I was asked the other day what I would give up for Lent. I said “despair”.
Now I’ve given that up as well. So far, politically, 2017 has given us cause for little other than despair.
The results of the Northern Ireland election are the apotheosis of tribalism. The gloating faces of the chief pot-stirrers, the arguing over the Gaelic language, show a society irretrievably manacled to the ball and chain of history. (I write as someone whose ancestors were equally Donegal Catholics and Tyrone Protestants).
I contrast this with Spain where I spend a lot of my time. Eighty years ago they had a civil war, the nitty-gritty of which was Reds forming firing-squads for clergy, and military officers massacring anyone in your pueblo who was ‘suspect’. In Spain nowadays, all agree that what your grandfather did is not brought up. The result is the amazing visible progress, at least in financial terms, the ordinary Spaniard has made.
Another cause for despair is the EU’s demise. Ted Heath completely mis-sold the Treaty of Rome as joining some sort of businessmen’s club. The result was the growing mystification of the British people as to what they had signed up to.
A simple customs agreement it never was. It was a noble attempt by outstanding politicians such as Adenauer, Schuman and Spaak – as they surveyed the ruins of Europe after two fratricidal wars – to do what the Americans had done after their civil war and build a world-beating power with a currency that could face down the dollar and a host of social welfare, cultural, even culinary star features which would beat both failed Communism and the crude capitalism of the US.
After that the EU lost the plot. It became an empire rather than a union. It relentlessly hunted down member countries which could never keep up with the Germanies and Hollands of this world. And it became synonymous with political correctness. The result is the tectonic plates are beginning to jar.
Now I also understand what the evangelist meant by The Last Trump bringing Armageddon. I spent 12 years of my life teaching 20-something Arabs. Many commonly saw Osama bin Laden as the Arab William Wallace and their favourite film was Braveheart. I do so agree with the drift of Angela Rudd’s remarks the other week that the policies, pictures and pronouncements, from Palestine to passport control, emanating from Trump’s White House are the best recruiting sergeant for any number of violent Middle East acronyms.
Last of all, Trump is offering a favourable financial deal to post-Brexit Britain. During the war, my father helped crew one of 40 old destroyers the Americans gave us as ‘lend-lease’. That bargaining chip was used to take over British foreign policy, dismantle our home-made nuclear deterrent and deliver the coup de grace to the whole Empire. Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes (I fear the Greeks bearing gifts).
Denis Frize is an English teacher. He lives in Dunblane.