IF 2017 revealed liberal democracy to be a delicate flower – as it surely did – then 2018 will decide whether its roots have reached deep enough to survive the fiery winds of “strongman” autocracy sweeping the globe.
Right now, the prognosis is not looking good. The elevation of China’s Xi Jinping to the role of Emperor of the Communist Dynasty is thoroughly discomfiting.
History has enshrined Lord Acton’s warning that “absolute power corrupts absolutely” with the status of an iron rule. Both the Chinese people and the wider world can anticipate tough times ahead.
India’s Narendra Modi is tightening his grip on autocratic power. Russia has become Vladimir Putin’s plaything. The Middle East, from Turkey to Iran to Saudi Arabia is a festering sore of autocracy.
Britain is sinking into irrelevance as a Royal theme park; Germany’s Angela Merkel has lost her mojo with her majority; and her fellow EU members are in various stages of political chaos, with France the exception that proves the rule.
As for America, well, where to start?
Actually, that former lighthouse of democracy tells the story of just how we came to be in this pickle. And much as we’d like to heap all the blame on Donald J. Trump, I fear the real villain of the piece was his predecessor, the sainted Barack Obama. For it was on his watch that the American economy spiralled out of control and sent most of the world into recession.
That gave Obama the perfect opportunity to bring an end to the raging inequality that is undermining the people’s faith in the democratic system. His response was pathetic. The result was a split in the Democratic Party between the Bernie Sanders “left” and the Hillary Clinton’s “business as usual”. Little wonder the gerrymandered Electoral College – and Putin’s hackers – elected Trump to the White House. Little wonder that country is now in a state of permanent convulsion.
Internationally, it was Obama’s gutlessness that allowed the vile Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad to trample over his “red line” when he gassed his own people and gave Putin his entrée to the Mediterranean… to say nothing of Obama’s lily-livered response to “Bibi” Netanyahu’s support for Israeli “settlers” stealing Palestinian lands.
And his much touted “pivot” to Asia was a sad joke. No wonder he spends his days hobnobbing with Prince Harry and his ilk while his successor undermines the notion of objective truth, the foundation of all human progress.
In Australia, we just bumble along, propped up by China, and in the thrall of an American executive run by a dingbat. Turnbull is our own Duke of Plaza-Toro leading from the rear. Labor has some reasonable policies but promoted by a standard-bearer in Shorten that no one likes or trusts, and with good reason – he only reached his exalted position by knifing his two predecessors. Perhaps that’s our saving grace – no autocratic strongman here; instead, we have a blank space.
Of course, our Anzac mates across the ditch had the good sense to elect a woman PM in Jacinda “Smiler” Ardern. No surprises there; they’ve been putting us in the political shade for years and we haven’t learned a thing.
Oh well, at least we won the Ashes.
Let’s hope liberal democracy doesn’t end that way.