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Irish Politics

With challenges of conflict, climate and Covid, these are dangerous times

As someone who is firmly of the opinion that it would be a catastrophe if, by any chance, Donald Trump were to be re-elected in three years’ time, I feel that the current trend of US politics gives one the horrible sense of watching a proverbial car-crash in slow motion.

Trump appears to retain a strong grip on the Republican party while the Democrats seem to be loosening their grip on office and electoral appeal. It is increasingly hard to be confident in any way that Biden could beat Trump in a re-run.

The Democrats seem to be living in their own political goldfish bowl. We are told now that there is an active debate among them as to whether Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg should be the replacement candidate for Biden in 2024.

I find this hard to understand. Is middle America likely to vote for either of them? If Biden is not their candidate, it seems to me, admittedly a total outsider, that their only prospect for success would have to be found elsewhere.

I very much doubt that a majority will back America’s first gay president or America’s first black woman candidate - given the current political climate in the US.

Biden has paid a totally unfair price for delivering on the bargain made by Trump with the Taliban in his infamous Doha Accord. His approval ratings have tanked just because he had to clean up Trump’s ill-considered mess in Afghanistan. Walking out on an allied developing, but still embryonic, democracy which was already on a political and economic life-support machine was unconscionable, even for Trump. But many in middle America blame Biden – not Trump. Probably a majority of Trump supporters never heard of the Doha Accord – and probably an even greater majority care little or nothing about it or the Afghans. They just didn’t like the spectacle of seeing the Stars and sStripes being hauled down the flagpole in Baghram. It made them feel like losers. The Doha Accord signed by Trump was never going to turn out differently.

Polarising politics in the US seem to fuel an era of self-destruction. The rich get richer – the poor get left behind. The paper wealth of the rich is powering a Wall Street ponzi scheme in search of unsustainable dividends and capital growth. Any form of sustained redistributive politics is considered quasi-communist. The American Left is embroiled in futile debate about defunding the police, and its internal squabbling has endangered most of Biden’s economic policies.

Like its once-impressive infrastructure, American cohesion and self-image is crumbling. The phrase – living the American Dream – seems empty of meaning. Maybe it is an overblown phrase – after all, we don’t hear our politicians resorting to rhetoric about living the Irish Dream.

But that is not all. The world picture is changing rapidly for the worse. With Putin massing tens of thousands of troops and tanks on the borders of Ukraine and President XI ramping up his threats to invade Taiwan, the US faces a number of very serious challenges. If Biden fails to stand up to these threats in a credibly dissuasive way, he will sink politically without trace.

I do not think it fanciful to see a linkage between the increasing threats in Ukraine and Taiwan. It would suit both Moscow and Beijing to present the US with a simultaneous military challenge in the hope of stretching US military and diplomatic resources beyond breaking point. The Ukraine is no threat to Russia; Taiwan is no threat to China. But it suits the undemocratic regimes in both countries to engage in military expansion on their borders as a means of consolidating their internal grips on power.

These are truly dangerous times. Clouds on our political horizons have not appeared as dark for many decades now. Challenges from pandemics and climate change are joined by challenges to freedom and democracy. Truth is not only inconvenient in the sense Al Gore meant. Distinguishing between truth and falsehood is itself an increasing challenge in the age of the internet. Are we entering some kind of perfect storm – an existential crisis for what seemed so safe and secure at the end of the Cold War?

When Francis Fukuyama penned The End of History and The Last Man in 1992, things were very different. An optimistic title then, it rings a good deal less so now.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Maybe Joe Biden will steer us through the coming challenges with leadership and courage. Maybe these challenges will prove the making of Biden the man. I certainly hope so.

We may see a route through Covid soon. We have weathered the economic storm. Previous generations had to confront greater challenges than those which loom largest in our domestic political discourse.

Days will, after all, be getting longer and brighter in a fortnight’s time. Let’s stay optimistic.


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