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Where are we left? After the U.S Election, EU Referendum, the definitive resurgent of populist forces across the West and the recalibration of the political mainstream, this is a question I found asking myself often in the closing months of 2016. Watching the values of liberty, tolerance, equality and inclusion be replaced with them of division, hatred, xenophobia and overt ultra-nationalism is something which typified 2016 for me, as I expect it did for many others. The precedents (re)established last year sent haunting echoes, reminiscent of the 1930s, through Europe and North America and there is little sign, with far-right Norbert Hoffer’s proximity to Austria’s presidency in December, that these precedents show little sign of faltering. For those of us with a vested interest in the future however, we must look forward towards 2017 and attempt to determine what we can expect from it. This article will hope to do exactly that; given ‘what we are left with’, I will attempt to ascertain what the outpour of the political landscape will consist of this coming year and why, without sounding too morbid, why the prospects for 2017 are, even against the backdrop of 2016, no cause of celebration.
Of course, the perhaps greatest cause of concern is President Donald J. Trump; his power, his temperament, his overt discriminatory rhetoric and of course, the composition of his cabinet. It became bluntly apparent in the Republican Primaries and General Election campaign, the man is not worthy of his excessive wealth, let alone worthy of being the sole incumbent of the Oval Office. He is fundamentally incompatible with the notion of national service because, crucially all he does is self-service. The world’s beacon of democracy glows dimmer as we draw unavoidably closer to inauguration day and as said day draws nearer; I become more sceptical that such a beacon will retain any of its credibility by the time these four years have passed. As aforementioned, the makeup of the President’s cabinet is perhaps the most damaging facet of Trump’s presidency to the United States, global stability and sustainability.
Rex Tilllerson, CEO of ExxonMobil is the Donald’s pick for Secretary of State, the person nominated in cabinet to engage in cool, steady, meaningful diplomatic efforts who works to not only better the position of the United States in the world, but to ensure peace and sustainable security are upheld as international norms. Controversy has been generated as a result of Mr. Tillerson’s business proximity to Vladmir Putin and the Panama Papers; he has previously strongly opposed the sanctions against the Russian Federation over the annexation of the Ukraine – sanctions which were put in place for the purpose of upholding international law of sovereignty and self-determination. Such an individual is a direct contradiction of the office of which he has been nominated to; but then again, so is Trump to the Oval.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s pick for Attorney General is an embodiment of what Hilary Clinton, perhaps rather foolishly, coined as the ‘basket of deplorables’. The man certainly belongs in the Trump administration, but that is no accolade to his character, his politics or his values. The chief law enforcement officer and chief lawyer of the United States government proposed a national amendment to ban same-sex marriage, advocates reducing LEGAL immigration into the United States, ardently opposed abortion and has earned a ‘zero’ from the Human Rights Campaign. The coming 4 years mark the legal disempowerment of anyone who doesn’t fit into the heterosexual white male demographic, is Mr. Sessions is America’s judicial hegemon.
Both of these two nominees however, pale in comparison, with regards to their compatibility to their jobs, to Trump’s choice for Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt. This is palpably, decidedly and incontrovertibly the most obscene, dangerously laughable appointment of the incoming ‘president’. Pruitt is a climate change denier. He described himself as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s ‘activist’ agenda’. He has sued the EPA’s Clean Power Plan and regulations on methane emissions. He claimed outright that he will run the agency in a way which fosters the protection of the environment alongside the freedom of American business. The stupidity of these positions, whilst characteristic of a Trump administration should not have a platform in the highest echelons of American politics. The global will climate will suffer unless it is met with rationality, accountability and intelligence. The appointment of Scott Pruitt will embodies not one of these qualities and our global environment will degrade as a result.
As if the political landscape of the United States wasn’t enough to instil even less faith in politics for 2017, the federal election in France threatens to darken the electoral doorway as they did in the United Kingdom and United States in 2016. France’s presidential election presents itself as the next opportunity for the populist European right to rear is ugly, divisive head and make a grasp for power. Marine Le Pen, daughter of neo-Nazi Jean Marie Le Pen and her ‘de-demonised’ National Front are formidable contenders for the presidency on the 7th of May. She may have attempted to remove her father’s scent from the party, but the remnants of the foundations of the party he built have withstood. Her anti-immigrant, ultra-nationalist, Eurosceptic and far-right movement presents a true danger to French society and French democracy because, fundamentally, once fascists gain power, prising it out of their hands is never easy and never painless. We ought to bear this in mind.
By the same token, Chancellor Merkel is also facing stiff opposition from the populist right in the form of the AfD (Alternative for Deutschland), populism’s rising star. The prospect of Merkel’s fourth term, I believe, is the one thing that is able to keep the European project from disintegrating thanks to the sentiments projected and exploited by the populist right. I’m not German. I won’t pretend to know German politics inside-out. But I do know that the values held by Mrs. Merkel are shared with me and people who want to see liberty triumph over the politics of fear. If Merkel cannot keep the likes of the AfD at bay, the European project’s most robust partner will become its greatest liability.
2016 was bleak. 2017 has the potential to be bleaker still. But we must, whilst the surge of populism endures, remain steadfast. We must hold representatives to account and we cannot allow notions of division come between us as global citizens. We will not give in to ‘post-truth’ which currently infects political life, no matter how tempting this may be.