You know who I blame for all this? Those stupid hanging chads.
“Blame them for what, Paul?” For everything. For the entire dumpster fire that is the 21st century. For they are the nexus point on which the whole of modern history turns. They were the beating butterfly’s wings that triggered storms from Baghdad to Aleppo to Kyiv, and which rained down everything from Boris and Brexit to Trump and “Trussonomics” on our unsuspecting heads.
You remember the hanging chads, right? Those tiny bits of paper left by hole-punching machines that, during the 2000 US presidential election, led to thousands of votes in the state of Florida being discounted. A recount was ordered, only to be cancelled by the Supreme Court – allowing five elderly, conservative justices to hand the White House to George W Bush, even though later independent investigations showed that Bush’s opponent, Al Gore, had won the state. That’s an actual stolen election (as opposed to the fake one Donnie Trump’s still banging on about) in the world’s so-called greatest democracy, that we all just collectively shrugged and moved on from.
Except we didn’t, really. Because the ripples from that Supreme Court decision would continue to spread around the globe for decades to come. George W Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq resulted in more than 150,000 violent deaths in that benighted country, and radicalised a generation of terrorists. The multi-trillion dollar cost of the war forced America to go cap in hand to China, which now has its old geopolitical rival – to put it bluntly – by the balls. Stripped of its authority on the world stage – and with zero appetite among US citizens for more foreign adventures – a cowed America sat back and allowed Vladimir Putin to wage war in Chechnya, in Syria (half a million deaths, and counting) and now in Ukraine, where a humanitarian tragedy has been accompanied by a global economic shock that’s left people from Warsaw to Wisbech struggling to heat their homes.
In Britain, meanwhile, Tony Blair’s blind loyalty to Bush’s illegal Middle East crusade effectively killed the New Labour project, squandering all the optimism and goodwill of that 1997 new dawn. Would Gordon Brown have lost the 2010 election without the shadow of Iraq still looming over his party and his government? Possibly. But the fact his natural heir, former foreign secretary David Miliband, was viewed as so complicit in the Iraq disaster probably tipped the balance of the subsequent Labour leadership election in favour of his less persuasive brother Ed, which in turn probably led to David Cameron’s majority at the 2015 election.
And we all know what happened after that, don’t we readers? There’s a very clear, very straight line between Cameron’s manifesto pledge to hold a referendum on EU membership to all the chaos (without Ed Miliband, as it turned out) that followed – chaos in which we all became hostages in the endless Tory psychodrama. (To add to the perfect storm of events, Labour also chose this exact moment to put its faith in Russia Today’s Jeremy Corbyn, whose leadership helped deliver both Brexit and Boris Johnson’s whomping 2019 majority.)
And now (at time of writing, at least*) we have Liz Truss, who has managed the spectacular feat of tanking the British economy at a point in her new job when most of us are still waiting for IT to sort us out with a log-in.
So as you burn another dining room chair to keep warm this winter, remember those five people – Supreme Court justices William H. Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony M Kennedy and Clarence Thomas – who set the course for the entire 21st century. And as you watch in horror as Liz “pork markets!” Truss* pours yet more effluent – both literal and metaphorical – into the open sewer that is Britain in 2022, and Putin threatens to go nuclear, and the children of Syria continue to die in chemical weapons attacks, think of those little bits of paper in Florida, and consider how different the world might look today if they’d only used a better sodding hole-punch.
(*You remember Liz Truss, right?)
This article was originally published in the Cambridge Independent, October 5 2022