Perhaps it’s no great surprise that a couple of days ago I misread a statement outlining new lockdown plans north of the border. What actually said ‘Scotland will move to a five-tier level of restrictions at 6am on Monday’ I initially read as ‘Scotland will move to a five-YEAR level of restrictions at 6am on Monday’. An understandable mistake to make…or is it? A question James Burke might have posed – well, he did when lampooned on a memorable ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ sketch, exaggerating his habit of asking such questions on his wonderful science documentaries at the time. Another sketch from the series came back to me today – a statement from a prominent Minister on the latest unemployment figures. Rowan Atkinson flicks through said stats and wearily responds with ‘Oh, God’ over and over again. I sort-of feel a bit like that with every headline that emerges at the moment, perhaps because they’re all so bloody awful. But, hey, it could be worse – we could have to choose between Sleepy Joe and the Donald (and why does that sound like the title of a Mark Twain story?).
US Presidential Elections rarely tend to be built-up as being no big deal; they’re always sold as ‘one of the most crucial in American history’, the outcome always advertised as being something upon which the future wellbeing of the western world depends. The escalation of pre-Election hype can almost feel as though the old boxing promoter Don King is hovering somewhere in the background, as if a far-from frivolous exercise in democracy is just another Ali fight at Madison Square Garden. Mind you, I guess it’s all bound-up in that unique way US politics and showbiz meet and mingle, the way that often makes it hard to see the join; maybe it began with JFK and his movie star glamour 60 years ago – or maybe with actual movie star Ronald Reagan 20 years later. Either way, having a celebrity President like Trump in the White House, that tradition was destined to ascend even greater heights (or depths) of gaudy tackiness.
It goes without saying that – to use a recurring media phrase characteristic of Presidential Elections – ‘the stakes are high’ this time round; but that’s due to external events outside of the Washington bubble rather than something generated by the two contenders. Both sides may have claimed champion and challenger as their respective personification of the culture wars, but neither can be said to embody the spirit of the moment as Obama did in 2008; one gets the impression Trump and Biden between them are simply weaponising the maelstrom of 2020 for their own personal gain – two old men probably unable to believe their luck that they happen to be fighting for the right to run such a deeply divided, f***ed-up country at their stage of life. Twelve years ago, Obama inherited a nation that had just been plunged into an economic black hole, but he tried to galvanise and unite in the same way FDR had in 1932; whether or not he succeeded is open to debate, but at least his vision stretched beyond his reflection.
For all the hype, the fact remains that, as a contest, an incumbent President taking on a man who departed the Vice Presidency in 2016 after eight years in the job doesn’t have the same frisson to it as when neither candidate has ever held the highest office before. Those kinds of US Elections are like a World Cup Final between two nations yet to carry off the trophy – always a tad more tantalising than if the Germans or Brazilians or Italians are involved again. As it is, the Vice Presidency as an office isn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion for the Presidency itself; indeed, serving Vice Presidents historically have mixed results when running for President. George Bush Senior was Reagan’s deputy when he won his solitary term in 1988, but – thanks in no small part to ‘the Chads’ – Al Gore couldn’t make the leap from No.2 to No.1 against Bush Junior 20 years ago. Incumbent ‘Veep’ Hubert Humphrey lost to Richard Nixon in 1968, eight years after Tricky Dicky ceased to be second-in-command to Eisenhower, sealing one of the greatest comebacks in American politics. Even the previously-untested experience of First Lady couldn’t guarantee the White House in 2016. What this all says about Biden’s chances I’m not entirely sure; but it made for a fairly interesting paragraph.
As we all know by now, the creaky 18th century system by which the results are ultimately decided will inevitably lead to calls for reform by the losing side if the outcome is a close run thing; this year, both parties have been preparing preemptive strikes. Trump has promised to utilise the courts if the Democrats dispute his victory, whereas Sleepy Joe has been advised by Hillary Clinton not to concede at any cost. And, of course, the warring factions on either side of the barricades are stocking-up their arsenals in the event of defeat, ready to demand a recount that will simply keep on going until the result is reversed; reminds me of something that happened not so long ago on this side of the pond, though I can’t remember what at the moment. Perhaps the most worrying element in 2020 is how many of those polled have stated they reckon violence is a legitimate means of opposing an outcome they don’t agree with; the actual principles of democracy seem to have been misconstrued by an entire generation, and what will the endgame of that be, I wonder – a suspension of the clearly ineffectual democratic process and the instillation of dictatorship? Fine as long as it’s ‘the right side’, I guess.
Indeed, just as UK General Elections once took several weeks to be resolved – though we have to go back to 1945 for the most recent example of this – the results of US Presidential Elections in the 21st century have the potential to be stretched beyond the point of human endurance, like the longest penalty shoot-out in history. By now, a system should be in place to convincingly announce a winner within 24 hours of physical polling; but the Electoral College would appear to be as immovable as the House of Lords. Don’t hold your breath. Not that you’d know it from social media, but non-Americans don’t actually have a say in any of this, lest we forget; I can’t help but recall the hilariously patronising ‘letter’ the Grauniad published in 2004 informing Americans why it wouldn’t be a good idea to vote for Bush. The blind eyes turned to Biden’s failings is a joyous excursion into hypocrisy of the highest order for the detached observer, the most entertaining symptom of Trump Derangement Syndrome yet seen; but the blatant online censure of revelations regarding Biden’s son is a far less funny development. Anyway, the doddery old hair-sniffer will probably hand the reins of power to his Woman of Colour Vice President in a matter of months even if he wins – and what a wonderful Woke future we in the west have to look forward to if that happens.
Hell, we don’t have to look to the States for further confirmation of Hell being the destination of the proverbial handcart; recent events in France and in Vienna last night appear to have demonstrated yet again that Radical Islam is far from down and out in 2020. Each faction of this miserable century’s tribes can boast its own dedicated fanatics, and Islam has a remarkably successful recruitment scheme that keeps attracting new generations of devotees. Just as the IRA had the gall to launch mortar shells at Downing Street in the middle of the Gulf War, ISIS and its numerous affiliates have no qualms about striking when the west is already weighed down by a pandemic panic dependent upon carefully selected stats to justify governments scaring and demoralising their people into accepting the removal of their civil liberties. SWJs to the left of me, Jihadists to the right – here I am, stuck in the middle with you…and a killer plague with a frighteningly low death rate.
© The Editor