The Top Politics Commentaries of 2017
With all that has happened in the past year, one could be forgiven for thinking that it has been more than 12 months since January 1, 2017. To help make sense of it all – from Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency to China’s increasingly vocal bid for global leadership – we have compiled a list of some of our top politics commentaries from 2017.
Looking back, 2017 may well be remembered as a year of great historical consequence. Yes, 2016 was the year when the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union and Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. But 2017 was when the rest of the story began to unfold, and discrete events started to ramify in ways that will affect global politics for years or even decades to come. To help capture all that has happened over the past 12 months, we have selected some of Project Syndicate’s most-read columns on politics in 2017.
Not surprisingly, many of the year’s commentaries focused on the all-too-real reality show playing out in the US. At home and abroad, Trump continued throughout the year to violate political and social norms and undermine democratic institutions, confirming Balzac’s observation that one who needs to prove one’s power to oneself must abuse it to succeed.
Still, our list also makes clear that Trump and those sustaining his presidency are just one part of a much larger story, of which 2017 was but one chapter. The US is no longer the hard center of the international order. The world is quickly changing, and people everywhere are renegotiating traditional sources of identity, systems of governance, economic arrangements, and conceptions of wellbeing. Those debates will continue for years to come, and we at Project Syndicate look forward to contributing to them with the same caliber of informed analysis that you will find in the compilation below.
Brahma Chellaney of the New Delhi-based Center for Policy Research described how China is using its massive Belt and Road Initiative of foreign infrastructure investment to ensnare strategically important countries across Eurasia in “debt traps” that will leave them increasingly vulnerable to Chinese influence.
Former German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned that news of US-led coalition forces reclaiming the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State this summer did not mean that peace was finally coming to the Middle East. On the contrary, he argued, the region is barreling toward a violent hegemonic power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Hungarian-American financier/philanthropist George Soros, reflecting on the decline of real (inflation-adjusted) income in the United Kingdom throughout the year, reminded Britons that they could still turn back from the Brexit cliff edge.
Robert Skidelsky of Warwick University examined the growing opposition to migration across advanced economies, which he views as a reflection of deeper political and psychological dynamics, rather than economic anxieties, as is commonly believed.
Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University predicted early in the year that Trump’s three separate identities – Russian lackey, plutocrat, and populist demagogue – would eventually converge. The result, he suggested, would be a president who placates his supporters with tweets to distract from his administration’s regressive economic policies and reported ties to Russia.
Elizabeth Drew, a veteran chronicler of US politics, described the prevailing mood in the White House throughout the year as a mix of chaos, pettiness, and paranoia, owing to the constant flow of news reports documenting the Trump administration’s dysfunction – which seems to trickle down from the very top.
Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation, echoing the view of every other government in the world, decried Trump’s decision in June to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, portraying it as a tragic and unprecedented abdication of global leadership.
Joseph Nye of Harvard University introduced a new – and already indispensable – concept to the Sinological lexicon. Whereas China could fall into the “Thucydides trap” if it appears too strong and provokes a challenge from the US, Nye’s “Kindleberger trap” describes a China that invites a different set of problems by acting too weak.
Shashi Tharoor of the Indian National Congress party, lamenting that overly frequent state-assembly elections have come to be seen as referenda on the national government, called on India to do away with the parliamentary system it inherited from the British, and adopt a presidential system instead.
Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens saw the Catalonian secession bid in October as a wake-up call for the European Union to grant more autonomy to regional and local governments, lest the unhappy choice between more EU-level bureaucracy or more “competing nationalisms” consume the bloc from within.
Richard Haass of the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that in a globalized world, the centuries-old Westphalian model of sovereignty is no longer sufficient. The international order should still protect the rights of states, but also hold states responsible for the economic, political, environmental, and humanitarian obligations they bear as members of the international community.
Anne-Marie Slaughter, who heads the New America think tank, offered a corrective to the simplistic dichotomies of populists and elites, or nationalists and internationalists, and proposed a new kind of humanistic politics that recognizes people’s yearning for rootedness and genuine connection in a diverse, globalized world.