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Will 2017 be as bad as 2016?

Will 2017 be as bad as 2016?

“Let’s pretend we’re in some cosmic therapist’s office, in a counselling session with the year 2016,” said The New York Times. As part of the therapy, we are asked to face the year and say something nice about it. Anything. “The mind balks. Fingers tighten around the Kleenex as a cascade of horribles wells up in memory.” This was the year that took David Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali, and gave the world Brexit and Donald Trump. This was the year when “things fell apart”: when “tyrants and terrorists trailed blood and rubble across the Middle East”, refugees drowned in their thousands, and right-wing populism was once again on the march. So, back in the therapist’s office, there really isn’t much to say. “You were a terrible year. We hate you. We’ll be so glad never to see you again.”

One of the strangest aspects of the past 12 months, said Brendan O’Neill on Spiked, has been this “according of sentience to 2016”. In the liberal imagination, 2016 ceased to be a mere measurement of time and became “an actor in itself” – a malevolent creature “visiting cruelty upon us”. “F*** You, 2016,” declared a headline on The Huffington Post. A spoof horror movie, with 2016 as the bogeyman, went viral on social media. In New York there was even a Good Riddance Day, where people wrote lists of the worst things about 2016 and then put them through paper shredders. There’s a “medieval feel” to all this: a superstitious attempt to identify the “mysterious force” disrupting old certainties, and cast it out. But the “objectification of 2016” also allows liberal intellectuals to ignore a much simpler truth: the major political upheavals of last year were caused by “human agency”. It was the electorate – “conscious and alert, thoughtful and engaged” – that rose up against the Establishment in Britain, the US and Italy.

“We’re living through a long arc of progress, and it will take more than Nigel Farage to bend it backwards”

The notion that 2016 was a “uniquely terrible year” is irritating for the 17.4 million of us who voted for Brexit, said Iain Martin in The Times. “One does not need to be hopelessly Panglossian about Brexit to think that the gloom is wildly overdone.” Even a passionate Remainer like me can find plenty to celebrate in 2016, said Philip Collins in the same paper. “We are living through a long arc of progress, and it will take more than Nigel Farage to bend it backwards.” Far from being in peril, democracy is thriving: more than four billion people now live under a democratic government, with the freedoms that entails. In 2016, The Gambia and Tanzania banned child marriage, Italy became the last Western European nation to recognise same-sex unions, and the Pan African Parliament outlawed female genital mutilation. The world got richer (the number of people living in extreme poverty fell below 10% for the first time) and healthier: Sri Lanka declared itself the latest of almost 30 countries to have eradicated malaria, and measles was wiped out across the Americas. “Perhaps 2016 was the worst of times, but it was the best of times too.”

If you thought 2016 was “an unpredictable bastard”, said Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer, “meet 2017, his wilder sister”. This is the year that Brexit will turn from theory into practice. Whatever the Supreme Court decides about Parliament’s role in triggering Article 50, the deed will be done in the next 12 months – “with consequences that the best minds in politics, diplomacy and trade can only guess at”. Long before that, “one of the most inexperienced and erratic personalities ever to occupy the Oval Office” will get his “fat fingers” on the nuclear button. Trump will take office at a time of “severe geopolitical disturbance”, with China’s economy wobbling, North Korea developing nuclear missiles that it hopes eventually to land on mainland America, Russia massing its army on the borders of Eastern Europe, Nato enfeebled, and Syria’s “agonies” just part of a wider “proxy war” in the Middle East in which Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are jostling for power. As if all that wasn’t sobering enough, France, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Italy face elections that could further destabilise the EU. If Marine Le Pen wins in France, the entire EU project will “disintegrate”.

Relax, said Andrew Roberts in The Daily Telegraph. The next 12 months are going to be “the most boring year since 1993”. Preparing Britain for Brexit will require lots of dull “hard work and quiet advances” of the kind “tailor-made for Theresa May”. In France, Le Pen has no realistic chance of victory; in Germany, Angela Merkel will almost certainly be returned to power; and in America, Trump will prove to be “oafish” but not as dangerous as feared. If anything, 2017 may feel rather anti-climactic. “One can’t expect every year to be as exciting as 2016.”

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