Debate didn’t ring your chimes? Relax. It could never happen here.

Posted on October 1, 2020

At the end of my last blogpost, I bemoaned the fact that I couldn’t find anything to lift the gloom cast by the daily news. And then, just as we all thought that we had peered at the floor of the abyss, we had the US Presidential debate.

Like most people, I’ve only seen snippets. That’s been enough, of course. Anyone compelled to endure the whole ninety minutes could be excused if they were still still taking deep breaths in a darkened room. If this had been two flatulent uncles frothing blindly at each other after too much Christmas sherry, it might even have been mildly amusing in its demeaning inevitability. It wasn’t. It was two men vying for one of the most powerful positions on the planet. Well, there were three of them, of course, given the presence of the ineffectual coat-holder flapping about as moderator. I don’t know if he got paid for his efforts; if he did, he should congratulate himself on pulling off the trick of getting wages for doing bugger all.

It’s tempting, of course, to exonerate Biden. Of the three old boys on show, he was the least culpable. That he allowed himself to lapse into occasional tit-for-tat has been blinked at by some as understandable in the face of Trump’s gross intemperance. I’m not so sure. First, he must have known what was coming: second, there are a few shrewd old operators around the world who’ll know how to prick a thin skin when they spot it if the time comes. Nevertheless, nobody could possibly make the case that it was anything other than Trump’s vile conduct and commentary which made this such a genuinely revolting spectacle.

In the days and memes since, I’ve seen a recurring response. The argument is that in the USA, where vulgarity, ignorance and over-consumption seem to so dominate public life, those Americans are getting what they deserve – and that maybe now they’ll come to their senses.  If they don’t, then they’re clearly a lost cause and they’re going to hell in a handcart. Even if we leave aside the inconvenient truth that in an interconnected world, the actions of a world superpower affect us all, another irritant remains. Deal or no Brexit deal, one of our own florid uncles will be sitting across the table from one of these septuagenarians and the outcome might affect the toxicity of your supper. These people are our bestest friends. Apparently.

Another reaction can only be summed up by the German term schadenfreude – the derivation of pleasure from the discomfiture of others. Thank goodness, we tell ourselves, that we have the class and style which prevents us from sliding into such unseemliness. Except that’s not exactly true, is it?

The post-Covid House of Commons has spared us the grim spectacle of grown men (it’s pretty gender specific) braying at each other, exchanging infantile, theatrical gestures as a substitute for measured debate. But for all this unedifying legacy of the prep-school playground, it’s unthinkable that we’d allow ourselves – the inheritors of one of the world’s most refined democracies – to be duped into electing buffoons, charlatans and just plain old dimwits into positions of the highest office. We’re far too vigilant and savvy for that. Possibly.

Because while we’ve all been wrestling with whatever today’s lockdown rulings might be, the sparkling business of the internal market bill is still exercising those members of the mother of parliaments who might still care. I appreciate how the very mention of this piece of legislation will have your blood running to fever point but bear with me – it’s important.

Should parliament decide to approve this bill, it would be doing two things. First, it would be reneging on an agreement about withdrawing from the EU that it passed less than nine months ago. Second, it would be breaking international law – and doing so in an entirely intentional and brazen way.  ‘Yes, this does break international law in a very specific and limited way,’ Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis told the Commons, but ‘in a certain very tightly defined circumstance.’ Oh, that’s OK then. We’re just breaking the law a bit.

Of all the outrageous bile spewed from Trump in recent weeks, the most alarming is the increasingly disturbing notion that he won’t accept the result of the election. Of course, we reassure ourselves, that could never happen because the law would sort it all out. Except that the law is not a constant. It reflects the morals, ethics and values of those who make it and in Trump’s America, the replacement of liberal Ruth Bader Ginsburg with staunchly conservative Amy Coney Barrett could have drastic and lasting outcomes. One of these is that  the law could, indeed, back Trump in the event of a defeat.

But no need for us to worry. If there’s one thing we know about, it’s the sanctity of the law and its role in a democratic society. What’s more, we all make it our duty to keep an eye on the lawmakers, no matter how dull their deliberations seem to be. Don’t we? We can happily sit back and tut to our hearts’ content as Americans have to endure such miserable, degraded politics. It could never happen here.

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