The Normal Is Not New

It’s fitting in this year of fires, floods, pandemics, and protests, that Bono would say something sensible.

Usually, whatever the U2 frontman has to say is about as welcome to my ear canal as the flesh-eating screwworm, an African parasite so invasive its demented host often commits suicide. Which I would imagine is how locked-down Italians felt when Bono released a piano ballad in tribute to their coronavirus plight. I’d rather the screwworm. 

Yet, in this grand swirl of time, it’s vaguely comforting to hear the odd spout of sense. Here in Great Britain, common sense is not exactly du jour

The latest bout of nonsense involves banning smoking outdoors. It’s on par with Governor Gavin Newsom’s edict that Californians insane enough to go out for a beer can adequately shield themselves from the coronavirus if they order a pizza, but not pizza bites

Yet, common sense can erupt from the most uncommon of springs. Bono’s campaign group “One” last week joined conservative attacks on the progressive cause celebre of foreign aid. The gist: foreign aid needs a “refocus.” Too much money is spent on doing too little. 

Indeed, a recent study found one-sixth of foreign aid ends up swelling Swiss bank accounts. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab later announced a £3 billion ($3.9 billion) cut. 

If Bono thinks we are bleeding money, then a rumble on the scale of Chernobyl’s reactor four trembles underfoot. 

And tremble it does. Buried in an annual report, the folly of foreign aid basked in chemical glow: British taxpayers sent China £71 million ($93 million) in one year to help Chinese firms compete with British rivals. 

Yes, many of those whom we deign to call “essential workers” send obscene amounts of their money to the world’s second-largest economy. And one that makes no secret of its ambition to replace the United States as the world’s superpower. 

Government departments in 2018 funneled around £100 million ($130 million) to the China Prosperity Fund, a scheme that fritters money to “address market failures and weaknesses that impede China’s inclusive growth.” It’s like making an annual donation to the Arsonists Longevity Trust. 

China, through malice or mistake or a meld of the two, caused this monumental mess. Hundreds of millions on house arrest, millions out of work, and succor to every petty tyrant with working lungs. 

Perhaps you’ll agree this year hasn’t been a lunchtime bottle of Malbec. 

Yet, they could have stopped it. The Chinese government saw fit to stop the internal spread of the virus from Wuhan. That prudence didn’t extend to the rest of the world. 

After all, Beijing remains economical with the truth. 

This is particularly poignant in light of a CGTV (China Global Television Network) broadcast which suggested Coronavirus could be the straw to break the populist camel’s back. 

“Can Covid-19 beat populism?” is not a headline plucked from the Twitter-in-print New York Times, but rather Chinese state media. 

Perhaps, this all sounds a touch tinfoil-hat. Yet, it is not conspiratorial to say the Chinese government has taken advantage of a pandemic that it, for vital months, covered up. 

And that’s not to mention their attempts to hack vaccine research, desperate no doubt to hold the rest of us to ransom. 

Now, they’re back up and running. And we cannot decide whether the mask is sensible or seditious.

It’s the grotesque garb of the “new normal” we hear so much about. That wretched future in which China might as well have won. 

But China hasn’t won. Neither have the “mostly peaceful” rioters swamping the streets. 

In 2016 we took the first step toward what millions regard as The Normal. The year which elected Donald Trump, and pried Great Britain from the European Union, remains the ultimate expression of normal people and their desire for wholly normal politics

For decades, policy on China, on immigration, on foreign aid, was abnormal. All reflective of the narcissistic whims of a tiny elite still demented from the events of 2016. 

These grand theories, all couched in phony “inevitability,” had the longevity of a Chinese umbrella—bending beneath the winds of reality. 

Those winds continue to blow. Though certainly imperfect, we now have leaders who fight for the common sense of ordinary Britons and Americans. For the first time in my three-and-a-bit decades, those I voted for tend to do things I agree should be done. 

One of those things is not handing out taxpayers’ money to a country that doesn’t play by the rules. And who indeed desires a future of which I want no part. 

After all, this latest Chinese import banjaxed the West. Once this pandemic recedes (my guess is November 4, funnily enough) someone will have to pay the bartender, with tip. That shouldn’t mean the next five years need be a bleak hangover of higher taxes on those who’ve kept things ticking, grabbing at low-hanging fruit, or the lavishing of billions in foreign aid to countries who not only can afford to foot the bill, but often own the bar. We paid last time. And we are still paying for the financial meltdown of 2008. A catastrophe I’m old enough to remember being billed as “once-in-a-generation.”

Perhaps that money could be spent better elsewhere. It could go some way to correcting a 30-year assault on people it was once assumed didn’t matter all that much—the “forgotten” who were sacrificed for cheaper TVs and corporate profits. 

These are the same people we now deem “essential workers.” The ones who’ve kept our countries on their feet while the rest of us slummed inside thanks to the latest noisome Chinese import. 

Would that proposition be a touch too sensible? Yes. But this is The Normal, and it is certainly not new. 

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Ilyaliren/Getty Images

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