2020 is the year we’d all like to forget, but never will.
Of course, a lot of 2020 was really the result of decisions made back around 2016. We elected populists, they ignored scientists and avoided difficult decisions — that is the essence of populism. They dismantled the national structures designed to protect us from pandemics, wars, populism, and climate change. 2020 was predictable. Indeed, the people who actually know stuff warned us about the risk of a pandemic, of fires and floods, and of political meltdowns caused by Trump, Brexit, populism, and Russian influence. We ignored the warnings.
These last weeks of 2020 have been positive, in a very relative way. I have to keep reminding people that if you can see past all the daily shit showering down on us, things look quite good! Trump will not be president next year; we are at the beginning of the end of the pandemic, with multiple vaccines entering use.
The end of Trump’s grip on the White House is already rippling out around the world, weakening other populist leaders. Bolsonaro is reconsidering running for another term, the UK’s Dominic Cummings, the puppetmaster behind Boris Johnson, has been fired, and Recep Erdogan’s son-in-law has resigned as economy minister, after running the economy into the ground. These are just some examples of subtle shifts around the populist world as corrupt, incompetent, autocrats realise they can no longer rely on Trump either to ignore their misdeeds, or even to support them. These playground bullies are preparing themselves for Biden, and anticipating an America that may start to keep them in check again.
So, next year we can look forward to the pandemic gradually ending, to a rational, democratic, professional White House, and to America returning to help promote liberalism, environmentalism, and security around the world. Presumably that means our economies will eventually start to recover from the fatal combination of incompetent government, political instability, and a pandemic. We have some reasons to cheerful.
But things won’t change with the change of year. 2020 laid the foundations for plenty more trouble and 2021 will be where we have to face the consequences of the last year. Here’s some things to watch out for:
- Trump and the GOP are sabotaging the world for Biden
It is clear that Trump and those still supporting him, are lighting as many fires as they can to prevent Biden from achieving anything positive when he takes power, distracting him instead with crises everywhere. Most notably, whether on purpose or just out of sheer narcissim, Trump and his team are now basically ignoring the pandemic. Their complete lack of effort to address this crisis will lead to a surge in infections, and a crescendo of hospitalisations and deaths into the new year. If you are cynical, you’d conclude this was a plan to avoid Biden taking credit for ending the pandemic, instead seeing it get worse on his watch. Or it could just be that Trump doesn’t care enough about the American people to make the effort, instead preferring to play golf and focus on himself.
The rapid withdrawl of American troops around the world will surely lead to conflicts that may require Biden to make the unpopular decision to send troops back in. Trump’s appointments of practically anyone loyal and young to judicial posts leaves Biden with inexperienced, politicised judges to challenge his policies. The less talked-about Republican wins at a gubernatorial level in the election leaves the GOP in a strong position to continue with gerrymandering and voter suppression, making it harder for the Democrats to win in the future, even when they gain more votes than the Republicans. Selling off oil drilling rights in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge will either lead to environmental destruction, or Biden incurring the cost of cancelling the contracts again weeks later.
The GOP around Trump are sabotaging America. The only way they can win elections is by cheating — and their desperate attempts to stop counts, throw out votes, and prevent voting are testament to the reality that as a party they no longer represent anything but a fear of losing control. They are a minority party hanging onto power through any means possible. Historically that has never ended well, and they show no sign of giving up.
2. Truth is dead for half of American voters
The extraordinary escalation of lying by Trump and his team is poisoning American society. The fact that Fox and a few other outlets continued to broadcast his lies, even if they eventually drew a line, and that Twitter and Facebook are allowing their platforms to be used for what is now just destructive misinformation, will be looked back upon by historians as a defining moment in America’s decline.
Years of under-investment in education, and over-investment in social media companies has led to tens of millions of Americans effectively living in a cult, where their belief about the world around them is completely disconnected from reality: 88% of Trump voters believe Biden stole the election and Trump should have won. It should not even be necessary to point out that there is no evidence anywhere of irregulatiries in the vote, that Biden won the popular vote, and the electoral college comfortably. Yet, we find ourselves dragged into stating these things defensively against a torrent of lies and conspiracies.
QAnon is looking like it is a coordinated misinformation campaign led by former Trump officials. This won’t just stop once Trump is gone from the White House. Trump may well start his own cable channel, backed by right-wing libertarian billionaires. It will consist of the Trumps and some talking-head mercenaries, who will say whatever is required for a large pay cheque, spouting conspiracies and hatred for four years. It will not take off beyond Trump’s base, but that will be enough to destabilise America because a large section of society will increasingly live in a completely different reality to their compatriots.
