Two years ago today I posted a piece which laid out my fears for the way our world was going. This specifically referenced the campaign which was then in full flow towards the UK referendum on membership of the European Union (EU), which took place on 23 June 2016, and the US presidential campaigning, which at that point looked very likely to endorse Donald Trump as the Republican candidate, as indeed happened. Thankfully, election campaigns here only last a month or so, unlike the many months the Americans have to endure – but there’s no guarantee that either of us will come out with a good result, regardless of how long it takes us to get there.
Reading this post again, I was struck by how my worst fears were now coming true. Our referendum became a mass vote of lemmings throwing the country off a cliff, and with only ten months or so until we are due to leave the EU we are nowhere near a conclusion to negotiations or to any coherent vision of the future direction our country will take. Our government has veered ever further to the right, going for what it calls a ‘Hard Brexit’ – in other words, a total split from the EU – with no apparent thought about what the outcomes of this will be. Racists have been empowered by the referendum result and xenophobia is the norm for many. And as for the election of Trump, with all that has brought about, I could go on at length! Here is the post, exactly as I wrote it at the time. I’ll return at the end for a final comment, or several:
“Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:
Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:
‘It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,
It’s a hard life wherever you go,
But if we poison our children with hatred
then a hard life is all that they’ll know.’
Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.
But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.
And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.
What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.”
And back to today:
Sadly, Nanci Griffiths’ words are possibly even more pertinent now. The song and video were released in 1989, and still bring a tear to my eye. The video was made in Northern Ireland, which at that time was still subject to terrorist atrocities. Those have largely ceased now, thanks to the Good Friday Agreement of 1998. Yet we don’t seem to be learning from history, do we: the UK government appears totally clueless about how to solve the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and there is, I think, a potential danger that the peace could unravel. This hasn’t been helped by the electoral battering the Conservatives took last year, when hubris and arrogance cost them their overall majority in Parliament, leaving them dependent on a bribed fix with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP). Never has the word ‘democratic’ been more misused.
In the US, Trump duly won his way to the Presidency, and appears to be engaged on taking America back to the 1930s, with protectionist policies that ignore the progress that has been made, in social, cultural and technological terms, since the end of WW2. I described Trump in my previous piece as ‘odious’ and I stand by that. Every day it seems we get yet another example of his, and his government’s ignorance, racism, misogyny, homophobia, hypocrisy and xenophobia. Today’s news contains reports of his speech yesterday at the NRA convention, in which he mocked London and Paris for their lack of guns. Seriously, Mr President? You need to take a much closer look at your own country, and not pander to the money of the organisation responsible for making the machines that kill people. I said in the original piece that I feared for the world if he became President, and I still do. It may be cynical, but I do wonder if he isn’t being played by North Korea, who recognise his naivety and egotism. I hope I’ll be proved wrong, but I’m not convinced that this apparent ‘peace process’ will end well. And as for Trump being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize – the man is a coward and a bully, and would demean the honour.
It would be easy to abandon hope, and I’ll admit to being worried about the world we are bequeathing to future generations. But therein lies the real hope for the future. Nanci Griffiths’ video focuses on children: as she says, we need to stop poisoning them with hatred, and allow them to shape a future world which is based on human values like love and compassion. In the US, the National School Walkout campaign – a direct response to the Parklands atrocity, which took 17 lives – demonstrates vividly the lack of moral courage on the part of political leaders to do something which is long overdue. These young people are our future leaders, and it is to be hoped that they succeed where others have failed. If they don’t, then
‘a hard life is all that they’ll know.’