‘That was some weird sh*t’: an eyeball-scratching year of Trump and Brexit
Kathy Sheridan: Ignorant shoutiness emerged as the motif of 2017
The 2017 prize for most succinct summary goes to George W Bush. “That was some weird shit,” he muttered as President Donald J Trump wound up his inaugural, dystopian “American carnage” speech. George W spoke for all viewers scratching their eyeballs, while the fair and balanced Trumpists insisted that the office would render him presidential. A couple of weeks ago Trump tweeted that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand “would come to my office ‘begging’ for company contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)”. Yes, he’s all grown up, is Donald.
The theatrically heavy sigh for missed photo opportunity goes to the inauguration organiser who realised that, from a certain angle, the white rain ponchos ready for issue to attendees could resemble Ku Klux Klan hoods. And replaced them, damn it.
So, in the absence of battalions of pointy-hooded Trump supporters, the award for summoning the 2017 zeitgeist must go to the New Yorker cartoonist Joe Dator, who depicts a television host adjudicating answers from competitors on a quiz show called Facts Don’t Matter : “I’m sorry, Jeannie, your answer was correct, but Kevin shouted his incorrect answer over yours, so he gets the points.”
Jeannie is the only woman on the show, so it is most likely a comment on sexism. As such, readers may see it as a superb take on the dynamic of many conferences and soirees and an aid to understanding the latent fury underpinning the #MeToo movement.
But Kevin’s ignorant shoutiness can stand alone as a motif of the year. If your head felt like a wasp’s nest in 2017, it was probably because of the realisation that Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland had become as fundamental to our understanding of the era as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. The preservation of sanity requires that we accept unreality and plunge down that rabbit hole of “truthiness”, into a parallel universe where words mean precisely what you want them to mean and where way too many of the inhabitants carry on as if this were normal.
Lightweight Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a total flunky for Chuck Schumer and someone who would come to my office “begging” for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them), is now in the ring fighting against Trump. Very disloyal to Bill & Crooked-USED!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 12, 2017
The UK passport is an expression of our independence and sovereignty – symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation. That's why we have announced that the iconic #bluepassport will return after we leave the European Union in 2019. https://t.co/pgQvrBIna5— Theresa May (@theresa_may) December 22, 2017
The problem is we retain the capacity for surprise, which with each new Trump atrocity feels like a repeated blow to the head.
We forget this is well-ploughed territory. The word “truthiness” was coined in 2005 – all of 12 years ago – by Stephen Colbert, to reflect how “Fox News was turning politics into an evidence-free zone of seething resentments”, as Hillary Clinton describes it. The Republican strategist Karl Rove was famously deriding critics who lived in “the reality-based community”, saying they failed to grasp that “we’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality”. This year Kellyanne Conway, Trump’s counsellor, brought us to right up to date, refining the concept as “alternative facts”.
Our nearest neighbour has gone the same route, although minus the global power, the insouciance and that startling gift for misdirection. The Times of London ran a big headline in January: “May to EU: give us fair deal or you’ll be crushed.” By December she had capitulated on all fronts. She simply retitled “capitulation” as “keeping Brexit on track” and was welcomed back as a conquering queen.
As for how the UK would be ultimately affected, here is May’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, in June: “In my job I don’t think out loud and I don’t make guesses . . . We’ve got 50, nearly 60 sectoral analyses already done.” October: “They are in excruciating detail.” November: “It is not the case that 58 sectoral-impact assessments exist.” December: “Just because you use the word ‘impact’ doesn’t make it an impact assessment.” Then he said they didn’t exist at all. Then he released some “sectoral analyses” that had all the signs of having been compiled by a couple of interns pulling all-nighters for two or three weeks and producing such gems as “the UK automotive sector is diverse” and, about fisheries, “There is a concentration of activity in coastal towns . . .”
Credible studies suggest that Brexit will cost the UK about £350 million a week, exactly the amount Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s red battle bus claimed would be the post-Brexit bounce for the NHS.
But, as if trying to distract a child, May seeks to take people’s eyes off the calamitous big picture. Just before the holidays she tweeted: “The UK passport is an expression of independence and sovereignty - symbolising our citizenship of a proud, great nation. That’s why we have announced that the iconic #bluepassport will return after we leave the European Union in 2019.” To which the former An Taisce chairman Charles Stanley-Smith responded, with illustrative picture, “My last iconic BLACK passport – never a blue one.” To which this column would add, again: the EU never mandated the burgundy passport. Croatia has held on to its old one, for pity’s sake.
Number two in Merriam-Webster’s 10 most looked-up words of 2017 was “complicit”. (Number one was “feminism”.) Complicit is defined as “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way”, and comes from the Latin word meaning “to fold together”. It will be interesting to revisit it this time next year.