Will 2017 mark a reshuffling of the world order?

The past is usually considered a predictor of the future. However, it appears that mass disenchantment with the status quo, built up over decades, is poised to rattle Western political norms. No politician or pollster or think tank can predict with any confidence what challenges await us next week let alone next year. There are too many unknowns, too many variables, but what can be said with certainty is that 2017 will witness great change.

People power has evolved from a mere comforting concept, devised to placate dissatisfied populations into believing their say in the form of a ballot box or street protests, into something more tangible, able to produce results.

There has been an awakening nurtured by the alternative media, whistle-blowing websites such as WikiLeaks, accentuated by people’s embrace of social media permitting the reinforcing of group opinions and the exposéof government cover-ups, corruption and lies.

Veteran politicians are no longer trusted. Mainstream corporate news outlets are seen as politicised or ratings-hungry, no more respected as being vehicles of unbiased reporting.

Cynicism has gripped the working and lower middle classes, a mood recognised by opportunistic political candidates who’ve tapped—and are tapping—into people’s hopes and fears while stirring up nationalist sentiments with the pinpointing of scapegoats, such as Muslims, refugees, both legal and illegal immigrants and Free Trade agreements that hurt domestic competitiveness. Joblessness, struggles to make ends meet and the erosion of national identity/culture are all being blamed on the detested ‘other.’

This new isolationist, xenophobic wave—or perhaps not so new but one which was simmering under wraps—is what carried a man, whose candidacy was initially believed by media ‘experts’ to be a no-hoper to the White House. Nobody’s laughing now.

Trump has proved to be a savvy manipulator. Who could have imagined this billionaire, born into a moneyed lifestyle, could persuade blue collar workers that he’s their guy—someone who understands their grievances—simply by talking their language, spouting repetitive sound bites and exchanging his designer suits for T-shirts and peaked caps, not to mention lobster lunches for pizzas.

Notably, his evolving cabinet is being stuffed with his fellow billionaires and former Wall Street leading lights. So much for ‘draining the swamp’!

Balancing act

He’s currently engaged in a balancing act, pandering to his hardline Republican base with appointments of ultra-conservatives while at the same time doing his bit to satisfy his fervent following—for instance, his deal with Carrier to preserve 1,000 jobs in Indiana and threats to punish companies that take jobs abroad.

Alarm bells began ringing when Britons voted to the quit the EU. The majority wasn’t swayed by dire economic warnings delivered by establishment figures; many were influenced by Trump’s new best buddy Nigel Farage, the former leader of the Euro-sceptic, right-wing Ukip, whose gargoyle-like facial expressions speak volumes. He’s still riding high on his status as the first British politician to meet the US president-elect rather than what he describes as the “ghastly little apparatchiks” in Number 10.

As for Farage’s Brexit partner, Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson, Google his name with the word “Clown” and you’ll get the message.

Prime Minister Theresa May is no Thatcher clone as some once thought. She’s battling to stick to what she calls the people’s will in a face-off with Britain’s Supreme Court that ruled that an exit requires a parliamentary vote. She’s announced that “God will guide our path out of Europe,” claims Christianity is under attack, and has pledged to “stand up” for Christmas.

Some might say the semi-lunatic fringe is on a roll. If that’s so, then France could be the next shock with serious ripples affecting the European Union.

Polls aren’t the gold standard they once were, but nevertheless they indicate that the next president will be drawn from either right-of-centre (anti-Islamist, devout Christian conservative Francois Fillon, a fan of Vladimir Putin) or, worse, the Front National Party’s Marine Le Pen who’s ahead in the polls and says a referendum to quit the EU is on her to-do list.

Austria has escaped the bullet. As memories of waves of refugees begin to fade, voters have chosen former Green politician Alexander Van Der Bellen, a liberal to be their next president over Norbert Hofer of the far right Freedom Party founded by the Nazis, who pledged to hold a referendum on EU membership.

The Netherlands may be turning to the right. Geert Wilders’s rampantly Islamophobic Party of Freedom is basking in popular approval and has a good chance of dominating the Dutch Parliament. Italy is not immune especially now that Prime Minister Renzi has announced his resignation.

To quote a New York Times headline, “With populist anger rising, Italy may be the next domino to fall.” Belgium is heading in a similar direction. Based on the prevailing headwinds, 2017 could emerge as the year when it’s OK to hate, the year of the strongman.

At great risk is the European experiment, primarily designed following the Second World War to ensure peace and prosperity. This is one time I truly hope I’m wrong and that when push comes to shove, moderation and decency will prevail.

Linda S. Heard is an award-winning British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

Comments are closed.