2016 marked a massive seismic change in the world’s politics, like the earth was just jarringly knocked out of its usual orbit. Forget the ‘2016 WAS A DUMPSTER FIRE’ gags for a moment. Yeah, Phife Dawg died, and we’re all still in mourning. But historians are going to look back on 2016 with the same grave reverence as they do on 2001 or 1980 or 1939 – years that completely shifted the course of the world.
Here’s Your Guide To The Shitheap That Was World Politics In 2016
To put it clearly: this was a big one, historically speaking.
From the rancid swamp of the past year, I’d probably say there’s a couple of truths we can pull out. The next decade is probably going to be dominated by harder right-wing elements. And possibly harder left-wing elements too, if they play their cards right. The soft, treacly liberal centre the world has been so accustomed to for the past few decades is dead and buried. Sozaboutit, if that’s your jam.
Funnily enough, Australia didn’t cop that much of the heat. Yeah, we got Pauline Hanson, but we’ve been down that road before. It’s old hat for us.
So, without further ado – here’s the shit that went down this year in politics.
pictured: the british silent majority
Absolutely one of the greatest and most consequential political shockwaves of 2016 was Brexit. Against the expectations of the media and the political establishment, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union.
Prime Minister David Cameron had promised a referendum on leaving the EU as conditional on his election victory in 2015. Well, he won. And then he lost. Despite polling telling everyone that Brexit wouldn’t happen, and the full weight of the establishment promising economic and social doom and gloom, fire and brimstone, the whole bloody works: it happened.
Well, it hasn’t quite happened. And no one really knows exactly how the UK will extricate itself from the myriad regulations and obligations that came with EU membership. Why don’t they know? Because nobody really made any concrete plans for if Brexit actually happened.
But they’ll be out. Whether it was a noble reaction against elites or a racist backlash against immigration and free movement, it happened – and it may well be the defining event of our time.
Another one everyone said would never happen. Serially bankrupt reality TV sex pest Donald Trump sailed through the Republican primaries by insulting his opponents and appealing to the basest nativist instincts of the United States of America. It wasn’t even close. Then, facing the highly qualified establishment candidate Hillary Clinton, he dominated again.
Despite making wildly racist claims and enduring the kind of scandals that would disqualify any candidate in any other election, he won. Now he’ll be President, and nothing will change that.
Whether the Democrats will learn from Trump’s victory by 2020 is another story altogether. They fundamentally, critically misread the howling void of hatred, fear and terror that made up middle America when they picked Clinton – the person who most resembled the system as it currently exists – as their candidate, and they’ll sting for it.
Whether Trump will end up being George Bush Mark II, or will genuinely turn the table on how politics is done in the USA leaves to be seen. He’s filling his cabinet with a motley cabal of oil executives, anti-enviro loons, racist demagogues and deeply unqualified sycophants, so whichever way he goes it’ll be a wild 2017.
(ron howard voice) it wasn’t
Ahh, Malcolm Turnbull. The man who seized power from Tony Abbott before realising that he didn’t actually know what to do with it, and didn’t have a specific vision for the country beyond ‘apps are good’.
After being paralysed in the Senate, Turnbull confidently called a double dissolution election, assured that he would defeat walking focus group Bill Shorten. Spoiler alert: he did, but barely. And, with every seat in Parliament up for grabs, an interesting ragtag group of ne’er-do-wells did the grabbing.
Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, having been out of politics since the late nineties, was back with a vengeance. Her party grabbed four seats. Maverick centrist Nick Xenophon cleaned up in South Australia. And Turnbull, thinking he’d have a nice civil Senate and a perfect opportunity to prove himself as the sensible, urbane Prime Minister the country so sorely deserved, ended up eating dirt.
Fast forward nearly half a year, and things don’t look much better. The harder right wing elements in the Coalition are gathering power and momentum, and Turnbull – that poor, poor bloke – looks braced to leave office with a record which is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Paris, Lahore, Berlin, Nice, Ankara. The world suffered through a number of terrorist attacks in 2016, in a time of great uncertainty. The world’s politics have been affected by these attacks in a number of ways – recently with the backlash against German chancellor Angela Merkel after this week’s truck attack in Berlin.
