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Everybody remembers where they were the night US President Barack Obama got elected. I was watching the coverage in the apartment I was renting at the time when there was a furious banging at the door. The girl from upstairs who knew I was a doctor had asked me to see her flatmate who was really unwell. When I got upstairs it was clear she was having an SVT so I got her to blow into a syringe and went over 100mph for the first time in my life on the M50. I hadn’t seen her since I walked back into the hospital I trained in as a consultant a few weeks ago, but had thought about her every time coverage was shown of that famous night. Reflecting as he finishes his term we must ask, how different does the world look now? And what comes next?
After a rampant 2016 thus far, things have started to go a bit pear-shaped for many of the People Who Insist There Are Easy Solutions To Things (PWITAESTTs) these last few weeks. The Trump juggernaut is careering off the rails with a momentum so great that not even his own great wall could contain it. Of particular relish has been the central role the soaring rhetoric of Michelle Obama has had in his downfall. To see the great white hope of the Alt Right undone by an intelligent, articulate black woman from the rough part of town is truly delicious. Closer to home, middle England is slowly realising that the moderately right wing Tories it went upstairs with last year have given way to the rabid nutters from continuity UKIP it found under the sheets this morning. I’ve lived there and believe me, never mind Brexit, the plummeting pound or the collapse of the Labour Party, when middle England is in open revolt against Gary Lineker, it is end of days stuff.
Now for those of us who subscribe to a set of principles on the other side of the political spectrum, it is difficult at times not to snigger at such vicissitudes but overwhelming middle-class guilt prevents us from doing so.
PWITAESTTs follow a well-defined playbook. You look at your tribe and then you find a tribe that is not yours and point at them and say: “Look! It’s all their fault! Everything that’s wrong in your life is their fault.” What the actual easy solution is can vary, but exists on a slope of anything from pay cuts to sackings to closing down services they never use to locking people up and throwing away the key to building huge walls to deportation and whatever you’re having yourself based on the gravity of the situation to be resolved. PWITAESTTs care little for nuance. They can call for 12,000 Gardaí to be fired and be acclaimed to the rafters without being asked how the security of the State will be maintained while we train the low paid Gardabots who are presumably going to replace them. They can assume that the simple application of the principles and practices that govern lists of day-case procedures in private hospitals can be immediately transposed to large emergency departments dealing with hundreds of unscheduled care episodes of every hue every day, let alone their attendant psychological dramas and social nightmares.
It would be wrong to suggest that PWITAESTTs are limited to the right. Other PWITAESTTs can simply demand to tax the rich without any definition of who the rich are or have to accept its consequences, so averse have they proven themselves in 2016 of exercising the real power they have been entrusted with. They can demand an end to property tax and not be questioned by their adoring echo chamber of followers how this tallies with any of the tennets of socialism. The only real difference between PWITAESTTs on the left and right is their access to media. They all own their own papers, except it would be fair to say that organs such as the Morning Star, An Phoblacht, and Socialist Worker wouldn’t have quite the same reach as their counterparts at the Mail, The Telegraph, and News International. In spite of this, PWITAESTTs of all stripes maintain an utter conviction that they and they alone are standing like modern-day Gary Coopers against a massive monolithic establishment they refuse to define.
Perhaps Obama’s greatest strength and legacy is his steadfast refusal to succumb to the PWITAESTTs. He frequently made reference to “the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government”. The messy compromises, the pragmatism, the pride swallowing and nose holding are what marks out those committed to maintaining peaceful, progressive workaday governance in our modern democracies. Our neighbours in the English-speaking world have shown us the opposite in stark and ugly focus this year.
For all the need to hold those in political power to account, perhaps we should appreciate what we have too.