December 31, 2019 by ChrisJamesAuthor
Spoiler alert: This is a very wordy post. A decade ends tonight and I would like to voice some opinions on it and forecast what the 2020s will bring. There are not many pictures, but what pictures there are, are I think quite nice.
Somewhere in the endless expanse of the continuum there is an alternate reality where the UK referendum on EU membership in June 2016 resulted in a 52/48 vote to remain. Today, a newly elected centrist government is about to enact a “hard” remain, where the UK will join the Schengen free-movement area and adopt the Euro. The losing leave voters bleat that the vote to remain only meant keeping the status quo; they complain that the remain campaign broke electoral law and nothing’s been done. Perhaps there is also a polarising, high-profile court case where a Polish or possibly Romanian shopkeeper is being prosecuted for murder when he killed a young English nationalist who had smashed his shop window and set the premises afire. But in our reality, it is the reverse: campaign criminality by Vote Leave has been disregarded; their lies and half-truths wither from public discourse like a boy-band that’s abruptly dropped out of fashion.
The trouble with identifying recent historical turning points is temporal proximity. A glance at the 2010s suggests two pivotal events, both of which took place in 2016. However, future historians will lump the UK’s vote to leave its closest trading partners together with the humiliation at Suez 53 years earlier: proof that the British are the only people on Earth who can’t accept that their empire is dead.
Regarding the US, it is tempting to conclude that the country has reached its Caligula moment. But this does not take account of the underlying forces driving this self-destructive change. From the end of WWII until the collapse of the Soviet Bloc in 1989, the capitalist system had to be seen to work, to be broadly fair. This was because there was another, competing system in the world, a choice, and Western governments could ill afford a majority of their poorer citizens to feel the Soviet system might be fairer and thus preferable. However, the last 30 years have seen a vast sea change among the ultra-wealthy. Since 1989, there has been no choice except unfettered capitalism. In the West, the richest 0.01% have watched Russians steal and rape their motherland with impunity, and not unreasonably, they concluded that it would be rather nice if they could behave like that in their own countries. Of course, a semblance of democracy has had to remain, but that semblance is beginning to fade.
So, here goes: next month will see Trump “beat the rap” as my American friends probably don’t say anymore. In another delicious irony, so-called “Republicans” will vote to acquit Trump, thus handing him unfettered power to abuse his office. With copious assistance from Moscow, Trump will be re-elected next November and use that to claim he should be appointed president for life, and the presidency should become, finally, hereditary. Don’t laugh: look at the Kennedys, the Bushes and even the Clintons—Trump and his supporters will merely argue that a hereditary presidency has been a long-time coming and the subsequent “stability” will be fantastic for the economy. The script for this scenario is easily written by any hack.
Brexit will happen and will cause a great deal of damage to the poorer regions of the UK. But the Conservative Party will have five long, fruitful years to gerrymander existing Parliamentary seat boundaries; the working-class people who helped land Johnson with such a healthy Commons majority on 12 December can now look forward to at least ten years of regret. (As an aside, it is ironic that those qualities the UK’s middle classes abhor in the working class—fecklessness, idleness, drunkenness and dishonesty—are no barrier to giving a member of the aristocracy who displays exactly the same qualities the highest office in the land.)
Again, and as with the US, it debatable whether the UK will still be a functioning democracy by then. Given its hopelessly outdated first-past-the-post system, the UK has a far shorter distance to fall before what weak and malleable checks and balances there are on the incumbent government can be side-lined or neutered altogether. As with Trump, by 2024 Johnson and the Conservative Party will be overwhelming favourites to win again, aided by all of the assistance Russia can offer.
The most powerful person in the world today in Vladimir Putin, and he will remain so for the foreseeable future. Over the last 20 years, he has built up a wholly unassailable position as leader of one of the most powerful yet corrupt countries on Earth. Any Russian who crosses him usually loses their life without much fuss. Indeed, Putin can even send his assassins to commit murder in the UK without any material comeback whatsoever (not so tough on crime when Putin’s doing the murdering in your own backyard, are you, Tories?).
To me, the most shocking fact as the 2020s begin is that no one in any position of political power in the UK or the US appears to know anything about the history of Russia in general or Putin in particular. Perhaps, as I’ve noted above, it is a question of the ultra-wealthy banding together irrespective of country loyalty to stymie and smother even the remotest possibility that they should be obliged to forego even a tiny fraction of their enormous wealth. The ultra-wealthy have become a pseudo-nationality who help each other to protect their fortunes.
On the other hand, perhaps the young KGB agent who watched in dismay as his beloved Soviet Union fell apart because of those ungrateful Poles, in whom bitterness welled as Western conglomerates tried to move in on Russia like victorious carpetbaggers, perhaps he still festers inside that pig-eyed, ageing murderer in the Kremlin? He has known since 1989 he could never hope to defeat NATO militarily and make the West pay for the collapse of the Soviet Union, but there have been other avenues, different bets, some of which have paid off handsomely. Next month, Putin’s asset in the White House will be exonerated of the most outrageous high crimes and misdemeanours of any president in US history. Trump will then be unassailable. Putin will have orchestrated this. And he will have done it without his military firing a single shot.
In the UK, 2020 will see Brexit happen and the EU’s and Britain’s economies suffer grievously. Again, Putin’s bots in Moscow and his vast array of useful idiots inside the UK will smother and obfuscate, additionally supported by UK press owners who see eye-to-eye with Putin when it comes to paying higher taxes (and if you follow that second link, scroll down to figures 2.1 and 2.2).
Ultimately, as the 2020s begin Putin’s two aims remain unfulfilled: political destabilisation of the EU and subsequent disbanding of NATO. Putin very much wants these organisations finished because they represent a viable countenance to Russia’s growing economic and military power. Will he achieve them? What unforeseeable advances and setbacks will happen over the next decade? It is worth noting that just a few days ago, Putin unveiled the newest Russian missile capable of delivering a two-megaton nuclear warhead anywhere in the world at an impressive Mach 27. That’s right: at 27 times the speed of sound. NATO has nothing to match it. For the first time in history, Russia has the most advanced military capability in the world. What do the Republicans have to say about that? Trump? The Tory Party? Johnson? The silence is deafening because the US president and the UK prime minister are muffled by being in Putin’s pocket.
Worst of all is that the one vital issue facing the world today gets repeatedly pushed down the agenda in the face of such political posturing: climate change. Recently I had a difficult conversation with my eldest daughter. She wanted to know how anyone could refute the fact of climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. I found myself obliged to tell her what happened decades ago, when I was her age, and when doctors first discovered a link between cigarettes and increased occurrences of various cancers and heart disease, how the tobacco companies found their own “doctors” who claimed smoking was perfectly healthy, how the tobacco companies produced allegedly impartial studies saying that smoking caused no ill effects. Even as late as the 1980s, people still insisted it was stress that killed people young, only it was “easier” to blame it on cigarettes. And now exactly the same thing is happening not with people’s health, but with the planet’s. Some things never change.
Thanks for reading. Happy New Decade.