan that the government should do this or that or at least throw some money at the problem. That raises the spectre of increased taxation - for no government has an abundant money tree to provide funds for everything - yet how many of us would actually vote for higher personal taxation as a gesture of individual commitment to resolving big issues ? Very few one would suspect - the acceptance of personal responsibility and obligation to be a participative member of the community is a far distant concept under these circumstances. On the flip side of the argument, when life seems to be cruising reasonably trouble free, the refrain of pushing the state to withdraw from interventions in peoples lives is readily heard, "Get rid of all these restrictive impositions that stop us living as we would wish !" And, as an extra demand, lower our taxes even further.
There's no winning, is there ? On one level, folk demand more government interventions; on another level they demand the retreat of governmental interference. The middle ground is obscure and foggy for any administration that attempts to determine the accurate mood of the land - a mood so beset with rancour and simmering hostility in various parts of the country. Some of that must surely be a cultural influence, that shifting platform beneath our feet that tantalisingly hints at what our rights and freedoms and demands may be, a process that is getting more socially liberal with every passing year and, therefore, promising ever greater freedoms of action, choice, selective government help to suit, and so on. We are at a societal stage where many feel as though they have issues that affect them (and possibly a few others as well) for which government hand-outs and strategic actions are necessary and obvious. The BBC are particularly good at finding people to interview who think that whatever their complaint, the government should be there to dish out taxpayers money to rectify it. What a wonderful Utopia that would be, eh ? Yet our society has reached that level of expectation now. We have debased the notion of personal responsibility - all responsibility now is laid at the doorstep of governance - and we have equally debased any collective partnership with government to quickly establish areas of need and the best ways of tackling them - again, our cultural level is now so imbued with self interest that the very idea of a self-regulating society has long since disappeared. There are exceptions, of course, and may socially advantageous projects do attract engagement - regrettably, however, these are not the norm.
Government will never fulfill the role of being all things to all people - even the super state nations like the US display the fault lines in its society that we also have. The arguments are long and convoluted, but does it not come down to a very simple statement of evidence - that Western democracies are infinitely fragile and that social changes in the paradigm are progressively moving us all toward a less stable and less democratic life environment ? The real problem there is that most Western societies don't recognise that direction of travel...
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The events in the US over the last few weeks serve to remind us that our way of life in the West is seemingly a very fragile thing. Despite the clear peculiarities of the outgoing Trump administration, his departure from office has brought a picture of civil and social division across America to the fore. Many have fondly imagined that the Trump era was a blip, some form of societal aberration which will never be repeated. Yet here we are on the cusp of a new presidency and administration with a substantial number in the US electorate railing strongly against the fact that Trump is leaving office. How can it be that a presidency so marred by personal unpleasantness and a lack of civility, a presidency that has presided over what the rest of us thought pretty right wing in actions and statements can be so visibly and forcefully supported by a number that cannot be regarded as insignificant ?
The logical response is that there are a substantial number of Americans who do not fit into the stereotype of the American Dream. These are the people that have dreamt the dream but never entered it in real life. Socially at the thin end of the wedge, politically marginalised for years, working in environments where their employment has vanished and turned to dust without even a blink of a Washington bureaucrats eye. Until Trump. Trump, the most improbable champion of the common man, emerged four years ago into a job most would never imagine in their most fanciful thoughts he would have succeeded in obtaining - after all, he was stinking rich already, what did he need to add to his CV ? Yet arrive he did and in a style that no US President before him has ever adopted. Brash, arrogant and full of ego yet curiously in tune with many of the dissatisfactions felt by that vast swathe of common men and women. In a flash, Trump started doing things both politically and in real time action that made the Washington establishment cringe but which resonated deeply with the 200 million or more Americans who had felt ignored, left out, unrepresented and even forgotten by the smooth and urbane former incumbents of the White House. All of a sudden, here was somebody who did things he said he was going to do and do them against the grain of most former American presidents. Most of his actions have involved controversy - the Mexican Wall, the climate change withdrawal, trade and economic sanctions against virtually anyone he didn’t take a shine to, the Make America Great Again push to bring protectionism back into mainstream politics, and so the list goes on. Almost all his acts flew in the face of conventional wisdom - yet he was supported at a grass roots level by millions. Here was a president who did things the common man cared about, not least because most of them protected American jobs and focussed on the almost inbred fear of the American nation of either ‘Reds under the bed’ or ‘Terrorists under the bed’.
