There's much water under the bridge since I last wrote here. Billions of words have been aired on Brexit, trillions more on Trump and now we face a French election that could - if Le Pen wins - have devastating effects on both France and Europe. In the UK, an election is brewing and here in New Zealand, away from the world’s focus, we too will go to the polls. Not such a drama as elsewhere, but one that is beginning to feature disturbing echoes of the vitriol and nationalism that have pervaded countries elsewhere.
In the US, it was inevitable that Trump would win. They were never going to vote for a woman - as a country, the US is just not grown up enough to do so. Whether the US will vote for a woman in the future is yet to be seen - for now they are stuck with a trigger-happy President, seemingly more occupied with a love of personal power and showmanship than with the state of the people he governs. Just shy of the 100 day mark, I have yet to see evidence of any improvement for the people he promised to help - just a show-and-tell of signatures on executive orders that have led to immediate misery for many. I thought by now that an impeachment process might have begun - but then he let off some missiles and the fawning were awed by what they described as the ‘beauty’ of this violence.
I have to confess that as the latter half of 2016 unfolded, I found myself moving away from the keyboard, too angry, disheartened and powerless at the twists and turns of fortune that occurred throughout the world to add to the millions of words swirling through our newsfeeds.
The common thread through all the machinations - Brexit, US elections, France and now here at home - is fear. The political peddlers of fear have been ferocious in their creation of a popular sentiment that closing borders, isolating ourselves, holding others in deep suspicion and threatening others with ‘tit-for-tat’ retaliation is the only way forward. Even as deep tragedies have unfolded - from Syria to Sudan - the insidious shift towards national selfishness has left millions suffering. Dictators have risen and continue to punish, oppress and murder those who oppose them, while the rest of the world squabbles inside their borders, only looking beyond when threats or acts of terror look set to directly affect them. The peddlars have used the emotion of fear for their own purposes, which is, for the most part, to secure their power and position in the world.
So what can we do, as individuals, to change the downward spiral of circumstances with which we are faced? Perhaps the first thing is to accept that we can make a change, by speaking out, by using our precious vote, by discussing with others the various points of view and not existing in a filter bubble of our own making.
Deciding on governments, based on fearmonger policies hawked on the hustings by those anxious to retain or regain power, is not in the best interests of a population. In the UK, the shrewdly strategic Theresa May has made this snap election about Brexit but the reality is that the next elected government will enact more than a retreat from Europe. For the next five to six years, the people of the UK will have to live with whatever ‘terms and conditions’ are bundled up behind the bombast of the ‘winners’ and, as it stands, personal freedom, economic stability, heath, education and wellbeing will all suffer the consequences. Society is a contract - to quote Edmund Burke - and when we vote we are signing that contract, hopefully for better - more frequently for worse.
It is easy for politicians to latch on to one simple thread, pulling and pulling until it unravels the sensible thinking of the electorate. The common thread in Europe and beyond has been immigration, an easy wall of words to hide behind when the actual cause of the problems is governance itself and the policies being implemented over time. With every news story I am reminded of George Orwell’s 1984 - the phoney wars, the austerity, the persecution of those ready to speak out, all cloaked in a culture of amorphous threat. Edmund Burke - again - said: “"When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.” The need for the good to associate, to speak of tolerance and equity, has never been so great.
The tragedy of Syria began when, in 2011, people began to speak out against their President. It has become a proxy battleground for many in the period since then, but at its heart, it is still a battle for freedom and self determination. So for those, like us, going to the polls, speak out, discuss, reason with each other - don't succumb to phoney fear. Debate and look forward to what might come of a particular set of policies or a particular person in charge. Make your voice heard while you still may. The smallest whisper can make a difference.