The age of anxiety

I seem to remember that The Age of Anxiety is the name of a Bernstein symphony, which makes it particularly appropriate today. It’s ironic that it was only on Tuesday that I reached the conclusion that I should be more chilled, less driven. On Wednesday morning we all woke to the news that Donald Trump had triumphed in the US election. It’s hard to be chilled in those circumstances. I felt a sense of despair and disbelief. Trump supporters were on air celebrating the election of an ‘honest man’, their exact words. How does a man who spouts lies and untruths every time he speaks get elected as the honest candidate?  Or the man who abuses women get such a hefty proportion of the women’s vote?


The direction in which the US appears to be heading is disturbing for a number of reasons, not least because there are echoes in Europe and here. The racist, xenophobic, mysogonist, homophobes appear to be in the ascendancy. People who really should know better have helped put them there. There’s a man with a notoriously volatile temperament with his finger on the nuclear button. A man who denies Climate Change in the White House just as we seemed to be making progress towards some concerted action. The danger that he will destroy us all is real – in the short or long term. And it’s difficult not to feel helpless.


So, what do we do? Trust in the checks and balances? Hope there are enough sensible Republicans in the house to rein him in? Maybe we have to, and support our American friends working to remove him in four years time. But I sense that’s not enough. We need to find a way to rescue our democracies, on both sides of the Atlantic, from the forces of reaction on the one hand and from the out of touch neoliberal consensus on the other. This is what happens when a dominant ideology is found wanting with nothing positive to take its place. Trump. Le Pen. Farage.

I’m torn. My natural form of expression is writing. Plays. Poems. Books. All of these are better at raising questions than answering them. As soon as too many answers are offered they are in danger of becoming polemics, propaganda. But the debate is important. Challenging the concept that referenda are appropriate in a parliamentary democracy. Challenging the hatred and bile printed daily by our press.  Holding politicians to account.

And then there’s the question of political involvement. Like many people I find political parties tricky. By definition they are broad churches. They all do and say things I don’t agree with. I’ve been a member of the Liberals more than once, resigned in disgust over tuition fees and austerity, flirted with going back. Friends have joined or resigned from the Labour party because they support Corbyn, or because they don’t. The Greens fail to make the impact they should, maybe because they dilute their environmental credentials with their wider policies, losing some of their less left wing supporters. Green politics, it seems to me should run across the political spectrum. Maybe the on line pressure groups provide some of the answer. Maybe new groups like More United. In the meantime, I just keep on writing and hope to help with the national debate.

I remember that Bernstein symphony as stirring, disturbing, at times cacophonous. Not unlike the news reports these last two days. Being chilled may seem the wrong response to all this but I’m hoping it will lead to more effective responses.  

Tony Earnshaw

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