I love reading journalists with whom I disagree. I think it’s very important, to keep that creaking old mind open. For years, I’ve read The New Statesman and The Speccie and probably shouted at them both equally. (I have to admit that The Spectator is funnier, and I think this may be because right-wing journalists are much less afraid of pissing people off, and so let rip in a way that the left-wing political commentators don’t dare.)
As I get older, I stomp more and more to the centre. I gave up tribalism years ago, mostly because it seemed to me to lead to such bad manners, and I’ve always had the fatal liberal disease of seeing both sides of every argument. The extremes on both sides tend to make me sad and cross. I like the calm, polite centrists who seem to embrace empiricism and rationalism, such as David Aaronovitch and Matthew D’Ancona and Philip Collins and Danny Finkelstein. I get very twitchy and doleful when I’m out on the edges with Melanie Phillips or Polly Toynbee or Owen Jones or Janet Daley. However, even with those four, I sometimes have the faintly startling feeling of occasionally agreeing.
There is one member of the commentariat who entertains me weekly but with whom I never agree, and that is James Delingpole. That does not mean he is right and I am wrong or the other way round; it simply means I’ve never in my life read a sentence of his and nodded my head and thought ‘you know, he’s really got a point’. This may be because he sets himself up on purpose as an antic contrarian, purposely insulting people like me whom he depicts as ghastly, elitist, bleeding heart wimps, huddling on the soggy middle ground and believing in climate change and the Scandi miracle.
This week, in The Speccie, he wrote a triumphant article claiming that Donald Trump is going to be the greatest president since Reagan.
I do not agree with this. Surprise, surprise.
I’m not going to cite chapter and verse. It’s not a fight that is worth having. I can list reams of half-truths, insults, flat-out lies and spurious promises, and those on the other side will simply say LIBERAL MEDIA, or but what about evil Killary? I can’t forgive the bullying and shaming of Ghazala Khan, whose son was killed in Iraq. The other side probably think I’m an idiot for minding. (I’m actually not sure what the defence of this egregious act was, and can’t imagine what defence there might be.)
Anyway, that’s not the point. I simply wanted to mark the moment. Delingpole thinks Trump is going to be the greatest. I think Trump will be the worst president since Nixon. In four years, one of us will be right and one will be wrong. The gambling part of me, the part that I inherited from my old dad, who was such a punter that when the racing was frozen off in winter he would go to the betting shop and put his money on the dogs even though he knew nothing of greyhounds, quite wants to put money on it.
The funny thing is that I’d adore to be wrong. I love America and I don’t want her to stagger and stumble. America is that incredibly rare thing: a country that is founded on an idea. Dear old Blighty grew up in true mongrel fashion: a bit of the Romans here, some Vikings there, oh look here come the Celts, and, zut alors, voila the Normans. There’s no founding notion, not even a written constitution. Ordinary Decent Britons believe in fair play, not blowing your own trumpet, queuing and a nice cup of tea. The Americans, on the other hand, who started from scratch with their radical notions and their frontier spirit, believe that all men are created equal (and women too, I expect) and that they have certain inalienable rights, which include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That’s in the founding document. That is stirring stuff. That is an idea.
Of course the problem with soaring ideas is that frailed, flawed humans sometimes have trouble living up to them. But it’s something to aim for. It’s the mountain peaks, rather than the dirty valley. And I would hate to see that scuffled and shuffled underfoot.