In 2021 Biden will have to deal with everything he would normally take on as president — the pandemic, economic meltdown, global insecurity, and the dumpster truck fire that is America’s reputation abroad — and on top of that he will have to spend the next 4 years trying to recover some 50m Americans from a cult. If he fails, they could vote him out in four years and vote in a populist authoritarian far more competent than Donald Trump. A talented politician walking in Trump’s footsteps could very easily stamp out American democracy now Trump has laid the ground for him.
3. Climate Change is now real
Climate change is no longer a prediction about the future, it is a reality about now. If we were not so focussed on the pandemic, and on the ranting ineptitude of Trump and his gang, we would be 100% focussed on the climate crisis we are living through right now. Look at all the fires and floods, on our doorsteps and beyond. I have friends in California whose homes and livelihoods were burned to ashes this year. Further afield, vast swathes of Siberia and Australia were burning, and the planet’s ice is melting at an unprecedented pace. This is terrifying, and will require a massive coordinated and multilateral effort to slow it down and start to let our planet recover. Instead, we are in the midst of a period of unilateralism, corruption, and incompetence. There is a danger that statistics from the pandemic obscure from the news that 2020’s ten worst climate disasters caused $150bn of damage, displaced 13.5m people, and killed 3500 people.
climate change makes climate change worse. Melting ice and large fires release more carbon, and cause worse fires and floods. It will take a lot more than political will to stop this. Despite any progress made by Biden’s administration, and by other governments, they will be too late to save us from more fires, floods, and storms in 2021.
4. Democracy is declining
Thanks, in part, to Brexit and Trump weakening the post-war order that saw liberalism supported by treaties and cooperation, we are entering an era where totalitarian and autocratic regimes are beginning to dominate the global order. America’s absence on the world stage, and the UK’s withdrawl from significance, has left a vacuum that has mainly been filled by China. As the Economist explained, the country has quietly set about gaining power in the United Nations, World Health Organisation, and other global bodies, increasing funding where America has withdrawn support, and moving its people into positions of influence.
Things will not go back to normal once Biden is president. America is weaker now, the UK is close to irrelevant thanks to Brexit and a series of inept and lightweight prime ministers, and Europe is losing the leadership of Angela Merkel. We are entering an era where Western democracies are no longer in the driving seat. This will be painful, and in 2021 we will begin to see what a world tilted towards dictatorships feels like. It will take strong leadership, and unity, from the West, all of which is lacking politically and weakened by the pandemic.
5. And the economy….
Remember back to the last economic crash. The real impact was not felt at the time of the crash, but around 12–18 months later as the effects spread out into society. We have not really felt the impact of the pandemic yet, thanks to huge government subsidies. It remains to be seen whether these have avoided major damage, or just postponed it. 2021 may see soaring unemployment as the subsidies that have kept economies on life-support end, and as large corporations go bust. Real estate markets could crash, and not just housing as people lose jobs, but office and commercial properties as more shops and businesses go bust, and as people fail to return to daily office hours after a year of learning how to work from home and online.
We may be lucky, especially if vaccinations are handled competently, and things could bounce back, but expect 2021 to be a rocky year, full of surprises.
On a positive note, it is possible that some global cooperation will be forced upon the unlilateralists by the pandemic. Unless we vaccinate everyone, we cannot protect ourselves; that is the nature of a pandemic. So, eventually the West and China will have to make sure the poorer, failing, and chaotic states in the world also receive vaccines.
It is also possible that Biden and Harris will manage to be so demonstrably better at governing, that they revive an interest in liberal democracy, both at home and abroad. There is a chance they manage to focus their attention on the Trump-voting heartlands, and over 4 years deliver healthcare, jobs, and that the reality on the ground will cut through the storm of misinformation and conspiracies that will engulf the Red States over the coming years.
We may also see an acceleration of action to combat climate change now that it is so obviously burning down the homes of wealthy Westerners, as well as only affecting people who are poor and far away.
And maybe the removal of Trump from power will continue to weaken other populist authoritarians around the world, just as Biden’s victory gives hope to their opponents, and we could see a recovery of liberal democracy in the countries that are either not completely lost yet, or in those so lost they reach their moment of revolution.
But all things considered, I doubt 2021 will see a sudden bounce back to normality, a new dawn after a dark winter. 2021 will most likely be the morning after the night before; the year of reckoning, when all the shit from 2020 catches up with us and hits with full force.
Happy New Year :)