TWENTY-sixteen has been a big surprise. So many forces coalesced it’s as though a new era began before we realised that the old one had passed. And while at first glance it’s a little frightening, in the long run, I suspect, it will all turn out for the best.
Big changes are always scary, and the kind that produced Brexit and a President Donald Trump are especially so. But if you thought they signalled a radical turn to the right, with nationalism and protectionism set to replace an ever more integrated global community, I think your fears are misplaced.
Both events were a reaction to the speed with which globalisation roared ahead unchecked. On the way it pulled hundreds of millions of our fellow humans out of grinding poverty; and it added immensely to global wealth; but yesterday’s systems weren’t geared to handle it, so the wealthy and influential used their political clout to direct much of it into their own pockets.
The big losers turned out to be the working and middle classes in the developed countries whose jobs were exported to the low-wage countries across the sea. And it was their cry of outrage that gave the world Brexit and President Trump.
Something similar – but much less radical – happened in Australia where the notion of the “fair go” took up much of the slack. But the majority rule that had marked almost a century of parliamentary governance gave way to a more diverse system of multi-party coalitions that vary according to the issue of the day.
So, where do we go from here?
Britain will muddle along as it always has – buoyed by dreams of past hopes and glories. But if the Europeans learn their lesson from Brexit, they will spread their wealth more equitably, not just at home but in the countries that are producing the economic refugees who are crowding at their borders. It’s certainly not beyond the leaders of the EU experiment to make those adjustments. And they’ll probably turn out to be beneficial for all concerned.
Donald Trump is a one-off. He reminds me of a grinning 13-year-old kid who has swiped his family’s Harley-Davidson motorbike and taken off down the highway to who knows where. He’ll definitely finish up in a ditch; the only question is how much damage he’ll do to the American political vehicle and its fellow travellers along the way. But once he’s gone wiser heads (of which they have many) will no doubt prevail.
Meantime, that other international bikie, Vladimir Putin, will roar his wheels ever further into the Middle East quicksand… and it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Here in the Lucky Country, we will quietly put a few more eggs into the Chinese basket while trumpeting our devotion to that sacramental American alliance. A stronger China connection is inevitable as I’ve learned from the research and writing of a book on the history of our relations – “Dragon and Kangaroo“ – to be published in 2017. And it’s no bad thing.
So, let’s enjoy the spectacle as the rest of the world learns the lessons of 2016, while we quietly keep Australia the best and fairest country on earth.