After the trials and tribulations of 2016, here are ten thoughts to take away for 2017:
1) Don’t cling too hard to any predictions, good or bad. If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that if a storm has been brewing for a while, no amount of wishful thinking or good intentions will preventing from breaking – look at our good old friend Brexit. Euroscepticism had been increasingly chic in some circles for years, even decades, but when it went mainstream loads of people acted surprised, just like with the Arab Spring or, as Monty Python observed, the Spanish Inquisition. So, if you think something’s either inevitable or impossible, you might do well to contemplate the alternative, just to spare yourself unnecessary anguish when, yet again, you’re wrong. I may make some predictions below, but I’m happy to admit – and even hope – that they might be wrong.
2) That being said, you can expect a fair amount of misery and suffering, particularly for the world’s poorest people. After all, that’s what people in parts of Africa, the Middle East, South America, and Asia have already been putting up with for years. Call me a cynic, but somehow I don’t see a change in the calendar year putting food on tables in Venezuela, or freezing the bullets in South Sudan. Both state and non-state orchestrated terrorism will no doubt continue unabated, as shown by the tragic loss of 27 lives in Baghdad and 39 in Istanbul on New Year’s Eve. In fact, we may see more such atrocities as 2017 gets going, as a result of conflicts like Syria, Yemen, Libya and others rumbling on with no real peaceful resolution. Injustices are kindling to the flame of extremism, and the relentless violence changes how its victims approach the world around them. Enforced displacement as a result of wars, poverty, and climate change, will probably have an impact on the next century, let alone the next year.
3) Despite all of this, there’s little reason to suspect that those with the power to improve things will quit the tomfoolery and do the right thing. Throughout 2016 and the years which went before it, our esteemed leaders, in the UK at least, seem to have been faffing about with pointless distractions, making things slightly worse here and there, but never doing anything about the real problems in society. Half the time all we get is slogans and soundbites, and nothing ever gets done. Forget the fact that our health and criminal justice systems are falling apart at the seams, let’s have the grammar school debate for the millionth time. Never mind that inequality is on the rise, Angela Merkel wants to stop women wearing “burkas” – because I’m sure that’s Germany’s biggest problem right now. Donald Trump will be an expert at this; voted in by people fed up with the status quo, he will preserve it, but make sure no-one notices by talking rubbish about China or whatever pops into his head.
4) If you want to make guesses about what Trump’s presidency will be like, study Iran under Mahmood Ahmadinejad. Seriously, give it a go. Both got into power by claiming to be “outsiders”, and promoting a radical conservative message, claiming they wanted to stand up to entrenched elites and empower the working classes. Ahmadinejad said he wanted to put Iran’s oil money on the tables of the poor, but ended up pursuing a very similar set of economic policies to his predecessors. Trump, meanwhile, is a businessman who has already shown his willingness to ingratiate himself with economic elites despite his fiery rhetoric. Under Ahmadinejad, privatisation continued apace, corruption was not tackled, and the president’s provocative approach to foreign affairs cost the country millions once sanctions were introduced. Trump will probably not face sanctions, as other world leaders are more willing to cosy up to the President of the United States than the President of Iran, but the other aspects of Ahmadinejad’s time in power may be useful to bear in mind.
5) While Trump might disappoint his supporters with his domestic policies, his foreign policy might well be even worse. If there’s one thing he’s been consistent on since standing for election, it’s his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and his, ahem, “counter terror” campaign in Syria. Obama’s approach towards Syria has left a lot to be desired, but Trump actively encourages the attempts of the Syrian regime and its allies to purge the country of all opposition, Islamist or otherwise. At some point, when enough oppositionist districts have fallen to Assad’s “kneel or die” approach, Putin and his puppet Assad will no doubt launch some sort of “final push” against ISIS in Raqqa, with the hope of gaining the backing of the US and its allies. Can you see Trump turning down the chance to play soldiers with the big boys? While I’ve nothing against defeating ISIS and freeing all those living under its control, this effort will represent a victory for an illegitimate police state which has stopped at nothing to stay in power.
6) If you thought 2016 was a big year for Europe in general and the EU in particular, 2017 could be even rockier, with France, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Serbia, Slovenia, Norway, Albania, and the Czech Republic all planning significant elections. France and the Netherlands are the most commonly acknowledged targets of the far-right, with Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders sure to make their presence known even if they don’t win. As I said before, don’t dismiss them – their centrist opponents certainly mustn’t if they don’t want to end up like David Cameron and Hillary Clinton. France, however, is almost certain to see a shift to the right, as the Socialist Party looks weak after four years with Francois Hollande at the helm has left him the most unpopular president in the history of the Fifth Republic. Marine Le Pen of the Front National will be challenged by Republican Francois Fillon, a socially conservative Thatcherite who supports both Trump and Putin. A win for either would cast serious doubt on the future of the European project as French rightists push for their own referendum on EU membership. Meanwhile, Germany may end up with both a new President and a new Chancellor if Angela Merkel is unable to win a fourth term as head of government. Merkel and her allies will have been reassured by the election of a Green Party President in Austria at the end of 2016, but with right-wing Alternativ Fur Deutschland rising in the polls, she mustn’t rest on her laurels.
7) As if that weren’t quite enough elections to be going on with, Iran will also hold presidential elections in 2017. Whether or not current incumbent Hassan Rouhani wins a second term will be a reflection not just of his domestic policies or his success on the nuclear deal, but also of the Iranian public’s reaction to the Islamic Republic’s new role on the world stage as a prominent supporter of Russia’s efforts in Syria. This puts it in an odd position regarding the USA, as incoming president Donald Trump supports Russia but opposes the deal signed with Iran under Barack Obama, which has lifted some of the international sanctions on the country on the understanding that it will not pursue nuclear weapons capability. If Trump continues to threaten the deal, which is largely popular in Iran especially among the middle classes, Iranian voters may choose a more nationalist candidate. However, with very few candidates announced yet, it’s still very difficult to predict. As I said, don’t count your chickens.
8) Turkey’s having a rough time, isn’t it? Bombings, attempted coups, purges of public sector workers, and a president taking more executive powers while edging closer towards compromise with Russia and its clique regarding Syria (are you seeing a trend here, because I am). Both ISIS and the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) are carrying out terrorist attacks because they hate the Turkish government, which is making it difficult for a state with reduced capacity since the attempted coup to deploy resources in a country with an increased population because of refugees. If Erdogan’s administration hopes to reduce the terrorist threat by joining forces with Putin and Assad in Syria, they might well be disappointed. Being seen as complicit in both the bombing of anti-Assad areas and the denial of Kurdish aspirations for autonomy in northern Syria will not quell extremist anger against the Turkish government.
9) People don’t care about anything anymore. I’m really starting to believe that. If we compare the press and social media reaction to the lorry attack in Nice in July 2016, and the very similar attack in Berlin in December of the same year, the difference is incredible. Usually when one attack sparks much more international outcry than another, it’s because one happened in Europe or North America and one didn’t. But it seems as though many of us are becoming fatigued and desensitised by media coverage of acts of violence. We’re over the flags on Facebook and the statements of solidarity; maybe we’ve decided things can’t get any worse since that rich bloke started appointing all his neo-Nazi mates to senior US government positions, but they can, and they will if we stop caring about each other. You’re not dead yet – you can still feel something when your fellow human beings are killed or having their rights violated. Just if you wanted a new year’s resolution.
10) Speaking of the new year, don’t pile loads of expectations, good or bad, on 2017. Calendar years are just an illusory human concept with limited usefulness in measuring the passage of time. Happy continuation of your life.