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The future is unwritten


In theory, I agree with Erik’s advice that it would be best today to avoid the news altogether until fairly late in the evening.

In practice, I had the following experience six years ago to this very day:

After seeing various stories throughout the afternoon about how all the internal polls and leaked early returns indicated the expected comfortable win for Clinton — there were already Maggiesque insider reports about the rush inside the Trump campaign to apportion blame — I logged off the Internet quite intentionally and took my son to the park (it was a warm sunny day in Boulder despite the date). My spouse was also quite determined not to let the evening be taken up with obsessing over the foreordained result, so later in the evening we made dinner, cleaned up, gave our child a bath, read him his favorite stories, and, keeping Spanish hours, didn’t have him asleep until after 9 PM, which was after 11 on the east coast.

Only then did I turn on the TV, upon which I was informed by somebody or other on CNN that it looked very much like Donald Trump was going to be the next president of the United States. This was an event which seemed at the moment and continues to seem six years later completely unbelievable, although I had predicted more than a year earlier that it could very well happen, at a time when all Savvy Observers were certain that the Trump campaign was nothing more than an elaborate media stunt for grifting purposes. Which of course it very much was, but then our version of The Producers happened.

So that’s how I found out about Donald Trump. In the intervening years the temptation to give in to deep pessimism if not total despair about the future of this country has been strong on many occasions. It may well be particularly strong later tonight. But the future is always unwritten until we ourselves write it.

THE other week, in the Spectator, Mr Harold Nicolson was consoling himself as best be could for having reached the age of sixty. As he perceived, the only positive satisfaction in growing older is that after a certain point you can begin boasting of having seen things that no one will ever have the chance to see again. It set me wondering what boasts I could make myself, at forty-four, or nearly. Mr Nicolson had seen the Czar, surrounded by his bodyguard of enormous Cossacks, blessing the Neva. I never saw that, but I did see Marie Lloyd, already almost a legendary figure, and I saw Little Tich—who, I think, did not die till about 1928, but who must have retired at about the same time as Marie Lloyd—and I have seen a whole string of crowned heads and other celebrities from Edward VII onwards. But on only two occasions did I feel, at the time, that I was seeing something significant, and on one of these occasions it was the circumstances and not the person concerned that made me feel this.

One of these celebrities was Pétain. It was at Foch’s funeral in 1929. Pétain’s personal prestige in France was very great. He was honoured as the defender of Verdun, and the phrase ‘They shall not pass’ was popularly supposed to have been coined by him. He was given a place to himself in the procession, with a gap of several yards in front of and behind him. As he stalked past—a tall, lean, very erect figure, though he must have been seventy years old or thereabouts, with great sweeping white moustaches like the wings of a gull—a whisper of Voilà Pétain went rippling through the vast crowd. His appearance impressed me so much that I dimly felt, in spite of his considerable age, that he ought still have some kind of distinguished future ahead of him.

George Orwell, January 24, 1947

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