AROUND ABOUT this time of the year I sit down to write 'A best of' column, briefly highlighting some of the left's successes during the year and some of the people we can be inspired by. I deliberately write it as an uncritically optimistic piece. Because we can, at least, celebrate our successes and our people, right?
I had every intention to write another such column this year. But, as I reflected on the make up of my totally arbitrary 'best of' list, I became increasingly aware that my heart wasn't really in it. I could of banged out 800 words or so but it would of been done it on remote control, a half hearted attempt at optimism, lacking any real enthusiasm for what I was writing.
For me and a whole lot of other folk around the world, casting an increasingly long shadow over everything this year has been the ghastly presidency of Donald Trump. Barely a day seems to go by without Trump and his cronies committing another outrage against the planet and its people. It probably doesn't help that I have quite a few friends and comrades in the United States who I am in regular contact with and I'm often appalled by what they tell me. We're not quite at the America portrayed in Jack London's The Iron Heel, but we're getting there.
I don't know who makes me more angry - Donald Trump or the Democratic National Committee that conspired to prevent the one person who could of defeated Trump, Bernie Sanders, from receiving the Democratic nomination. At this point I will not make any remarks about feeble and gutless liberal politics.
I think Naomi Klein got it so right when she told the U.K. Labour Party conference this year that Donald Trump was a“fatberg”, a congealed lump of fat and sanitary products that causes dangerous blockages in sewers - like the one that was discovered in the London sewerage system this year.
Said Klein of Trump: “He is a merger of all that is noxious in the culture, in the economy and in the body politic, all kind of glommed together in a self-adhesive mass. And we’re finding it very, very hard to dislodge.”
Although his hopeless presidency and his hopeless Democratic Party helped to lay down the conditions in which Trump prospered, Barack Obama has also been warning about the dangers of the Trump presidency,
"You have to tend to this garden of democracy, otherwise things can fall apart fairly quickly. And we've seen societies where that happens.” he said recently.
He even referenced Nazi Germany: “Now, presumably, there was a ballroom in Vienna in the late 1920s or ’30s that looked and seemed as if it was filled with the music and art and literature and the science that would continue into perpetuity. And then 60 million people died. And the entire world was plunged into chaos.”
in 1992 Leonard Cohen released 'Democracy', a song that is remarkably resonant today. Like most Cohen songs, his lyrics are open to interpretation. However when Cohen talks of democracy arriving in America, he is explicit in his view that it won't come from governments but from the people:
It'll come from the working class in America's industrial heartland: (from the brave, the bold, the battered / heart of Chevrolet). It'll come from protest movements like Black Lives Matter: (it’s coming from the sorrow in the street / the holy places where the races meet). It'll come from the poor and the jobless (It's coming from the silence on the dock of the bay' ). It'll come from the women's movement (from the homicidal bitchin’/ that goes down in every kitchen / to determine who will serve and who will eat.)
'Democracy' is a song about ordinary Americans finally becoming politically aware and realizing that they must resist or be subjugated:
It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.