Ironically, until the blight of COVID, much of what Trump undertook has resulted in some benefit to those 200 million forgotten Americans - economically and in employment terms particularly. The 200 million were no longer forgotten. Now, as Trump reluctantly prepares to leave office, we might ask ourselves what those 200 million are going to do. The divide between them and those on the other side of the social fence is perhaps larger than ever. There is talk of civil strife, even of civil war. Weapons are being bought and amassed by thousands of Americans who never previously imagined the need to do such a thing - it is reported that there is a shortage of ammunition for all this weaponry, such is the scale of their numbers being bought up. Only once before has the American social divide reached this position - and on that occasion it left over 600,000 dead and with the divisions still largely in place. That must in itself be reason enough to make even the disgruntled think twice about such a course of action ? But America has never truly acted rationally within its own borders - or overseas for that matter - it has usually adopted the shoot first and ask questions later approach to any conflict situation and in doing so has created a mentality that tells the American people to prepare for the worst...so predictions of sanity when the blood lust is running high are not a foregone conclusion.
We all need to hope that the transition of power is not a powder keg awaiting the fuse to be lit. Whether we like it or not, the Western world needs a big brother champion, especially now in an era of adventurism and expansion by China and Russia. Maybe that’s a selfish reason on our part, but in cases like this it is truly a case of ‘size matters’ - and most of the rest of us don’t have it. Civil strife historically has changed little in terms of outcomes and it is a condition that America must avoid - for itself and the rest of the free world.
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Perversely, the turmoil in Washington has been something of a refresher from the endless and dire issues around Covid-19. Much as the latter is a vital and important issue to keep abreast of, it has consumed the time and effort of the news media to the cost of much else, not least the sanity of the British public. The almost final blast of crazy exhortation from Donald Trump and the incredible events (yet somehow wholly imaginable in the US) in Washington DC have flagged up the fragility of the Western democracies. Just how close to true insurrection and treason was the invasion of the Capitol building by Republican hardliners ? It's a question we might all reflect upon. Could it happen here in the UK even, if events continue to diminish the very freedoms that democracy portrays ?
Much is made of democracy. It's what the Western world tries to implement but in measured and 'flexible' doses. Nobody has the perfect system but it serves our cultural, economic, political and social needs better than any other form of governance around the world. For that, we in the West should be thankful, for life on the other side of the democratic divide is woeful and very restrictive. We may gripe and complain about this and that but on the whole we enjoy a far better scope of freedom and individual choice than is available in some of the less liberal societies. And yet ! On the very doorstep of the most influential democracy in the world, we see spontaneous anarchy, the rapid wobble of government, the uncertainty and fear that something beyond control is happening. Is that what we saw ? Was the US that close to some major constitutional collapse ? And if that was so, how was it possible for just a few thousand agents provocateurs stirred up by a notably crazy man to bring the very governance of the biggest free economy and upholder of freedoms to the very edge of an abyss ? Not only that, but in the space of a couple of hours...
The very fact that it happened does tell us that our freedoms and liberty's are built on relatively thin ice, that they can be attacked and interfered with comparatively easily. We've seen how foreign interests can raid our internet space with cyber attacks, hack into the databases of national institutions like the NHS and our electoral registers, how they can directly interfere with democratic elections and the placement of officials in influential roles, how they can with relative impunity carry out hostile attacks on individuals in the West, how they can disregard the laws and treaties of places like Hong Kong, the Crimea, and the South China Sea, how they can infiltrate political and social structures in the West to foment discord and subversive reaction - all in the name of undermining democracy.
So we democrats (with a small 'd') might imagine that the very notion of democracy is regarded as a target for destruction by those who have opted (mostly unwillingly) for an authoritarian and centralised government system. That emphasises a couple of thoughts. One, that the authoritarian states feel threatened by the freedoms democracy espouses; two, that the authoritarian states desire absolute global control to exercise power over all. Yet aren't both these thoughts counter-productive, though ? The first suggests envy, the second suggests that once they have absolute control, they have no raison d'etre, no markets, no nothing. Flip the coin and the West starts to lose its cheap production, its raw material sources and itinerant labour forces, without which the economic foundation of democracy founders. In short, democracy and authoritarianism are perhaps mutually interdependent. It's a gruesome thought, but perhaps how the balancing mechanisms work in this increasingly complex world we've created. With that thought, Donald Trump is but a mere pawn on the global chessboard - though we all doubt he would see himself in that way...
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