The threat of Islamic State and the continued intervention of Western powers in the Middle East heightens these tensions, and the world’s leaders are scrambling to maintain the multicultural institutions of the past few decades while reducing the threat of terrorism.
remember when he did this tho
New Zealand PM John Key bucked the trend of pollies resigning in disgrace or being forced out by simply… resigning because he was a bit sick of it. Whether or not you respect the guy’s legacy, you’ve gotta admit – stepping down because you’re a bit done with it all is probably the most peaceable transition of power we’ll see on this planet for a long time.
The Philippines felt the great global pull to the authoritarian right, too. The country, wracked by a long, losing war against the drug trade, elected former Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a man alleged to have enabled and participated in extrajudicial killings of drug dealers and users in his city.
That reign of terror has moved to a national scale. It’s currently estimated that over 6.000 people have been killed since Duterte was elected. It’s overly simplistic – and probably pointless – to call him the Trump of the Philippines, but you can see a similar portrait of a canny media performer who knows he can say whatever the hell he wants with no real repercussions.
You can draw a line between many of the things in this list and the situation in Syria. The refugee crisis has driven the biggest movement of people since World War II, and that enormous displacement of asylum seekers has energised far-right movements across the globe who are keen to throw up walls – literal and figurative – to keep them all out.
But it’s a situation of tremendous human tragedy beyond its political significance. The Syrian people are suffering greatly because of the proxy war being waged within their borders, between seemingly limitless enemies fighting for all manner of ends.
It is estimated that over 400,000 people have been killed in the Syrian conflict, with many more displaced.
Among all the big celebrity deaths of 2016, probably the most politically consequential was the death of Fidel Castro – the father of Cuba‘s socialist revolution and a thorn in the side of the West. His brother Raul Castro has been governing the country since 2008, but Fidel keeled over in November.
He leaves a legacy that people will debate forever: a fervent (and effective) anti-colonialist who ended up perpetrating many of the same injustices upon his people as the regime which came before him. Loved and loathed in equal measure, he leaves a Cuba which is just beginning to open itself to the world again.
Here’s one time has forgotten – and might not have had the kind of impact on global politics as we’d perhaps hope. The papers of Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca leaked back in April, revealing the kind of high-level financial and corporate wizardry the world’s political and financial elite use to escape taxation and move their money around the globe.
What did it do for global politics? Mmm not very much. Not very much at all. Looking back in December, we can say that it’s been pretty thoroughly forgotten.
Well, that’s not strictly true. Iceland‘s Prime Minister resigned. Chalk that one up as a victory.
It’s a message of hope in a world gone mad. The protests in Standing Rock, North Dakota proved that solidarity goes a long way when it comes to achieving political ends – especially when political processes are crumbling.
Native American activists fought hard against the North Dakota Access Pipeline which was planned through parts of their land – including a sacred site. After standing their ground against police violence, the activists ended up winning. It may seem small time to you, but it’s inspiring stuff – in dark and uncertain times, real collective action still triumphs.
accurate depiction of actual events
Look, it’s not strictly politics but it has real political resonance. Climate change is something the world’s paralysed political institutions haven’t been able to do much about, and it really passed a threshold this year.
Global atmospheric carbon levels passed 400 parts-per-million in September – the highest it has ever been. Ever. In history. And it’s not likely to drop lower than that in our lifetimes. Each month of the first six months of the year broke NASA temperature records. Arctic ice is in dramatic retreat.
And what are we doing about it? Contrary to the claims of Malcolm Roberts and his ilk, who think climate change is a manufactured conspiracy enabling global elites to seize power… not a whole lot. Certainly nowhere near enough.
Happy holidays! We’re all definitely looking forward to how the world’s going to fuck itself in 2017.
Photo: Getty Images.