Having ended 2016 expecting to hear the punchline of an overwhelmingly tasteless joke, we find ourselves one year later even more impatiently waiting to hear it so that we can get on with our daily lives. How do we once again find ourselves in such a tormented situation, and what impact does this really have on our outlook for 2018?
Politics has seen much of 2017 spent groaning. In 2016, an internet troll by the name of Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, defeating the dangerously misguided Hillary Clinton, proving not only that literally anyone could run for president, but anyone with the credentials and capacity to do the job neither wanted to nor could fulfil that position. The stage had been set for the greatest satire the world had ever seen, but with one minor detail: it wasn’t satire. Cynicism was never going to be far off, and not without good reason, but behind our critical eyes was the knowledge that we would have to sit back and accept what was to come.
Having heard the incredulity with which he pronounces the three words, it came as no surprise that the Paris Climate Agreement was brushed aside by Mr. Trump (although that may favour US energy development), favouring a spat with North Korea. I say “spat”, the pettiness of which was plain to see in the news, but in fairness it did entail campaigns of missile bombardment of an unprecedented magnitude; although the world was left to tell itself that this childish squabble would never reach such a point, we did also remind ourselves that we never thought Donald Trump would become president one year earlier.
But we cannot accuse Mr. Trump of only throwing his weight around overseas during his presidency in 2017. With the seemingly largest amount of political in-fighting since the NSDAP, we are left wondering if the Republicans are opposing the Democrats at all, opting instead to be at war with each other. Trump seems to be at the centre of this, at one time quickly siding with alleged sex predator Roy Moore in defiance against the Republicans who condemned him for the accusations he is facing. Even the notorious Alt-Right have escaped Trump’s derision, much to the ire of Democrats and Republicans alike, and to the notable percentage of college-graduated women who have turned to the Democrats, according to polls.
Meanwhile in Britain, all talk was centred around Brexit. In what was hailed a “bold move by the British public” in 2016 (well, 52% of the people who bothered to vote), the world looked on and waited for Britain’s next move, which in 2017, unsurprisingly, has merely been inconclusive chit-chat. It’s not that the British are against taking action, it’s just that the very practice of blunt disagreement seems to have become a defining characteristic of modern Britishness – although the Conservative Party would proudly hail that as ‘defiance’. No matter what the circumstances, be it a trade negotiation or cocktail party, the government will find a way to disagree itself out of any given situation, no matter how beneficial it may be on paper; is it really so unBritish to accept what has been put on the table? Have the British people really spoken, and if so, was the government really listening? It comes across as relatively audacious to presume the British public would rather have prosecco replaced with dandelion and burdock, especially if it’s in a raspberry prosecco bellini.
But it’s not all bad news for the British people and Brexit – at least, and thank God, blue passports are to be reintroduced. Well of course that’s what the British people wanted, how could we not? That’s right, those supporting free access to EU countries have been placated by the prospect of a different colour on their passports. We might feel somewhat marginalised by this if we think that symbolism plays a considerable role in British national identity, but if we consider the way we once identified with complex and evolving symbols such as the British Coat of Arms or Britannia, we are now reduced to being reminded of our proud heritage by simple colours and shapes. If that lowest common denominator label the government gives the public isn’t patronising enough, it’s perhaps even more jarring to remind ourselves that while the Tories detest the idea that Europeans go to the UK for blue-collar work, they are perfectly happy for Europeans to run our industrial and economic structures.
So where does this leave us as we head into 2018? Can we expect a downward spiral with no end in sight, which will only broaden? First of all, we must consider what affects us directly; the credibility of our lament or conviviality, whichever our position may be, stems largely from our personal involvement in the topics in question. Does that mean, for example, that in order to have an opinion about homophobia, we must first be homosexual? Of course not. But we do have a responsibility to back up our opinions with facts and background information – this is something which, certainly in the last year, has seen a significant improvement not least thanks to social media, which has a tendency to see off the ill-informed with barrages of mocking comments.
Earlier I mentioned the spat between Trump and Kim Jong-un, and how it could potentially mark a gargantuan missile conflict. However, we can afford a degree of flippancy over this matter as the likelihood of it ever happening is extremely remote – it simply doesn’t affect us on a day-to-day basis. On the other hand, one thing that does affect Americans on a day-to-day basis, and which the media has given little coverage over, is the tax and regulatory reform which has seen three consecutive quarters of growth above three percent, which has had a positive impact on national employment figures in a relatively short space of time.
While the US economy stabilises, the same may or may not be said for social divide, evident in our constant exposure to ever-increasing extremes of liberals and conservatives to the point it has reached street violence, with neither faction showing any signs of yielding. Is that to say it will get worse? Perhaps not. With an increasing number of political commentators on both sides, people are more enticed by the idea of debating social issues in live forums. In the first six months of 2017 we saw a surge in violent political and social protest in a number of countries, but that has rapidly decreased in the second half of the year as the appeal of debate has gained popularity, particularly among the once relatively apathetic younger generations.
2017 also saw fresh allegations of sexual assault and harassment on a near daily basis. With ludicrous excuses coming from the likes of Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey, the political sphere and Hollywood brought to light that no place was above sexual harassment, something which was believed by many but dismissed by those powerful enough to feel impervious to the many victims’ accusations. Deplorable and disturbing as the situation until now has been, we are at a point which will prove pivotal for fair treatment in the workplace (and not only), meaning 2018 offers a brighter future for people entering employment without fear of mistreatment. Although this may take some time to achieve, as long as there are people out there willing to stand up and make their voices heard, we will one day look back at 2018 as the year in which a positive change came about.
I see 2018 as a time when indifference will start to die off. Recent years have seen the lowest turnouts during elections, inertia concerning accusations of sexual harassment, passive attitudes towards miscarriages of justice, and a general lack of interest in international affairs, but there are signals that we are headed towards a resurgence in political and social dialogue, which will subsequently consolidate our sense of civic responsibility. This does of course depend on our taking steps towards understanding the meaning of active involvement, and although it may seem a daunting prospect now, the more informed attention we pay to what we see and hear today, the more credibility will be given to what we say and do in the future.