Kicking the Dog

National moods of nastiness, such as I described – and hopefully exaggerated – in my last post, are usually tied up with widespread pessimism and lack of hope. I don’t get any strong feeling that the Brexiteers, or the Trumpeters in America, despite their great triumphs last year, are really anticipating a bright new future for themselves or their countries, even if their governments don’t renege on their promises; which of course is the excuse they’re already preparing for when disappointment sets in. Michael Caine – whom I admire more as an actor than as a political pundit – is saying that he’d ‘rather be a poor master’, under Brexit, ‘than a rich servant’, of the EU; which seems to be conceding half the case. The most the Brexiteers are hoping for is to be free of Brussels pettifogging and east European immigrants mending their plumbing and digging their turnips up for them, which isn’t the brightest vision in the world. (Some of them seem to think they can rid the land of ‘Pakis’ and straight bananas too, but that’s just because they’re thick.)

There’s no longer any real positive hope around, let alone the idealism which has fuelled protest movements in the past. People know there’s something wrong with the world, but don’t really know what it is; so they kick the EU dog instead. That’s what the Daily Hatemail is doing: simply lashing out. I know what’s wrong with the world – the perversions of modern capitalism, mainly – but the rich capitalists who own the press are hardly going to admit to that. Hence our national descent into meanness and malevolence.

It is in fact rather rare in history – in British history, at any rate – for no-one, anywhere in the political spectrum, to have real hope. There have been times when people have been far worse off than today, and even gravely threatened, but always with glimmers of hope. Capitalists have envisioned free market paradises. Socialists could look forward to their democratic revolutions. Liberals retained their hope in gradual ‘progress’. Christians eagerly awaited the second coming of their Lord. Blitzkrieged Londoners kept calm, carried on, and still had faith in their brave boys at the front and in the air. West Ham supporters could look forward to the next season. And all of them – remarkably – could have their different, even conflicting, hopes at one and the same time. (I wrote about this here last December – Take a look.)

Recent events, both in Britain and in the USA, seem to have confirmed that this time is different from those previous ones. Have you met an optimistic capitalist, or socialist, or even a Christian, recently? A Progressive, for example, who really thinks Labour or the Lib Dems can win? Or an American who genuinely believes the world of Norman Rockwell will return once the Mexicans have gone? (Well, maybe or or two; in the Appalachians, say.) I haven’t. That marks a real historical turning point. Unless, that is, Jeremy – and Bernie? – really can marshall the potential optimism that may be buried deep under the surface of our mean, nasty, Daily Maily, Breitbarty societies just now, and give some of us a reason to live in hope again.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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