When our leaders tell us about the future, it may be time to start worrying.
British Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald Trump have one thing in common this week: both appear focused on the future. Whereas Trump, looking forward to the outcome of the midterm elections in November, has “warned of ‘violence’ by opponents if [the Republicans] fail” to control Congress, May, on a more positive and less threatening note, evoked the fate of Britain after Brexit.
In so doing, May has demonstrated that a political leader can actually tell the incontrovertible truth while being totally disingenuous. The Independent informs us that “Theresa May has brushed aside Treasury warnings that a no-deal Brexit will seriously damage the UK economy, claiming instead it ‘wouldn’t be the end of the world.’”
This would remain true even if a hard Brexit brought about the utter collapse of the British economy and the annexation of England and Wales (but not Scotland and Northern Ireland) as the 51st state of the United States. The world would indeed still be intact, at least for a while, even as Trump co-reigned with Queen Elizabeth over a new North Atlantic empire.
In such a case, the world would probably sit back and enjoy the drama playing out before their eyes as Buckingham Palace, under King William and Queen Kate (Bonnie Prince Charlie having once again fled to France), is relocated, stone by stone, to an appropriate suburb of Maryland within the Beltway, and Wall Street begins working in tandem with the City of London to dictate the terms of the global economy.
Here is today’s 3D definition:
End of the world:
The apocalypse, used to designate a consequence slightly worse than the one the speaker has provoked or is ready to provoke, so as to make the likely outcome of one’s actions more appealing
In all fairness to May, the reference to the end of the world wasn’t her original idea. She was simply quoting a greater authority, the director of the World Trade Organization, who had said “about a no deal situation that it would not be a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.” This is probably because he assumed there would be no available park to walk in from Downing Street as St. James Park would be razed to make way for a series of Trump Organization towers and casinos.
The prime minister also showed a subtle attention to the play of history and the philosophical notion of time’s relativity when she explained, “[T]he chancellor was talking about a set of figures that, when they came out in January … [I said] they were work in progress at that particular time.”
So much can happen in seven months. How could you trust your own team to keep up with the times? And everyone knows that a “work in progress” is defined more by the accidents that occur along the way than the initial goal, which will always be compromised by those very accidents. That is what is called political realism.
We learn from this article that Chancellor Philip Hammond’s “letter — suggesting that under a no-deal scenario GDP would be as much as 10 per cent lower after 15 years compared with if the UK had stayed in the EU — has … Eurosceptics accusing the chancellor of being needlessly gloomy.” Throughout history the tradition in Britain has been to keep a stiff upper lip, which is the principal way of not giving into gloom.
But many commentators — for example, here and here — have noticed a serious decline in the popularity of the stiff upper lip. People are increasingly giving way to emotion and strong feelings, expressing them in public and letting the conflicts they generate play out.
One of those who noticed the trend, Martin Francis, professor of war and history at the University of Sussex, has second thoughts about the historical consequences of this trend. After noting that Trump’s “alarming early morning tweets suggest that this may not be the best historical moment to insist on loosening the protocols of emotional restraint in public life,” he suggests “the ‘stiff upper lip’—provided we refuse to approach it through lazy stereotypes—still has a great deal to recommend it.”
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.