Happy? New? Something?

Last year I wished you all a happy new year in a very downbeat message but I underestimated how bad it would be by several metric fucktonnes. What an utterly godawful year it has been!

The one specific good thing that I was hoping for actually happened. Donald Trump lost the US Presidential Election. In fact, he insisted on losing it several times over. Even so, that barely even begins to offset all the other awful things about 2020. Our American friends have a whole country to rebuild and Trump hasn’t even finished wrecking it yet. It looks certain that he will continue to do as much damage as he can right up until the very last moment. (Putin is really getting his money’s worth out of Trump!) Let us hope that he eventually faces a reckoning from the prosecutors in New York for state crimes that he cannot pardon himself for. Even if he lives another twenty years in prison, America will still be trying to repair his toxic legacy long after he is gone. The Proud Boys won’t melt away any time soon. America faces unprecedented levels of division and domestic terrorism for decades to come. It’s too early to call it Weimar America but it will take a determined effort to ensure that it doesn’t end up that way. Does Biden have what it takes? I have my doubts but I hope that I am wrong.

The False Oath (1922)
Paul Klee

Over here, Brexit is the boil that keeps on festering. No matter how bad it is it just continues to get worse. Every choice we could have made to mitigate this disaster has been bungled and instead used to amplify the catastrophe. No trade deal at all, once the single most unlikely outcome, now seems like the only likely one. The deal that the UK is only vaguely pretending to negotiate is so meagre that it is not much better than nothing anyway. Let us not forget that “no deal” was always seen as the most unlikely outcome precisely because it was well understood as economic suicide right across the whole political spectrum. Anybody who even mentioned it was accused of being “Project Fear”. So why are rich Tories so keen to be poor all of sudden? Are they really happy to accept personal, national and moral bankruptcy just “to own the libs”? Do they have a secret plan to profit from this, or at least to protect some of their wealth from the collapse that is to come? Maybe? Will it work? Maybe? But even if it does, that doesn’t help the rest of us.

So the world was already in Hell when it dug a new basement and in doing so it unearthed Covid-19. There are two ways to deal with a new disease. You can try to control its spread and treat those affected, or you can run about screaming and trying to blame everybody except yourself while refusing to cooperate with containment measures and generally spreading it around. Given how practised we Britons are at blaming everybody else, you would have thought that we would lead the world in this idiocy but it turns out that the Americans outclassed us in every possible way. We refused to wear masks. Americans licked glass doors “to own the libs”. We died in the tens of thousands. Americans died in the hundreds of thousands and most of the dead were not the door lickers, just unfortunate people with inadequate healthcare.

Awful though Trump and Bojo The Clown may be, they can’t be accused of being out of line with the Zeitgeist. In fact, they fall in with it perfectly. The Zeitgeist is essentially post-truth denial of reality, fear, stupidity and gleeful cruelty. They nailed that, if nothing else.

In a post-truth bubble world you can choose “alternative facts” to fit your prejudices and to deflect all blame for your actions. This contempt for truth trickles down from the rich and powerful in precisely the same way that wealth and power… doesn’t. Antivaxxers, QAnon crazies, Covid deniers, flat earthers, Putin stooges? Take your pick. No, not that one! The one you were meant to pick! Any idea can be deemed “true” if it has sufficient money and the threat of violence behind it. Of course, post-truth is not credible in the longer term. You can bully people into saying that “2+2=5”. You can brainwash and torture people until they actually believe that “2+2=5”. Nonetheless, 2+2 never has, and never will, equal 5. Reality is not negotiable. It will bite you in the arse even if your “alternative facts” do not admit the existence of teeth. Denying Covid doesn’t make it cease to exist. The dead shall not rise and say “only joking”.

Mask of Fear (1932)
Paul Klee

But the one thing I really can’t stand more than anything else is the open, gleeful, shameless cruelty. It is like Ayn Rand came back from the dead as the Ghost of Christmas Shit. It is like Margaret Thatcher came back from the dead as the ghost of… Well, as the ghost of Margaret bloody Thatcher. Everything decent is being stripped away as people are manipulated into turning on each-other. It is all very tribal but let’s not pretend that it affects everybody equally. It is people of colour, LGBTQ+ people and the poor who are getting by far the worst of it. Russia, Hungary and Poland are now openly Fascist states and what would have been nipped in the bud in saner times is now well entrenched, well funded by American “conservatives” and actively being exported. In the UK we have the obscenity of Priti Patel crowing over the end of free movement as if that were somehow a good thing and Liz Truss, the Equalities Minister who literally doesn’t believe in equality, so openly dogwhistling to racists, misogynists, homophobes and transphobes that the government had to redact her insane ranting from its website. It doesn’t take much to persuade some straight white cisgender men that they are the real oppressed minority but that doesn’t help anybody and it is a very dangerous view to pander to.

This is the part of the message where I say something uplifting to rouse the spirits. Well, I’m sorry. I’ve got nothing coherent. At least, not in the short term.

Heroic Roses (1938)
Paul Klee

In the longer term, I think that the most hopeful thing is that our “leaders” have shown the world their entire arse and there is no way back from that. The vicious, vacuous, preening pricks who presume to rule us do not realise it yet, but there is a whole generation of young people who have learned that post-truth doesn’t work and who will never trust a word that these bastards say ever again. Seeing relatives, friends and colleagues die from Covid, from police brutality and from denial of essential medical care is not something that people will forget. Whether it is through BLM activism, LGBTQ+ activism, environmentalism or whatever, this generation is finding its voice. So long as this is not diverted into nihilism, apathy or, even worse, fascism, I think that they could have a clearer view of the world than any I have seen before and might yet be able to make something of it.

Until then, look after each-other. Wear your masks. Get the vaccine when you can, but don’t push in front of people who need it more than you do. Try to enjoy Christmas, or whatever you celebrate, in a way that doesn’t put people at risk. Reject tribalism. Protect the NHS. Protect the queer kids. Donate to Mermaids. Find whatever tiny sparks of decency, joy, hope and love that you can. Nurture them. It only from these that the world can be rebuilt.

Note: All images on this page are in the Public Domain.

I often think about Paul Klee, condemned by the Nazis as “degenerate” and literally “struck from the list“, dying in 1940, at a time when Hitler seemed unstoppable and civilisation itself must have seemed completely doomed. His work seems such a tragically natural fit here.

December 24, 2020. #Brexit, Art, Personal, Politics, Sensible, Xmas.


  1. Groundhog Year? | Daniel Rigal replied:

    […] Happy? New? Something? […]

  2. Rik replied:

    My feeling about the post-truth world is that the right saw how well and for how long they managed to spin climate-change denial and thought that it was such a good trick that *had* to use it again.

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