What The Hell Just Happened?
It was the tail end of 2016, like the last inch of a fag you regret lighting, really, but can’t throw away before the end. Before you understand that time, you have to understand how we came to be there.
Eighteen months earlier Great Britain had just been coming to terms with the biggest political shock of modern times, when, after five years of desperately asserting that he wasn’t too much of geek/weakling/insider/outsider/Communists/Blairite to be Prime minister, Ed Miliband failed become Prime Minister. Anger was still raging at the people whose job it was to ask people what they thought and report it back to us, for failing to speak to the people that would have said the things that would have allowed them to report the result – which was a narrow victory for one of the two people that were supposed to be very close indeed. The world reeled.
News sources from the era indicate that this was the most anticipated shocker of all time, with some seventy-five per cent of commentators baffled that The Left* had not seen it coming. They helpfully published step by step plans that would definitely fix ‘the problem’, under decisive headlines like ‘what is the problem?’ Ed Miliband came to the world like he was expecting it to tell him it was more hurt than angry, handed us back our engagement ring and promptly beggared off. The twitterati asked what sort of world would follow this unprecedented upending of the political system. Then the rich white guy that had already been Prime Minister for five years carried on with it.
In the end, Miliband couldn’t even hold onto the title ‘biggest WTF’ for long. At the same time as all this was going on, a long overlooked group of passionate and determined supporters saw their time was coming. Again, no one else did. As with every time that anything has ever happened for the first time, everyone pointed to the fact that it hadn’t happened before as evidence that it wouldn’t happen this time, until it happened this time and became the evidence ever after that this is the sort of thing that happens. Those people that had believed they were right twenty years ago when they had no success now gleefully pointed to their growing success as proof that they were right. Everyone else pointed to the last few decades of failure as proof that they would always fail, at an increasingly desperate pitch as the point where everything was supposed to revert to normal drew closer and closer. We all watched, thinking we would see world order restored and instead finding that it had apparently always been possible for Leicester FC to win the Premier League. But even before all of that, we had Jeremy Corbyn being elected Labour leader.
Remember, this was still 2015, when Jeremy Corbyn was never actually going to get elected leader, as opposed to 2016, when literally no one else could possibly be elected leader. As shocks went this totally topped the man who looked-least-like-a-Prime-Minister-of-all-candidates-in-history not being made Prime Minister. People were fed up with the political elite, said a band of white, middle class, professional talking heads about someone else, apparently. The majority were fed up of ‘Them’ pushing spin-doctored capitalism and brutal austerity down their throats – they wanted proper left wing policies, real change, revolution. That’s why they’d voted Tory. A previously unknown middle class white guy was given no chance of winning, before winning a landslide on a platform of saving the nation from the government they had literally just voted in.
Meanwhile, people are shocked to discover business as usual occurring all around them, and furious to discover that the steady decline in their living standards has continued in spite of them voting in the same government that oversaw the last half decade of decline. The Conservatives continued to ignore this and do whatever the hell they wanted, Labour argued amongst themselves about what it was people wanted, UKIP told everyone what they wanted and the Lib Dems may or may not have continued to exist.
There was the same rise in nationalism that there is every forty years or so, when economic decline causes selfish politics or vice versa, and people again reacted as if this had never happened before and there was no way of knowing what would happen or what they should do. This is considered a bad thing everywhere except Scotland, where it is characterised as a youthful, optimistic movement and is the only campaign to have lost their referendum. They do, however, win all the parliamentary seats. This is, briefly, considered a serious sign of seismic, global political change by British commentators – no one else on Earth even knows that it’s happened.
By now David Cameron is beginning to regret believing the people that believed the people they asked about their voting intentions. Having stupidly failed to predict the outcome that literally no one predicted, he’d assumed he would be desperate for votes if he was going to beat the guy that no one believed could possibly be Prime Minister. He had therefore promised a referendum to appease the people that wanted to leave the EU, to stop them voting for the party that were promising to leave the EU.
