The New Year is upon us and all thoughts turn to reflect upon the years gone by and the promise that the future holds. Some will use that promise to try, once again, to stick to New Year resolutions and start off with a clean slate and a light heart.
The New Year is a time to be optimistic, to be thankful for all we have.
Yet with everything that has been going on for the past few years, with Donald Trump, Brexit and the rise of extreme viewpoints worldwide, it seems that the chaos is unlikely to let up. Is there any hope for the future?
A Year of Woe
In one respect, more chaos is set to follow. Donald Trump is set to open the new year with a partial government shutdown and with many of his cabinet positions left vacant. Congress is divided between a slim Republican majority in the Senate and a large Democratic majority in the House, setting the stage for a bitter partisan showdown.
Beyond America’s borders, other problems are coming home to roost. Time is running out for Britain to figure out what Brexit is going to look like. Despite a deal on the table, Theresa May is bracing herself for a heavy defeat in Parliament. Yet, no one can answer the crucial question: what happens next? No Deal? No Brexit? Soft Brexit? Hard Brexit? A new election? No one knows.
Meanwhile, Russia continues to flex its muscles against an increasingly fragile European Union, the latter trying to contain a rise in far-right populism. With Angela Merkel set to step down and France’s Marcon plummeting in opinion polls, Europe’s most stalwart defenders face growing discontent. The Middle East remains a hotbed of political instability, especially with Trump’s seesaw approach to foreign policy as Brazil begins its new year with the inauguration of Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right populist who seeks to radically and aggressively change the face of the nation – and its famous rainforest.
All around us, it seems, the world is full of despair and a lack of options. From climate change to economic issues, nothing seems like it’s going right.
A Year of Hope?
Yet, all is not lost. Even in such times of turmoil, it is possible to see rays of hope breaking through.
For one thing, the end of 2018 saw many of Trump’s issues coming home to roost. Mueller’s investigation has been quietly gathering steam while Democrats prepare to take over the House which spells an end to Trump’s easy ride and lack of oversight. The Senate, while still Republican, remains delicately balanced and may not be willing to bend so easily to Trump’s whims – especially as the sharp decline of the stock markets spook investors and the GOP donor class.
Without more moderating forces around him, Trump is set to follow his instincts and passions, much to the chagrin of the nation, but there are signs that cracks, albeit small ones, are appearing in Trump’s base. Even Fox News has begun to question the president’s agenda which, if such a trend continues, may see his base fracture once and for all.
Elsewhere, the picture is less certain but hope can be found. The European Union, along with many Britons, remain cautiously hopeful that Brexit will never happen. A new referendum on the matter may split the nation further but some hope that a more decisive result may quell fears for a while. Europe’s wider issues are still daunting but Brexit has helped foster a sense of unity which, if it lasts, might be enough for the EU to ride out the storms.
Even with the question of China and Russia, there is still reason to think that neither country will hold all the cards forever. In Putin’s case, his saber-rattling and covert operations help distract from his less-than-stellar domestic policies. In fact, Putin may be heading for major headaches in the face of a defiant Europe, an ambitious Turkey and the peril of balancing the tensions between Israel and Iran.
A Year of Change
Whatever the case may be, the last few years may force us to confront the real truth: the world is changing and we must change with the times. Whether we like it or not, Brexit and Trump have helped to shake the international world order to its very core. Politics is no longer going to go back into the box it sprang out of.
The old certainties have fallen away and everything is in a state of flux. New challenges (and some old issues from the past) lie ahead, but within those challenges are opportunities to change things for the better. It may be tempting to return to the old order but perhaps a better way lies in combining old and new together, to form new orders of our own.
2019 will bring its own highs and lows, but in the words of an ancient Greek statesman: “The right policy is what it always was; to endure patiently whatever the gods have in store for us, to face calamity with an unclouded mind and to meet our enemies with courage.”
Happy New Year!