In keeping with the times, let’s quote Vladimir Lenin. The Communist leader, looking back on the October Revolution and seeing it in the context of what had gone before in Russia – from late 19th-century Tsarist reforms to the 1917 Bolshevik takeover – quipped “there are decades when nothing happens and then there are weeks when decades happen”.
Believers in the Leninist world view of big epochal moments might be tempted to conclude that Irish politics has just witnessed one. By this analysis, the previous status quo has been shattered, and a new paradigm is taking shape, whereby old people vote Fine Gael or Fianna Fáil, and young people vote Sinn Féin.
As Ireland is one of the most globalised economies in the world, we should pay more attention to global trends than we pay to local or regional ones. Granted, given what is happening in London, this week has been an epoch-changing one in terms of Anglo-Irish relations. No one can be reassured by the complexion of the UK cabinet and their collective delusion that only Ireland now stands between them and their great neo-Elizabethan swashbuckling Brexit adventure.
But Westminster is not the only story. Because of Ireland’s trade flows with the US and the EU, the outlook for the global economy is as important for us as the political machinations in Whitehall, even though it doesn’t seem so right now. In fact, as a trading nation which exports six times per head more per worker than the UK, Ireland is much more plugged into decisions taken all over the world than those unveiled in London.
This year was an exceptionally strong one for the Irish economy. In fact, 10 years after a monumental crash which destroyed the balance sheet of many hundreds of thousands of Irish people, the position a decade later is quite remarkable.
At the depth of the crisis, most of us wouldn’t have predicted that incomes would be back above their 2008 peak by 2018.
Despite obvious problems in the housing market, overall performance has been pretty good and pretty good is well, pretty good.
We humans have a tendency to undervalue the significance of pretty good. It is always easier to point out what is wrong, rather than appreciating what is right. We tend to allow some notion of “the perfect” to bully “the good”, as if good is the enemy of perfect; it is not.
Two huge rivers, the Rhone and the Soane which converge in Lyon, have been ferrying goods, people and ideas into this majestic city for centuries. The Greeks were here, so too were the Romans. The Romans made this place the capital of Gaul.
When Julius Caesar was assassinated, the recently subjugated Gauls revolted, prompting the Romans to move their city to the high ground over the rivers. From here the city flourished, close to Italy, Switzerland and Germany, absorbing ideas and people from each region.
Examples of these foreign incursions abound. The Gothic cathedral, a symbol of the power of the Catholic church, was extensively defaced by Calvinists from Geneva who took over the city briefly. The silk industry, created by Italian merchants, drove the bourgeois prosperity of the city for centuries.
The arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief finance officer and the daughter of the founder of Huawei, one of China’s richest men, by Canadian authorities on spying charges could be a game-changer for the global multilateral trading system. The Canadians are acting on behalf of the Americans here. Washington is pulling the strings.
Huawei is the world’s largest telecom manufacturer, and the second largest smartphone maker after Apple. America accuses it of stealing American technology; most likely Apple’s technology.
Burlington Vermont is cold in late November. Huge mounds of recently cleared snow attest to the coming of winter, which in this part of the world, just below the Canadian border and far from the warming influence of the oceans, is long, dark and absolutely freezing.
The shops of Church Street are doing a brisk business in quilted jackets, boots and woolly hats. With its open log fires, law-abiding citizens and reusable coffee mugs, there’s a touch of a little Denmark in North America about this place. That is until you see the row upon row of F-16 fighter jets in the airport terminal.
This is definitely America; but it’s not the America we have come to expect in the era of Trump. Vermont is a tolerant, wealthy, almost Trudeauesque corner of the US. It was the first state to abolish slavery, is home to the hippy ice cream moguls Ben and Jerry, and has returned Bernie Sanders to the Senate for the past two decades.