Pollsters were asked to go out and ask people who they were voting for and people said they would vote to stay. They were again castigated to not asking the right people to get the right answers that would have been the right result.
The value of the pound plummets and some people take to the streets. Some lash out at minorities and vulnerable people, sometimes physically, some people fear for their safety. People Google how they emigrate. Some write bitter or gloating blog posts. Some go on television shows and radio programs to argue with other people about what’s happened. The vast, vast majority of people have a brief chat about it and then go back to work. Everybody forgets about Scotland.
News sources from the era indicate that this was now the most anticipated shocker of all time, with some eighty-five per cent of commentators baffled that The Establishment* had not seen it coming. They helpfully published step by step plans that would definitely fix ‘the problem’, under decisive headlines like ‘what is the problem?’ David Cameron walks off the strains of Gotye’s ‘Somebody that I used to know’. The Conservatives put a middle class white woman in charge and carried on with what they were doing. Labour put Corbyn in charge again. UKIP wandered around with the smug awkwardness of a man holding two drinks at a party. The Lib Dems thought this would be their chance to be relevant again – it wasn’t.
By now what seemed like a lot of British Celebrities had died that year. This genuinely adds to the feeling that the world is ending. There is a general feeling that nothing has gone right since Bowie.
Amidst the chaos of the end of society, the previous shadow chancellor forgot why it was he didn’t usually do the Samba to Gangnam Style in public. At roughly the same time as a British Politician was entering a reality television show, an American reality star was entering the race to become President.
In what may have started as History’s most Epic Troll, Donald Trump wakes up one morning and decides he’d like to run America – sadly, in one of the only nations on Earth where that means he just can. Having no experience or political views to shape his campaign, and not having the EU to use as a general scape goat, decided to blame Islam. Remember, this was in the days before we discovered that Islam had been invented before 2001 and therefore the link to terrorism seemed stronger than it was. He also decides to Make America Great AGAIN, pledging a fresh approach and a politics of change to deliver America back to a point in its past.
Many Americans agreed that they were in fact happier when they were 20 years younger. Some liked the idea that they deserved more than people whose ancestors had come to America on the same actual boat as their ancestors. Many were fed up with The Establishment*, which, in this case, was the collective term for any of the independent and unconnected opinions, music, movies or internet content that pressured them to accept, support, change for or think about women, LGBT people, other races, religions, mental health, employment rights, affirmative action, social media, mindfulness or anything else that never existed 20 years ago, damn it.
Commentators and politicians were reasonably sure, however, that none of that would be true when it came to voting for the guy. Pundits appeared not to notice how often they said the words ‘You can’t run for President when’. When you’ve said you’ll ban all Muslims from the USA. When you’ve been repeatedly caught out on bare faced lies with irrefutable evidence. When you’ve been caught on camera admitting that you grab women’s vaginas without consent. Proving, again, that ‘you can’t’ really means ‘no one has yet’ and ‘no one has yet’ means fuck all. But before the election it was agreed that no reasonable person could possibly vote for Trump, and anyway, the pollsters we asked to ask people how they were voting….
This was the now most anticipated shocker of all time, with some ninety-five per cent of commentators baffled that LITERALLY NO ONE had seen it coming. Everyone except Trump thinks how dreadful it must be to be Hillary that morning. Trump goes to the White House looking as though he’d swap his left testicle to have won the popular vote and not been president. Obama looks about ready to swap Trumps testicle for something. The world looks on as the man that symbolised that America had, once and for all, become a progressive optimistic nation shook hands with the man that symbolised, once and for all, that America was screwed.
Which brings us about to where we are now, by my reckoning. If my future children are reading this, I suppose there is a chance that it’s in a dystopian post-truth global recession, in which case perhaps it will offer some explanation as to what we did to them. But really, I think it’s far more likely that they’ll use this to comfort themselves when, years after Trump proved his own views wrong, after we’ve been forced to rebuild the bridges we’re currently burning, after we’ve begun to take it for granted, we make all the same mistakes again.
Which, in a way, is just as sad.