Culture Long Read Politics

2017 in retrospect: Donald’s year

In retrospect, 2017 hasn't produced a lot of good news, from Trump to the sexual harassment revalations. But don't despair: there are signs the tide is beginning to turn.

IT’S DIFFICULT not to feel oppressed by events this year. From the inauguration of Donald Trump, through terror attacks and the tidal wave of sexual harassment that swept across Hollywood and the British government, 2017 has been the year of bad news. In world politics, little has happened to stem the tide of populism – from both right and left; only Emmanuel Macron has survived as a light in the darkness. As 2018 appears on the horizon, optimism is in short supply.

The single greatest witch hunt

2017 has undoubtedly been the year of Trump. His inauguration, marred by protests and alternative facts, seems an age ago. So much has happened since then; unfortunately for the President, very little of that has been policy. His only significant achievement has been the tax bill passed earlier this month: a major victory for billionaires, and a crushing defeat for just about everyone else in the United States.

But it’s mostly been bad news for Donald Trump. The investigation into collusion between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government continues, drawing ever closer to the President. If it sucks him in, few people will be sad to see him go. His ongoing mission to burn every bridge has been a roaring success, with even Republican congresspeople beginning to turn their back on him.

Trump’s crowning moment of idiocy was to cosy up to the far-right protestors who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer. Having murdered Heather Heyer, a left-wing counter protestor, the best response Trump could muster was to place ‘blame on both sides’. The term ‘alt-left’ has now entered the public lexicon to describe left-leaning activists and the loose antifa movement, having never really existed until Trump used it as deflection.

It’s only fitting that his year – and that of the nasty Republican Party that still openly supports him – ended poorly. Despite his (false) assertion that he never really backed paedophile Senate candidate Roy Moore, Trump was dealt a blow by his defeat at the hands of an energetic Democratic campaign in Alabama. His opponents will be hoping for a repeat in 2018’s midterm elections, but Democrats have to prove themselves as more than just the party of ‘not Trump’.

If we don’t get smart it will only get worse

There has been positive news. Best of all, according to the milky, liberal centrism that this website subscribes to, was the election of Emmanuel Macron as President of France in March. Although his foot has found a permanent new home wedged inside his mouth, Macron’s open, economically liberal, internationalist, pro-European platform is exactly the sort of thing that the West needs to make palatable again. That he beat the openly fascist Marine Le Pen on the way is just the icing on the cake.

Mainstream European politicians need to recapture the narrative if they’re to stop the populist storm.

But Marine Le Pen made it easy for Macron. In other countries, the choice has been more muddled, such as in Germany and the Netherlands, where far-right parties have built up the momentum that eluded Le Pen. In Austria, the FPÖ now exercise enormous power over the federal government: foreign affairs, defence, and internal affairs now all fall under the purview of the far-right, with only an inexperienced centre-right prime minister in their way.

Mainstream European politicians need to recapture the narrative if they’re to stop the populist storm. Some, like Mark Rutte in the Netherlands and Sebastian Kurz in Austria, have adopted a more hardline approach to immigration in European integration, but others, like Macron and Angela Merkel have tried to stick to their open, internationalist platform, to mixed success. Terrorism and immigration remain the biggest concerns for Europeans, and if politicians don’t find a way to stop one and sell the other, than the likes of the AfD and FPÖ will continue to rise.

Britain, a longtime US ally, is very special

The United Kingdom has had no such problems with far-right nationalism. Our national moment of idiocy came in 2016, choosing to leave the world’s largest trading bloc in favour of parochial, little-England isolationism. Beleaguered prime minister Theresa May chose to invoke Article 50 in March; since then, the government has revealed itself to be woefully and shockingly unprepared.

