I was driving home from Edinburgh between 5 and 6 pm one day last week, with one ear on Radio 4’s PM programme. Eddie Mair was interviewing one of the BBC political correspondents, as far as I remember, about Brexit. The correspondent described the current political situation as “a plunging chasm of uncertainty.”
“Plunging chasm of uncertainty?” queried Eddie, in an amused tone. At the end of the interview he said, “In your honour, I’ll try to use ‘plunging chasm of uncertainty’ before the end of the programme.”
True to his word, he moved on to an interview with a BBC Washington correspondent, about the bizarre reports currently emanating from the West Wing. “Would you describe the situation as a plunging chasm of uncertainty?” The correspondent was probably used to fielding the unexpected from Eddie, and he deftly compared the internal conflicts in the White House to the Montagu-Capulet stand-off in West Side Story between the Jets and the Sharks.
The PM programme doesn’t formally end; it just elides seamlessly into the chimes of Big Ben and the six o’clock news via the weather forecast. I had to laugh when the weather man described the situation as a plunging chasm of uncertainty.
Come to think of it, it’s rather an extreme simile. You could certainly plunge into a chasm, but if the chasm itself is plunging, well, that would certainly imply a seismic shift of the tectonic plates. (It’s as well Eddie Mair isn’t interviewing me. I can just hear him: “Seismic shift of the tectonic plates?”) There is no finer interviewer on the BBC. Look what he did to Boris after the general election and the Queen’s Speech. Not that he interrupted, badgered, or was argumentative or aggressive in any way. He merely asked succinct, direct, and well-briefed questions. I don’t know how far behind Chris Evans he is on the BBC pay scale but I reckon he’s worth every penny.
But to return to these chasms, what are we to make of Mr Trump’s appointment of Anthony Scaramucci, replacing Sean Spicer as White House Communications Director? Mr Scaramucci seems to share a lexicon with Peter Capaldi’s character Malcom Tucker in The Thick Of It. Of erstwhile White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus he is quoted as having said, “Reince is a f****** paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” Mr Priebus struck me as rather a mild-mannered man. I confess I got distracted by his unusual name. I have a bad habit of seeking anagrams hidden in unusual names. I actually sent a crossword clue to The Herald:
Pi, uber-sincere mixed-up politician (6,7)
The Herald didn’t use it. Funny, that. Anyway, Mr Priebus is gone, to be replaced by a four star general (maybe **** has another connotation in the Rose Garden). General John Kelly has no political experience. But then again, maybe the military is what is needed, to bring some discipline to the West Wing.
From this side of the Pond (I think we should re-name the Atlantic Ocean “The Chasm”), American politics look more and more like a reality TV show. The predominant themes of shows such as Big Brother, The Apprentice, Strictly, I’m a celebrity get me out of here, Dragon’s Den and many more, are Survival & Expulsion. Expulsion of an individual becomes a weekly ritual announcement following a protracted and excruciating pause, itself perhaps following weeks of incessant bullying and persecution from which the mass audience derives a sadistic pleasure. In the same way, US politicians are being serially expelled from the West Wing amid the same apparent atmosphere of bullying and persecution. It would all be very amusing but for the plunging chasm of uncertainty we all inhabit with respect to global warming, international terrorism, the gap between the rich and the poor, and the ever present threat of nuclear war. Who on the other wide of The Chasm is addressing any of these issues with wisdom and humanity?
Senator John McCain, who, despite the inconvenient encumbrance of a brain tumour, turned out to cast the deciding vote in support of Obamacare. Hats off to Mr McCain.