Yoda said, “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Today, we see a shift from a world of rising expectations to a world of fear of falling.
The Star Wars franchise has been used time and again to frame causes both liberal and conservative. Ronald Reagan first called the Soviet Union an evil empire in 1983, the same year Return of the Jedi was released.
As NY Magazine’s Abraham Riesman wrote, “American children have been learning about the Galactic Civil War before they learn about the Vietnam War.… we’re living with an American electorate that has come to think of most everything in galaxy-threatening terms, where every presidential election is said to be the republic’s last chance for survival, and, for half the voters, whoever gets elected is a mortal threat to all we hold dear. Therein lies the special danger of seeing politics through Star Wars. The series is a manifesto for anti-incumbent fury...”
Riesman talks about the American experience, but we are seeing the same anti-establishment, simplistic, black-and-white thinking elsewhere. How will this Star Wars-like world play out?
A new or lost hope?
Before Donald TrumpDonald TrumpWendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Senate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Former acting Defense secretary under Trump met with Jan. 6 committee: report MORE got elected U.S. president, experts predicted economic gloom and doom if he won. Trump triumphed but financial markets reacted in a completely different way than many predicted. Expectations of Trump’s fiscal stimulus plans are extremely high as American stock indices have reached all-time highs.
Ray Dalio, founder of the world’s largest hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, puts a lot of trust in Trump team’s strong business experience. “The Trump administration could have a much bigger impact on the US economy than one would calculate on the basis of changes in tax and spending policies alone, because it could ignite animal spirits and attract productive capital,” Dalio wrote.
He could be too optimistic. Why? Dalio himself provides the answer. The question is whether this administration will be aggressive and thoughtful or aggressive and reckless. Based on how Trump is conducting foreign policy and playing politics through Twitter and based on his appointments financial markets seem too upbeat about how the U.S. economy will fare under President-elect Trump.
Return of the radicals?
Over at the other side of the Atlantic, Europe looks like a discontent continent. Italians recently voted against electoral and constitutional reforms causing one-time reformist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to resign. Italy is now being led by a temporary government while the Eurosceptic Five Stars Movement is doing great.
In March, Dutch voters will head to the polls. Far-right populist Geert Wilder’s, Party for Freedom stands a good chance of coming out on top.
In late April and the start of May conservative candidate Francois Fillon will try to keep far-right Marine Le Pen from winning the French presidential election. And in September, the populist Alternative fur Deutschland (AfD) is expected to do well at the national elections. In addition we are seeing nationalist, right wing governments in Hungary and Poland while the U.K. will start negotiating its exit from the E.U.
All this internal potential political upheaval takes place while Europe is encircled by geopolitical dangers. Terror could rear its ugly head, given the number of extremists who’ve fled the Middle East for Europe. Russian president Putin will grab every opportunity he can to taunt NATO and undermine European unity while tensions between the EU and Turkey increase and North Africa and the Middle East are far from walking a path to more stability and peace.
Despite all the political risks, we should not rule out positive surprises. All the fears of anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic populists taking over Europe seem overblown. Wilders may win the Dutch elections but he will not be able to form a government. In France, the electoral system makes an upset like that in the US unlikely. The same applies to the parliamentary elections: Marine Le Pen’s Front National will do well, but will not come close to commanding majorities. German chancellor Angela Merkel’s influence is waning, but that won’t keep her party from winning the elections in September.
The Asian menace
The most worrying region when it comes to geopolitical clashes is Asia. North Korea is busy developing an intercontinental ballistic nuclear missile. U.S.–China relations will enter troubled waters with two big egos — Trump and Xi Jinping — bound to rattle each other while we should not forget about nationalist PM Shinzo Abe from Japan who has to deal with an economy that could collapse under the weight of its aging problem and huge debts.
Liberals striking back?
Global politics is characterized by a new social/cultural/political axis that runs between liberal internationalism and social authoritarianism. To put this in a European context, German interwar writer Stefan Zweig claimed that European history was shaped by a pendulum-like nature, swinging back and forth over centuries between tribalism and co-operation. The Economist concluded that this could reassure the fearful that today’s disunity may prove temporary. However, it remains to be seen if the pendulum has already reached its maximal amplitude or that is has some way to go before it swings back.
If liberal internationalism wants to get the upper hand, it must reform itself. Liberals have become too complacent and blind for pitfalls in their own theory. For example, liberalism warns that uninterrupted power corrupts and that privilege risks becoming self-perpetuating. Yet, over the last couple of decades we have seen family dynasties dominating American politics. Old-boys-networks may be a cliché, but they are still everywhere.
Moreover, mainstream parties both social-democrats, liberals and conservatives, often have become too much alike stifling creativity and initiative. Most importantly, since the financial crisis liberalism has lost its essential underpinning: faith in progress. Right now, many and probably even a majority of people fail to believe that their children will live better lives than themselves. We are witnessing a shift from a world of rising expectations to a world of fear of falling.
This causes insecurity, anger and a host of negative feelings that won’t contribute to a fruitful foundation for growth. 2017 may not turn out to be a politically disastrous year, but underlying developments won’t contribute to strong and sustainable economic growth.
Andy Langenkamp is senior political analyst at ECR Research. You can find him on Twitter @AndyLangenkamp
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.