There’s an old saying among trial lawyers: Don’t ask a question for which you don’t know the answer. In early 2013, when Cameron announced there would be an in-out referendum by the end of 2017 if the Conservatives won the next election, it was seen as a way to shore up his right flank. Despite gains by the UK Independence Party and agitation from some of his MPs, Remain seemed comfortably ahead as recently as February. It was supposed to be an easy win.
It was not so easy after all.
This has been quite a year for the unexpected and unpredictable. Some of it, especially in sports, has been joyous: the Cleveland Cavaliers’ NBA championship after being down 3-1 in the Finals, ending a 52-year streak for that city; Leicester City’s unprecedented championship in the English Premier League.
But politically, things are much darker.
Antonin Scalia’s death, and the ensuing block on a new justice by the Senate, has left a vacuum in the Supreme Court. The U.S. election campaign has been marked by xenophobia and petulance, which helped Donald Trump become the presumptive Republican nominee.
You can argue that we’ve been overdue for such tumult. Anger has been frothing since the 2008 economic meltdown, rearing up on the right with the Tea Party and on the left with Occupy. Throw in mass shootings, concerns over terrorism, immigration and whip-fast cultural change and it’s no wonder some people are scared. Maybe this year’s chaos is merely (or “merely”) lancing a boil.
But be careful what you wish for. At the least, it’s unnerving while you’re in the middle of it.
I’m grasping for comparisons to this year, and I think of 1968.
I was only 3 years old then, so I don’t remember all the craziness: the assassinations, the riots, the crushed Prague Spring, the Democratic convention. But people have said it felt like the whole world was falling apart. Is that 2016, too?
1968 did end with a sign of hope: the Apollo 8 astronauts’ photograph of a fragile earth.
What will the remainder of this year bring?
Update, 2:59 p.m. ET: Some excellent essays on the hounds that have been let loose. I particularly liked Mark Easton’s BBC write on the divides within Britain, and Stephen Marche’s Esquire piece on how Brexit could be a canary in a very dark coal mine.
“We have to face up to an ugly truth about the world as it is: The hatred of difference is winning,” Marche writes.
I hope he’s wrong, but right now it’s hard to look on the bright side.