In my semi-pre-elderly-semi-self-isolation I have so far managed to have quite a pleasant time. Not least, of course, due to the consumption of a well known sanitising fluid I happen to be well stocked up on. Last night I enjoyed a night at the opera, indeed an opera especially chosen to fit the occasion of this particular period. We’re led to believe that what has come to strike us down emanates from China. And maybe that’s the case. But who opened the stable door? In a sense it doesn’t really matter, the door was going to be opened anyway.
However, Richard Nixon should take a bow for his role in smashing through the barriers to globalisation to realise the economic liberal dream and kick China towards its WTO nirvana. And John Adams captures the moment superbly in Nixon In China, which I nominate as one of the greatest operas of the Twentieth Century (with due credit to librettist Alice Goodman). The music, suffice to say is sublime, but for me the brilliant libretto draws out the comedy of the human condition which respects its flawed participants whilst at the same time hilariously diminishing their noble allusions to greatness. My favourite line is delivered in two words, when the odious Henry Kissinger is spotted by Chou En Lai: all Kissinger says (like a guilty child) is ‘Who, me?’ It’s the shortest summing-up of his career you’ll ever find.
As somebody who started to break down trade barriers, Nixon deserves his place in the liberal economic pantheon. At the time I don’t recall this was described as being neo-liberal: neo liberalism wasn’t a term bandied about much in the days of the Cold War. There was no need for it. But things move on. Now we might recognise it for what it was.
Those were the days. In 1972 when Nixon met Mao, Ted Heath was PM here in the UK and in the same year declared another state of emergency. He managed to do that four times in his premiership. Why can’t we have a state of emergency now? At least in Heath’s 1974 state of emergency (the three day week) you could still get to the pubs before the power was turned off. Johnson has the power to declare a state of emergency, and given the circumstances he should. Even if Coronavirus had never reached our shores, the rest of the world’s response would suck us into its wake. But compared to Heath, Johnson is a bumbling idiot.
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