2017: A crazed odyssey

PUBLISHED: 17:00 17 November 2017

A still from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey


Comedian, musician and writer MITCH BENN on a year in which politics is quite literally crazy

So, where were you on November 8 last year?

I can remember exactly where I was; I was alone in a room in the Holiday Inn in Media City, the gleamingly futuristic development in Salford Quays to which much of the British television industry has relocated.

That’s where I was in geographical terms; in spiritual/emotional terms I was descending, as was basically the entire human race, apart from 63 million Americans and Vladimir Putin, into a seemingly bottomless vortex of horror and despair.

In case you’re wondering why I was alone in the Salford Media City Holiday Inn when I should really have been with my loved ones, huddling together and wailing with dread (as I am given to understand most of you spent that evening), I’d just recorded an edition of Celebrity Mastermind, in which I marked up two achievements: firstly, I won; secondly, I stretched the definition of the word ‘celebrity’ beyond all previous limits. I received my engraved glass trophy with pride and relief (for the close of the show I had to sit in That Chair holding my prize and look pleased with myself until the credits stopped rolling – this is by some measure the most agonisingly self-conscious I’ve ever felt in a life which has not been short of awkward moments), retired to my hotel room and then watched as the world fell apart.

I can’t now look at my little glass trophy without being reminded (as if we ever get much of a chance to forget) what else happened on the evening of November 8, 2016.

I had cause to resent Donald Trump’s victory from the very moment it occurred, and the 12 months since haven’t helped at all.

It’s difficult, looking back across even this relatively narrow expanse of time, to recall exactly what we expected to come next.

Nothing good, certainly, but I don’t think we knew quite what form the not-good stuff was going to take.

In the event, the year has been perhaps a more mixed bag than we’d dared hope, on both sides of the Atlantic.

The reins of power may still be in the hands of the venal, the duplicitous, the shifty and the just plain incompetent, but their grip on those reins gets slacker the more their inadequacies are exposed.

Over here, while Brexit is still ostensibly proceeding according to plan, it’s becoming harder and harder to disguise the fact that ‘according to plan’ means ‘hurtling out of control’.

There is no plan, and everyone now knows this, even if the government and a dwindling percentage of the electorate are still furiously pretending otherwise.

Over there, the ‘off-year’ elections of a week or so ago (just a few state legislatures and a couple of governorships) went very much the Democrats’ way, giving rise to hopes of similar gains in next year’s altogether more consequential mid-terms. What I don’t think any of us saw coming was the levels of actual insanity that would afflict top-level politics this last year, and I don’t mean ‘insanity’ in the figurative ‘phew, it’s all a bit mad isn’t it’ sense.

I mean it in the clinical sense. Politics at this end of 2017 is quite literally crazy.

In retrospect I suppose it was inevitable, given that both the US and UK governments have created entire legislative programmes based around the denial of reality and the promotion in its stead not just of fantasies, but of palpably flimsy fantasies, so flimy they wouldn’t stand up to a moment’s examination.

In Britain we have a government committed absolutely to delivering something it knows is impossible (the non-train wreck Brexit); in America they have an administration working 24 hours a day to project the myth that the country hasn’t elected a childish, brittle, semi-literate, rapacious, gluttonous, volatile, narcissistic sex pest to the highest office in the land (and, moreover, the transparent falsehood that his ‘victory’ was entirely above board and legitimate, and that he received no unfair assistance from anyone, certainly not the hostile foreign power to whom he nonetheless exhibits inexplicably unswerving loyalty).

This is how you end up with the levels of sheer political derangement under which we currently labour.

This is how you end up with a foreign secretary unwittingly testifying AGAINST a British citizen held in an Iranian jail and keeping his job regardless of this (and the 18 months of gaffes and blunders which preceded it).

This is how you end up with right-wing politicians and pundits in the States, faced with the prospect of the Republicans fielding a senatorial candidate against whom allegations of sexual abuse of teenage girls are being made, choosing to defend not the man, but the alleged crimes themselves, dismissing them as having been no big deal.

Their case is not that he didn’t do it; it’s ‘who cares if he did?’ Their partisanship is so utterly rabid that they’ll go on the record defending child molestation rather than concede that their voters might have backed a wrong ‘un.

This is, quite simply, insane.

In 2010: The Year We Make Contact, the nothing like as good but still worth a look sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, it’s discovered that the ship’s computer HAL’s descent into murderous mutiny in the first story was caused by his being given two irreconcilably contradictory sets of instructions before the mission began.

Unable to resolve the paradox, HAL suffered a psychotic breakdown.

So it is with the US and UK governments. They’re driving themselves crazy trying to implement impossible policies and deny glaring realities. There’s no sane way to peddle insanity, and our countries are spiralling into literal madness as a result.

If we need a rallying cry for the next 12 months, it must surely be ‘Make Britain Sane Again’.

The Americans can have the same slogan if they want.

Now we just need to decide what colour the hat should be.

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