My favourite fictional book series is about the St Mary’s Institute of historical research, features history and time travel, and is set vaguely in the future and often in the past. A bunch of eccentric historians bounce around the timeline witnessing history first hand, and trying not to change it. Clever and hilarious.
Its treatment of the United States (with the first books written pre-Trump) is as a nation that ‘closed its borders’ in every sense, with no people, information or even rumours leaking out and possibly terrible (but unknown) things happening within.
During the Trump presidency and thereafter, it has not been hard to see how the USA might end up as an isolated and self-destructive state. Trumpism invented the concept of fake news and blurred the boundaries between fantasy and reality. This settled on an already divided and toxic mix of views and beliefs around race, slavery, immigration, capitalism and the right to bear arms. Oh yes, with strange views on personal freedom acting like salt and pepper on this spicy dish, justifying all things.
It would be nice to say that the Biden era had unpicked the worst bits of the previous presidency, but that has not happened. Whether because the governance system is far too hard, or whether because Joe himself is just too old to lead (he turns 80 this year), or even maybe that the nation is just too stuffed, moving away from Trumpism just appears to be too hard.
So it was interesting to watch the media reports around Jacinda’s visit to the United States. While the visit covered many different issues, each daily report in print, radio or TV was imbued with the breathless speculation over whether Jacinda would get invited to the White House to meet the President.
That she did was viewed by a triumph, even though there was not a single policy win for New Zealand in her visit.
In fact I rather got the impression that Jacinda was there to bolster Biden’s image rather than vice versa. While the media seem to have universally reported the meeting as a win for New Zealand, I am struggling to see this. Yes, yes, international diplomacy is based on relationships. But really?
Three takeaways from the meeting:
- Is Joe Biden even alive? His gait is wooden and I notice he had not just speaking notes, but a whole script, in front of him. And he still had nothing of any interest to say. He seemed unable to hold a conversation. Does he even know he is President?
- Jacinda’s visit was far less important than his subsequent meeting with a famous K-Pop group.
- Kamala Harris has been pushed into the background of Biden’s presidency. It was good to see her talking with Jacinda in a far more authentic manner than Ole Joe managed.
So just at the time that the Democrats, and the American people, needed a charismatic change agent as President, a person of real leadership, they got Joe. Perhaps Jodi Taylor’s account of the locked-in USA might be more prescient than we think. It is hard to see how the nation as a whole can come back from its current political turmoil.