The human capacity to recover from trauma and disaster is remarkable as anyone visiting cities devastated in the Second World in the immediate post war decades will have seen. From London to Berlin, Tokyo to St Petersburg – even Fire-bombed Hamburg and Atom-bombed Nagasaki and Hiroshima cities rose again from the ashes. And so it will be, we must hope, for Britain and America after their self-inflicted electoral infernos of 2016.
The election of Trump and the fateful decision by Britain to leave the European Union live with us daily four years on from the disasters. There is little point is still complaining and crying that the decisions lacked logic or even credible explanation. Actually we have 20th Century precedents for populist nationalism which do help explain why Anglo Saxon electorates in 2016 took leave of their senses. We can learn from the Germans how to recover, let’s hope we do.
For America the beginning of recovery is a couple of weeks away. The infection of Trump runs from the Oval Office all the way through the Augean Stables of his malignant administration . The election of Joe Biden will remove from office not just the offensive blight that is Trump but also the hundreds of his place-men across the Government.
This side of the pond the recovery will take longer. As in America the vote in 2016 damaged the the continuity of competent coherence we expect from our leadership. You might politically disagree with (say) Gordon Brown or John Major (or George Bush or Barack Obama) but you could rely on them to govern in the national interest. David Cameron and then Donald Trump changed these expectations. The 2010 to 2015 Coalition Government was part of the continuity but Cameron couldn’t cope with the “Revolt of the Right”. The 2014 European elections won by UKIP were a warning that Cameron failed to learn from. To hold a referendum on EU membership so soon after Farage’s gruesome triumph was arrogant and deadly.
Populist nationalism – “Make America Great Again” or it’s flag-waving equivalents in broken Britain – has a gut appeal. Combine this with a simplistic blame culture and raw propaganda and the ground shifts from logic to revenge. Here the precedent is the French or the Russian revolutions. There was less blood in the streets but the tumbrels rolled for Cameron and Labour’s social democrats just as they had for Louis XVI and the Tsar. Corbyn and (eventually) Johnson were the Lenins who profited from the Revolt.
The election of Joe Biden would be the reassertion of the establishment, bloody and bowed though it is. Similarly the election of Keir Starmer (a quintessentially establishment figure) would help us here reassert the logic of competent coherence we have a right to expect from our leaders. Re-integrating this european nation into the European Union is another necessary condition for the return of normality. We are going to have to be patient on both counts.
There is a church in Hamburg that miraculously survived Bomber Harris’s best efforts to flatten the city completely. From the top of its tower you can see a modern vibrant city today where seventy years ago it was all rubble. The human capacity to recover.