I’m starting the New Year by blocking everyone on my Facebook stream (is that what you call it? It certainly seems like “an ever rolling stream”) whose idea of political discussion is to call all politicians scumbags.
That is my only resolution, apart from a powerful wish to understand our times and what has happened to our modern civilisation.
I do know that the jokes have died as abruptly as though someone had shouted Stan Cross’s famous cartoon line, “stop laughing: this is serious”. An age of uncertainties suddenly morphed into an age of terrifying certainties. Was it the money men who felt it first, or the historians? I am betting on the latter.
Then the opportunists, the ones who see advantage for themselves in everything, and the comedians, like Tim Minchin, too appalled to make jokes about Donald Trump once the new US president was elected. The best comedians and cartoonists always sense what is too frightful to be funny.
I suppose it is natural to feel that everything has changed when anything as cataclysmic as Trump’s election happens. I do know that when I picked up a new book I’d been looking forward to, In My Own Time (by Jane Miller, for me the best recent writer on being old, has published her columns written from England for a Chicago monthly) – I felt reluctant to read it. Her writing to America before the Trump victory … “What does she know?” I thought.
When I summoned up interest to read her column on American politics, it was masterly evasion anyway. And that is relevant to what is happening now. Political writers and others choose to give Trump a chance, as though his disgusting shenanigans had never occurred, the myriad events and statements that made plain his unsuitability for any office, by standards maintained – until now.
If only Jane Miller had written her book later, in her own voice, not that she assumes as a rookie (80-year-old) columnist, I might have found some comfort there, and stimulation, as I did from her Crazy Age, 2010, but as it is, it is impossibly, irritatingly dated. Which made me think that almost anything is dated now, as Tim Minchin has hinted. Post-Trump is an age in itself, though we’ve only become aware of him, most of us, in the last year or so.
I believe the old are the most alarmed. We have memories of WWII, of the appeasement of Hitler and the appalling revelations about humanity’s mass abasement. Having seen the past, or been close to it, we see the future, signposted by an ignorant, abusive demagogue. We know everything has changed. We look back at our hopeful bearing of children as folly. But who’s listening to us? And why should they anyway. There is still that smidgeon of hope it will turn out all right for the world, whether it’s in stemming climate change or comforting ourselves with, for example, progress by women. But Trump and his right wing crazies have their fingers on a button that could destroy the world. They can reverse changes that we all felt pride in. They can talk about unity now as much as they like. The hate has taken root. Again.
So what could our resolutions possibly be, what makes sense? Calling people scumbags who don’t meet your expectations, such as politicians, is just a small sign of the despair people feel. To be honest, I have used the term privately to myself, reserving it for those who de-fund the arts which I believe are our salvation given half a chance. Even if driven underground by lack of money and perhaps inevitably by censorship, the arts will always represent our higher self.
Call me naïve, but vote for the least worst scumbag who shows signs of caring for the arts to the point of funding them properly.
“You’re not getting out enough,” said a contemporary of mine after detailing her travels, her every art gallery visited and concert attended. True. I have stayed home, sitting for many hours watching the destruction of the ABC, wondering how we can stop this vandalism. Even ABC FM is a faint echo of its former self. I am distraught that this nation is allowing this to happen. I don’t know what to do, but refusing to watch and listen to the ABC is not an option. I am a witness to terribly folly.
At my age, “getting out” is an imperative for maintaining health and vigour. Yeah, yeah. For dealing with sadness and anger. But more and more my interaction with peers is by email or letter. I can’t imagine being in a gym class or a book club. I am absolutely no role model. But I am off to walk on the beach, dogs and weather permitting. The only resolution I will permit myself, but gloom is no good. To watch the waves, the seagulls, sculptured sand. Pleasure in the simplest things.
As my eight-year-old granddaughter wrote recently, “On the island I could hear great things like waves crashing on the beach and kids screaming loudly at the pool. I could see blue pool shining in the sun and soft tables at the bar. I could smell hot chips in the boiling fryer. I could touch warm towels on the pool chair.”
If that’s enough for her, it’s enough for me.
Happy New Year.