Welcome to the Undecided States of America. The decisive result that Joe Biden expected on election night was denied to him — instead the election went to a knife edge and a dispute over postal votes and late ballots that could drag on for days, even weeks. American democracy looks a sorry mess. Is anyone really that surprised?
Donald Trump started crying foul weeks, even months ago. ‘This is a fraud on the American public,’ he declared in the early hours of Wednesday.
Is it ethical to lock us down again? This is not a facetious question. Over the past eight months, we have heard a great deal about the policies used to manage the virus, but very little about the ethics. This is a mistake. We should be asking how we can critically and reasonably strike a balance between conflicting values and interests. Yet even now, with so much at stake, this basic question on the ethics of our policies is not being properly asked.
There used to be a joke, repeated by English tourists in deserted piazzas, that the Italian for church (chiesa) and for closed (chiusa) were almost the same. Whatever the orari on the door, you were always several hours out. And so you would consult your guidebook, admire in miniature the Ghirlandaio, the Lippi, the really very special fresco — and go for a consoling ice cream. The joke was told with the smug Anglo-Saxon certainty that our churches were open to all-comers from before breakfast until after vespers.
When lockdown starts, all kinds of things stop. The first one, in March, was the worst time of my life as a parent, not because of my daughter’s severe disabilities, but because of the lack of support.
Elvi is 19. She has a mental age of three, sleeps four hours a night and can’t walk. She has to be showered, dressed, fed and physically moved around our home. I have learned so much from my beautiful, funny daughter. She works incredibly hard to achieve the smallest things.
France is under attack. Two weeks ago, Samuel Paty, a middle school teacher, was decapitated in a leafy suburb of Paris after showing his students cartoons of the prophet Mohammed published by Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Last week, there were three killings at the Basilica of Notre-Dame in Nice, and after that, an Orthodox priest in Lyon was shot and gravely wounded. ‘Tell my children I love them,’ were the dying words of Simone Barreto Silva, a 44-year-old mother of three and herself an immigrant, killed in Nice.
It has become normal to think of the Islamist attacks in Europe as attacks on a secular way of life. The beheading of the teacher in Paris, the murders in Notre-Dame in Nice and the shootings in Vienna are presented as a struggle between radical Islamism and a particular kind of enlightened secularism born of the French Revolution. That’s the way Emmanuel Macron sees it; that’s the way most educated atheists across Europe see it.
Why is it so insanely difficult to buy a car? And especially if you are a woman? Part of the trouble is that car salesmen are a particularly unreconstructed breed of men who think ‘lady’ customers will be more interested in the size of the vanity mirror than the fuel consumption. But it’s not just that — it’s the fact that they treat the transaction with all the pomp and gravitas of applying for a half-million-pound mortgage.
Russia is using a ‘drumbeat of disinformation’ to attack the American political system. That was the stark conclusion of the FBI director Christopher Wray in his testimony to the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee in September. One aim, he said, was to undermine Joe Biden’s campaign. But the main thrust of the attack — as we will witness in the coming days and weeks — is to undermine public confidence in US democracy itself.
I recently bought some quinces in our local farmshop as part of my new policy of investing heavily in right-wing fruit, vegetables and legumes. This undertaking, born of principle, has meant a surfeit of cauliflower in our diet, the brassica having been identified by the Democratic party congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a signifier of white colonialism.
That the quince is decidedly right of centre is surely beyond dispute.