As many people have pointed out, if someone had awoken from a coma after 30 years and learned that one US political party was in thrall to Wall St and the other to Russia, they would be confused by 2016. But then right is the new left and liberalism, being the prestige faith, is bound to attract prestige people, while Russia is back to its pre-Bolshevik role as the great force for reaction.
Some Democrats even believe that Donald Trump is in the pay of the Kremlin, although, then again, more than half of Democrats believe 9/11 was an inside job. This may all be a smear, but Trump has given off alarming signals, including promises to withdraw American forced abroad; Putin would surely welcome his victory.
This is saddening. I admit to having a rather sentimental view of America’s role in Europe, being part of that generation who grew up playing out the Second World War in our bedrooms; I remember, aged 8, visiting Berlin and being aware that it was the US soldiers there who stood between us and this hideous political system. That the Americans may wish to withdraw that support, just as Russia has become aggressive again, is frightening in a year in which we have already had far too much excitement.
But then the America of Major Richard Winters and James Stewart is in many ways not the same thing as the America of today, and seventy years of de-facto imperialism has changed the country, and its role. The United States has become not just an empire abroad but at home, its essential idea now being the ‘proposition nation’, whereby nationality is defined by ideology. This strikes me as a bad idea, one that will inevitably lead to far lower social capital and growing alienation, inequality, aggressive identity politics and political extremism – all of which America has in droves.
Trump is in contrast a nationalist, in many ways a virulent and unpleasant one, but when he shocks polite society by saying things like the American Dream should be for Americans, these are sentiments that would have been surely self-evident to the point of truism to the men who stormed Omaha and Utah. For a western nationalist it is logical to be drawn to Russia, a country that in contrast believes in sovereignty (well, its own sovereignty, other country’s not so much).
Still, there may be upsides to American isolationism. As much as I appreciate the US military keeping the peace in Europe these past seven decades, it has infantilised Europeans, who began to believe they could step off the stage of history and retire to the beach. Even if Trump does not win, European countries need to think about how in future they are to protect themselves in an unstable world, especially since if political trends in the US are not reversed, that country may increasingly be prone to extremism.
Unfortunately all of the pan-European institutions, especially the EU, are run by people who have no real sense of Europe, nor a belief that Europe is distinctive from its neighbours, and that this is worth preserving and even fighting for. Such a void was illustrated starkly during the referendum when Remainers appealed not to our love of Europe but to the cost of the divorce lawyers – not a brilliant strategy in an age when identity trumps economics.
So one of the ways that Britain could show its commitment to our European neighbours, post-Brexit, is by increasing our military commitment to defending our continent from hostile neighbours, in particular our friends in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Sorry if this is all very depressing, but look on the bright side – none of this really matters compared to the catastrophe that is climate change. Anyway, enjoy the holidays. Avoid… everywhere.