- 20 Dec 18
Everywhere you look, threats and chaos. President Donald Trump's project is still in progress. Basically, it's to disrupt the international order until it best suits American interests. Old alliances have been sundered and bizarre new friendships formed. Scorn him we might, but his own fanbase likes what it sees. So does Vladimir Putin, though that may simply be a mentor's pride. The Chinese are a key target for Trump, but they're keen on stability as they quietly extend their reach, across to Europe with their One Belt One Road initiative, a vast project to connect Asia and Europe, and on into Africa, with investment, aid and military support. In Britain, meanwhile, they move the chairs around the deck of the Titanic while the band plays on.
Blame the banks and the financiers, the wolves of Wall Street for priming the stove. Blame the tech moguls for greed, naivety and what can only be called clueless blue-sky thinking. Everything was going to be brilliant. They'd give us stuff for free in return for our agreement to be farmed, herded and harvested. It never occurred to them that others might get in on their act or that their data systems could be hacked and pillaged, loosing demons and trolls upon the world; facilitating the expression of hatred, bile and racism; and breathing life into the Orcs and undead of the far right.
Brilliant journalistic investigation uncovered the machinations of Cambridge Analytica. The revelations were extraordinary and their impact is still being felt. Facebook users have been farmed and their data stolen and used. All the worst fears are realised. The whistleblowers have been hounded, dismissed, discarded. Nobody can say we weren't warned. If an internet or social media service is free, then you're the product.
We're also much clearer on how the far right used social media, search engines and armies of bots to herd users toward extreme websites, articles, fake news and conspiracy theories. Even a cursory glance at any given political Twitter feed reveals nauseating levels of spite and bile. Tellingly, following pressure from Hot Press among other outlets, Facebook did not run political ads during our Repeal referendum.
Donald Trump plays the bull in the global china shop. He misbehaved at the G7 summit, refusing to sign the agreed statement and acting like a playground bully. His much trumpeted meeting in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un may well have been a fiasco. What, exactly, was agreed? Other than, one suspects, that Kim and his family will be left free to accumulate wealth from US inward investment, much like Trump himselfÉ
Then he stepped on British toes with praise for the buffoon Boris Johnson - but says he didn't criticise Theresa May: 'That is fake news.' Not done yet, he provoked a barrage of criticism in the US and elsewhere after his meeting with Putin. And it was truly bizarre. Putin clearly looks like the top dog. Trump hit out at 'haters' when he was forced to climb down. Which keeps happening.
He also had to back down on his policy of separating child immigrants, which was suspended indefinitely in June after a huge global outcry. Meanwhile, there are more mass shootings in the US than ever; bombs were sent to leading Democrats before the mid-term elections (and to CNN also); and despite ultra-violent storms, floods and forest fires, the President refuses to accept the reality of global climate change.
After months of denial, his contract with a porn star was admitted in February. In late March, we knew who she was: Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels. She was interviewed on CBS. By May, Trump had confirmed that she had been paid off despite his previous denial. This murky tale isn't exhausted yet.
Political resistance in the US is growing and getting better organised. The Democrats have re-taken control of the House of Representatives. James Comey's book has lifted a lid. Robert Mueller is still working away on his investigation into the Russian links. Former Trump team members have admitted guilt and made deals. None of these guarantee that someone can take the White House from him in two years from now, but there is hope.
The trade war that Trump initiated with China has gone down well with many in the US. It has slowed China's growth. But the eastern giant isn't resting. It is investing heavily all around the globe. This year, for example, it became the top foreign investor in Serbia: Belgrade will be a very significant link on a high-speed railway between Budapest and the Greek port of Piraeus in its One Belt, One Road trade route between Asia and Europe.
Russia was in the news for the wrong reasons, with the attempted murder of the Skripals in Salisbury. In March, the UK expelled 23 Russian diplomats in retaliation. Other states followed suit. The Guardian said that, 'Cool calculation lies behind use of poison as a grim calling card.'
The attempted murder was part of a more general pattern. Some countries seem to think that it's okay to kidnap or murder dissidents wherever they live. Look at the brutal slaughter of Saudi critic, Jamal Khashoggi, in the Saudi Arabian embassy in Turkey. Other countries have done it too, notably Israel and North Korea.
Meanwhile, the Saudis are also up to their knees in a brutal and horrifying war in Yemen. In this sick endeavour, they are backed by the US administration, which thinks that Iran is behind the opposing side. But as ever the innocent suffer most. Famine and disease stalk the land. The global fury at Khashoggi's killing may rein the Saudis in. That would be a small but welcome mercy.
Hatred of the 'other' has fuelled the rise of the far right across the world: following Trump's lead, Brazilians elected the homophobe Bolsonaro; neo-fascists have gained in Germany (largely in the old east), Hungary, Austria, Italy, France, Poland and the Baltic states. And the UK has also lurched towards isolationism and hostility to immigrants.
It will take time, courage and determination to counter this. But the struggle cannot be avoided. In his inaugural address in November, Michael D Higgins said 'these are tendencies we must not allow to take root'. He could not be more correct.