We could never have foreseen any of this just 12 months ago
- Credit: PA
So goodbye 2016, and good riddance. Let's pray 2017 turns out rather better – but don't bet your house on it.
A year ago I wrote here: 'Amid all the apocalyptic gloom, there is a chance – just a chance – that 2015 will be remembered as the year things started to get better. The year the world looked over the edge into the abyss … and stepped back.'
Oh dear. I could hardly know then that the popular response to reaching the cliff's edge would not be a mere step forward, but an enthusiastic leap.
I wasn't predicting Brexit, or a Trump presidency, but then, who was? I did, in fact, describe Trump exactly 12 months ago as 'frontrunner' – because that's what the polls said at the time – but I never imagined that would last.
History is full of events, characters and direction changes that appear inevitable in hindsight but were unpredicted, unpredictable, beforehand. I fear 2016 was one such landmark year.
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Not that I entirely believe all the talk – dangerous talk – about the rise of 'populism'.
Why should racism, sexism, nationalism, war-mongering violence be any more popular, or 'populist', than more valuable values?
- 1 Two Norfolk villages named among most beautiful to visit in England
- 2 Roads flooded on east coast after heavy rain
- 3 Man put hidden camera in bedroom to spy on wife
- 4 Driver taken to hospital after four-car crash on key road into Norwich
- 5 Man in critical condition after being stabbed in Thetford
- 6 Machinery sale marks end of family's 100-year farming history
- 7 Robbers knock out boy, 14, and steal trainers from his feet
- 8 Unlikely new use for city's Samson and Hercules building
- 9 Norfolk social worker loses race discrimination case
- 10 Linnets turn down £100,000 bid for midfielder
I'm pretty sure they're not. The danger is that the nasty parties, having achieved slender, even debatable, victories, have taken not only power but dominance of the public debate. To criticise, even to question, their position as victors is to be shouted down, belittled, threatened.
They claim to be 'the people', as if everyone else weren't people. But to describe the self-styled 'alt-right' (a.k.a. fascists) as populist is an insult to the populace.
It's worth remembering that Hillary Clinton, for all her considerable faults, actually got 2.8 million more votes than Donald Trump.
And that however much the government – and, shamefully, the supposed opposition – may talk of 'a clear mandate' or 'the will of the people', only about a quarter of the British people actually voted to leave the European Union.
It wasn't the people that got us into these fine messes. It was a combination of misguided leadership, misled electorates, and serious flaws of democratic process. We are where we are. But exactly where that may be remains unclear.
Even one of the greatest of American thinkers, Noam Chomsky, appears to have had crystal ball failure.
His thoughts are generally too sophisticated and complex to summarise easily, but I'll try.
Before the US election, he said a vote for Trump would be 'a vote for the end of the world' – or at least for the end of life as we know it.
Irreparable damage to the biosphere, that frighteningly thin layer of soil, water and air that supports all life.
After the election, Chomsky found a brighter side to look on. Now he suggests four years of Trump might prove so devastating for America in the short term that longer-term prospects for a different kind of leadership would inevitably be improved.
It may be a slender hope. It may also be the only one we have right now. But we know how inevitability has a habit of shifting its ground. And how unreliable New Year predictions are.