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Focus Politics

2018: News & Trends in Retrospect

Hal Conte December 30, 2018

As 2018 draws to a close, and we reflect upon all that has happened over the past 12 months, it is easy to see why many people are relieved that it is over, and it is surprising that so much has occurred in what seems like a short period of time. The main existential challenges facing the 7 billion people on the planet – war, climate change and the struggle for global cooperation – were highlighted and escalated as a result of decision-making by world leaders and an ongoing step away from international organizations by key stakeholders. At Freely Magazine, we understand the importance of global dialogue and the benefits it brings both to our own lives and the world as a whole. With that being said, here’s a look back at the trends and events that defined the year that was 2018.

The Far Right Peaks

50 years after the progressive social movements of the late 1960s saw the global left at its apex, 2018 was defined in part by reactions against the socially liberal ideas that emerged out of that decade.

Right-wing and often xenophobic politicians scored big in Italy, where anti-migrant firebrand Matteo Salvini is effectively leader, Brazil, where an admirer of the military dictatorship is now President, and even in Canada, that bastion of tolerance, where Doug Ford won the premiership of Ontario on a platform of cheap beer and socially conservative rhetoric.

Intellectually, Jordan Peterson, a fierce critic of political correctness, communism and feminism, stayed atop bestseller lists for most of the year with his book, 12 Rules For Life. Extreme right and anti-Semitic terrorist attacks took the lives of dozens of people in North America alone in 2018.

2018 may well be seen by future historians as the high-water mark of the new nationalism.

Sports Victories Inspire Fans Globally

2018 saw unexpected defeats for some of the most seemingly intractable all-stars in the world of sports and successes for newcomers and underdogs. In America, the thumping of the New England Patriots by the Philadelphia Eagles humbled a team that, with their quarterback Tom Brady, appeared to have an iron grip on the Lombardi Trophy. This was despite the fact that the Eagles had to rely on backup quarterback Nick Foles and had to recover from a last-minute surge by the Patriots.

Germany, which won in 2014 and was expected to perform at the top of the pack in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, held in Russia, was also ejected from their place of hegemony, being defeated almost immediately by Mexico and losing a chance to enter the top 16. Meanwhile, England, absent from the final four since 1990, at last made it into the semifinals, where they were defeated in a game against Croatia that was an emotional rollercoaster for fans. In the end, France was crowned the victor.

The 2018 Winter Olympics in Seoul saw another kind of victory: one for international diplomacy. At the time, US President Donald Trump was threatening North Korea with nuclear annihilation, with relations at an all-time low. The creation of a unified Korean team, and the symbolism of Korean athletes under a single flag, boosted desire for peace among South Koreans, eventually leading to unification and normalization talks between the two nations later in the year.

Climate Change Continues

In 2018, climate change became not just a headline, but a tangible reality. From wildfires in California that killed over 100 people to an earthquake in Indonesia that led to over 2,000 deaths, extreme weather dominated both headlines and everyday routines across much of the world.

An extensive report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” would be necessary to stave off disaster, while a US National Climate Assessment exposed the immense financial costs associated with a warming world.

Meanwhile, efforts to deal with the ongoing pressures were stymied at the COP24 climate summit, which became a subject of ridicule as coal and other dirty energy industries were promoted by both the organizing country, Poland, as well as the United States, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Continued inaction led to the growth of citizens’ initiatives across much of the developed world, including Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement, the efforts of which will likely play a major role in 2019. Whatever occurs, it is certain that the coming year will play host to even more extreme weather, and almost certainly more action.

Gains For Women And LGBTQ People Across The World

Referenda and bills proposed across the globe showed signs of a strong feminist and intersectional movement in countries historically resistant to sexual inclusivity.

In India, Section 377, an antiquated colonial-era holdover which banned gay sex as “against nature,” was overturned by that country’s supreme court, which in the process declared that gay Indians would have equal rights under the Indian constitution. These moves came despite the conservative social politics of many Indians, although, in a sign of how far things have come, the right-wing government of  Narendra Modi declined to take a stance against the ruling.

Ireland’s eighth amendment, passed in a referendum in 1983 with two-thirds in favor, barred abortions unless a serious risk to the mother could be proved. But just over 30 years later, the amendment was repealed by a nearly identical margin in a referendum that demonstrated the change in attitudes among generations and the decline of the authority of the once mighty Catholic Church in Ireland. Two months later, an attempt to repeal Argentina’s hard-line abortion laws narrowly failed but gave huge momentum to a growing women’s movement in that country.

Trump Hunkers Down

US President Donald Trump spent much of 2018 dealing with legal troubles, tweeting insults at foreign and domestic enemies, and navigating a flurry of staff turnovers within his administration.

He initiated a trade war against China with a firestorm of tariffs, horrifying investors and destabilizing the global economic order while his administration stoked military tensions with Beijing over the South China Sea and Taiwan, raising fears of a new Cold War over technological and geopolitical dominance.

Trump continued his daily attacks against the media over Twitter while attempting to tarnish the ongoing investigations into alleged Russian election interference and potential collusion between his campaign and the government of President Vladimir Putin. A July meeting with Putin in Helsinki led to violent outbursts across the Beltway and frenzied charges of treason by Trump’s political opponents.

Throughout the year, Trump continued to replace members of his administration seen as moderate with more hardline figures and loyalists, including Mike Pompeo at the State Department and John Bolton as national security advisor. Both Bolton and Pompeo were key figures in Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, his April attacks on the Syrian government of Bashar Al-Assad and his abandoning of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, moves that were seen as warlike among peace campaigners and foreign policy experts alike.

Trump’s efforts failed to prevent the election of a Democratic House of Representatives, which will likely stall much of his domestic policy agenda in the coming year. As a result, his defiant, combative approach will likely continue throughout 2019.

“Techlash”

If 2017 was the year that society began to doubt the idea that Big Tech was primarily a force for good, 2018 has decisively stripped it of its merits.

Beginning with the exposure of Cambridge Analytica’s role in the election upsets of 2016, this year has seen one blow after another to the “masters of the universe”: Mark Zuckerberg, sweating and fretting before an angry Senate, Elon Musk going up in the smoke of his own hubris, and Sheryl Sandberg, icon of capitalist feminism, revealed as the mastermind of dirty tricks and malicious smear campaigns against company critics.

The monopoly power of Big Tech broke into everyday discourse, with arguments for breaking up Silicon Valley’s biggest names adorning cable news screens on both sides of the aisle. Efforts intended to lessen hate speech and fake news have created uproar from both activists on the right and left against what they perceive as censorship as well as researchers and pundits who consider the companies’ responses too limited.

2019 may or may not bring about a revival in the stock prices of Google, Facebook, Twitter and Tesla. But a revival of credibility and trust in Silicon Valley will be difficult moving forward as personal data about users becomes a currency among internet advertisers and influencers.

In Conclusion

How will 2018 be remembered by history? Likely as a period of transition. The year featured neither the double-shock populism of 2016’s Trump and Brexit votes, nor the unprecedented chaos of Trump’s first year in office and the bold move towards long-term rule by China’s Xi Jinping in 2017. In 2018, it was not elected officials but ordinary people that more clearly than ever directed the course of history. Between Extinction Rebellion in London and the Yellow Vests protests against Emmanuel Macron in Paris, the past year gave birth to movements that may yet create great societal change. The legacy of 2018 will be based on what comes out of it, not what took place this year.