Our politics have been an enormous source of embarrassment. We enjoyed a surprise election in June, and, instead of supporting the only party that could have returned us to sensible government, the country chose to veer to the extremes. Many people called for a  new, centrist party inspired by the values of Macron (ignoring the one that already existed), and for a time, a journalist tweeting into the night would form one every week or so. As it stands, Theresa May, her majority surrendered, has limped on in government.

But she’s far from the worst prime minister ever, and she’s defied expectations by finding a way to advance Brexit negotiations to the much-vaunted Stage 2. Northern Ireland remains a particular problem. Our government’s unimaginative approach to the border issue – which could be solved by a soft Brexit – could yet scupper the whole operation.

The only thing worse than a Brexit overseen by Theresa May would be a Brexit overseen by Jeremy Corbyn. This man, who surrounds himself with far-left thugs and apologists for dictatorships, is a Eurosceptic of some vintage, and seems unable to comprehend that his left-wing programme would be almost impossible to implement outside of the European Union. After this year’s election, he has positioned himself as a government-in-waiting. His would be an isolationist, spendthrift government that would be unable to reconcile the genuine care he has for ordinary people with the reputational and economic damage done by Brexit.

Truly bad people!

One of the most important developing stories this year has been the tidal wave of sexual harassment allegations. Although it began with the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey – both of whom have been rightly ostracised by Hollywood – the deluge has swamped British politics. In the last few months, Michael Fallon and Damian Green have lost their cabinet positions following allegations of harassment and assault. If it weren’t for the perpetual distraction of Brexit, more would follow.

If Trump can rise to the Presidency, what hope is there for the everyday victims of assault?

But all of it rings hollow. Not because the accusers aren’t to be trusted, or because the allegations have often emerged years after the fact. No, it rings hollow because the biggest abuser of them all currently sits unperturbed in the Oval Office. The collective blind eye America turned to the 14 (!) victims who pointed their fingers at Donald Trump sends an appalling message to girls and women across the United States. If a man as vile as Trump can rise to the most powerful position in the world after such accusations, then what hope is there for the many ordinary, everyday victims of assault?

A little bit of that good old Global Warming

Donald Trump’s views on global warming have always been common knowledge, but when he pulled the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the world was genuinely shocked. His muddled and irresponsible reactions to massive hurricanes in Texas and Puerto Rico was truly appalling, and reveals a President totally unwilling to approach an issue Barack Obama once called the gravest threat to our planet.

With the United States out of the picture, radical action needs to be taken to stem rising global temperatures and unknowable environmental damage. Emmanuel Macron has tried to fill the void with his facetious ‘Make Planet Earth Great Again’ movement, but any agreement made without the participation of the United States is hollow.

The stage is set for China to take command. The world’s largest solar farm has been built – and continues to be expanded – in Qinghai, guarded by an enormous poster of paramount leader Xi Jinping. It’s a massive statement from a country under pressure from worsening air quality and the threat of rising sea levels to populous, low-lying China. The country has an enormous opportunity to assume global leadership on climate change, particularly with America abrogating its own responsibilities. If China can clean up its act, other heavy polluters like India may follow suit.

Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever

We’ve seen the power of collective action before. Donald Trump’s inauguration was immediately – and appropriately – met by as mass protest of women, which has in many ways set the tone for the opposition to his presidency. We may see more in 2018. Can demonstrations stop an increasingly ominous hard Brexit in the United Kingdom? Will action be taken on climate change if ordinary Americans take to the streets in fear of their livelihoods, their homes, and their safety?

I wouldn’t be too optimistic. But change has to start somewhere, and it’s important not to lose perspective. Imagine the plight of Venezuelans, for instance, whose situation looks increasingly dire. Family pets have become dinner as the food crisis worsens; to make matters worse, dictator Nicolás Maduro has banned opposition parties from participating in future elections, something Trump can only dream of. Perhaps Venezuela will look to the example of Iran, whose citizens have suddenly begun to rise up against their oppressive regime.

2018 will provide plenty of unexpected twists and turns. Let’s hope they’re positive ones.

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