He was livin’ on a high note
But everything changed
And all of his high hopes
Were washed down the drain…
- Mavis Staples
To whom will this grim fate apply in the year that now yawns ahead of us? Someone, to be sure. Will it perhaps be Czar Putin? With 2016 such a triumph behind him, he has every reason to expect more munificence ahead – which in itself is never a good sign. Having achieved – so far at least – the first effective cease-fire in six years for the Syrian civil war, he has positioned Russia as a major player in the Middle East for the first time in fifty years – or since the Egyptian government of General Nasser was replaced by an American hegemony under President Sadat. Furthermore, Putin now has the distinct promise of closer ties with a United States run by President Trump, and operated internationally by a Secretary of State with whom he is, by all accounts, on very friendly terms. But, historically, Russia has never proved to be a reliable ally to anyone for very long. Even Napoleon was bamboozled by the apparent friendship of Czar Alexander – and Trump is certainly no Napoleon. I take it for granted that Putin is far more savvy than Trump’s whole cabinet put together. So what will he want from this evidently proffered amity? Well, globally, besides the unlikely demise of America, it will be a weakening of China, and an increase in Russian stature on the world’s shaky stage. This is going to require all of Putin’s considerable ingenuity to pull off, entailing, as it must do, the abandonment of some old Russian client-states, like Iran and North Korea. Since the current Syrian cease-fire permits the US to continue attacking bases of the Unislamic State in Iraq, there would seem to exist already a tacit agreement in which, effectively, America gets to control Iraq, and Russia gets Syria. Necessity may make for strange bedfellows, but such fellows do not sleep easily in their beds. The present hubbub about Russian hacking of US computer networks is not going to die away quickly, and it is hard – though not impossible – to imagine President Trump ignoring the evidence presented by his own numerous security agencies. Of course, America is also hacking into networks worldwide, so it is conceivable that two rational Titans could mutually agree to cut the nonsense out – and let that be an end to it. Conceivable it may be, but it is also unlikely. Perhaps Putin’s greatest test will be in not blowing the first offer of US friendship since the halcyon era of Premier Gorbachev – halcyon, that is, from America’s perspective. In order to resume the old familiar hostility, the Russian Czar would have to find something that put Washington firmly in the wrong – but since he has a stranglehold on Russian media this might not prove that onerous.
Will it be Donald Trump who sees his hopes washed down the drain? History seems to indicate that the American Presidency can greatly compress even the most stalwart ego. Who had the most stalwart ego? In the post-war era, there was Truman, dumb enough to imagine he had the job because of his own brilliance. Then there was Eisenhower, too much a soldier to think he controlled anything. Next came Kennedy, who knew his father had bought him the post. Lyndon Johnson merely succeeded to the Oval Office. Nixon’s self-esteem was never high. Ford got there by default. God put Jimmy Carter in the White House. Reagan was too genially air-headed to think much at all. George Bush the First believed he was there by doit de seigneur. Perhaps Clinton thought he had clambered up there through his own merits and hard work. Bush the Second saw it as the family business. Obama seems to have known who he had to be grateful to, along with a cheerful dash of tokenism. Before this rather sorry crew, of course, there was Franklin D. Roosevelt, the last President who actually had some ideas. Which leaves us with Trump, who undoubtedly ascribes his success to a Himalayan range of personal genius. But will he prove to be a weary self-deluded Truman, or a battered but still ebullient Clinton? To say the least, it is not an easy job, and nothing goes as you planned it should. As far as one can see, the Pentagon generals will be handling most of the more iffy aspects of US foreign policy, along with a free rein to indulge in their real career of prospering the trillion-dollar US arms industry by continually fomenting small but long wars, as well as trumpeting omnipresent threats by various satanic forces. This will leave Trump more or less free to concentrate on domestic issues – and that is the area where most of those who voted for him will be relying on some genuine action. Jobs are what people really care about, not immigration or a wall. Yet it is hard to picture Trump threatening to penalize corporations for outsourcing jobs. For a start, corporate law forbids the making of decisions that will negatively impact shareholders. Hence it is actually illegal to consider implementing expensive ways to handle toxic waste, and so forth. As a businessman not averse himself to employing cheap wetback labour, Trump would have a very hard time explaining to corporations that, in order to make America great again, their profits have to become less great. As we know all too well, he thinks politics is all about making deals, but it is not – politics is all about making compromises. Whatever the old Trump scorned, the new Trump will eventually have to embrace, if his term in office is not to be an embarrassing disaster. I do wish him well, but it will not be an easy year.
Will it be Trudeau le Petit’s hopes that wash away here in Canada? With the Sesquicentennial, it ought to be a banner year – but he has promises to keep, and many miles before he sleeps (even though he took a road much-travelled by his family). My Oxford college recently celebrated its 800th anniversary (even though a part of it is 1200 years old), so 150 doesn’t seem very old at all. Can Canada possibly only be twice my age? 150 years might not be long, but I’ll wager that 2017 will seem like eternity to le Petit. With a 30 billion debt and scant sign of any serious economic recovery, the Prime Minister will have to concentrate on boring domestic issues, rather than the tinsel and frippery of state visits and international charity. Even his more frivolous and wantonly inessential pre-election vows – like legalizing marijuana (who care?. It’s been easily available and tax-free for my whole life) – are proving inconceivably pricey, and are now probably understandably regretted. The far graver problems of indigenous peoples are also proving to be impermeable to money – really, who ever thought they would be? Even the police are turning into a problem. Then there are the intractable provinces with their uniquely local issues and peculiarly self-interested demands (ah, the perils of federalism!). Add to this mountain of woe the prospect of a US President who, as CEO of our largest trading partner, will not be – how shall I put it? –exactly easy to deal with. No, Trudeau le Petit will be ten years older by this time next year. When the best you can hope for is that things will not get any worse, you are very close to being hopelessly embroiled and helpless to extricate yourself from the mire that time, not you, has created.
As always, my own hopes are for earthlings to wake up, treat one another with human dignity, and put this planet back on the path to Paradise it has always aspired to follow and can easily achieve (if you don’t believe me, read E.O. Wilson’s wise and wonderful books). I do also pity those whose hopes will be washed away, whoever they are. Happy New Year to all.
Love from Paul William Roberts