Cautious Optimism for 2023
Here we are post-Christmas and Chanukah, including so many other year-end holidays either past, or in process and to come. It’s also that week prior to the New Year, that is often spent in reflection about the year past and the one to come. Many strategize resolutions for the New Year and/ or what they will commit to improving or stop doing. More simply, it’s that time to put our lives into perspective as we look forward. Considering this Substack is about threats, I wanted to offer a little cautious optimism on three of our most serious. Like most threats, they are best pondered over without isolating them. All threats are a Venn diagram, that overlap an endless list of other variables, including other threats. The three I’ll briefly offer today, are inextricably linked. As you read through today’s post, you will see these three points interwoven throughout.
i. Global stability
In the 2016-17 timeframe, the world was at the height of a populist wave, not unlike what the world experienced in the run-up to WWII. Putin, two-years into his invasion of Eastern Ukraine and having already illegally annexed Crimea was also, knee-deep into theology-based (Russian Orthodoxy) violent, right-wing-extremism at home and abroad. He employed these weapons for much the same reason that Modi did in India, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Trump in the US, Orban’ and others in Europe. Other leaders like Xi in China, the military Junta in Myanmar and others employed similar, authoritarian tactics for the same purpose. The list is far longer but I’m sure that you get the point.
Concurrently, extremist, ideological movements with different names but the same principles were aggressively undermining democracy and human rights globally. To put this wave into an, easier to understand perspective, these linked movements were attempting to convert the globe into a feudal planet, dominated by ruthless, immoral warlords, abusing citizens for their own selfish, power-hungry purposes. Wealthy elite, like oligarchs funded such activity so long as they also enriched themselves. The wealthy elite like Russian oligarchs, were expected to remain loyal when called upon to support all actions of the powerful leadership. In Russia’s case, those who didn’t, ended up on a long list of dead, ostracized or stripped of their wealth, has-beens.
Over the last two years or so, there are several data points that indicate that feudalism is failing. Some of these indicators are:
Putin’s ability to sell others on his ability to control his personal global interests, is decidedly diminished post his genocidal invasion of 1) Ukraine, after 2) Trump’s removal from office, 3) Xi’s setbacks in his 2035, regional hegemonic pursuits and his 2049 global dominance strategy, 4) Bolsonaro’s defeat in Brazil, 5) Modi receiving pushback for his radical, Hindutva, BJP party’s aggression and undermining of India’s constitution, and the list goes on, and on, and on, ad nauseum.
With the US, via our NSS, National Security Strategy focused on enabling global unity of the RBIO/ rules-based, international order after four years of Trump’s abdication from our leadership role, it is precisely that unity that is leveraging bad actors to limit their aggression. Ukraine is a perfect example. Unity in support of Ukraine against Putin’s aggression and war-crimes is impressive, ongoing and has expanded far past it’s NATO base.
Lack of stability anywhere, especially globally, kicks off some level of chaos. In the 2014 thru the present timeframe, the globe has experienced differing levels of instability. The war in Ukraine, Xi’s, Putin’s and Trump’s (among others) disastrous mishandling of COVID sent shock waves throughout the globe. Millions of deaths, disrupted logistics, along with ensuing inflation and profiteering are still undermining global security. Although for most, including here in the US, inflation is beginning to wane. Sadly, failure by these populists, despots and authoritarians during their heyday in charge, are nowthreatening the globe with recession.
It takes years, sometimes decades to resolve major disruptions to the workings of the global economy and associated stability. Resolution of catastrophic events, done well brings prosperity and stability. Failure brings us again to the brink, yet again. Post both world wars, are prime examples of failure and success. Post WWI, we failed to ground ourselves in stability, economic or otherwise. There was also the pandemic of the so-called Spanish Flu. Failure to work together led us directly towards WWII. Post WWII, investing in global economies, alliances etc. mostly led to prosperous stability. Even throughout the Cold War, we experienced relative, albeit contentious stability, within both blocs. The bottom line is that waves of populism can negatively impact long-term stability and economic prosperity.
The extremist movements of the post WWII period were somewhat contained. Of course, they were brutal where they did exist, but both the Soviet bloc and the NATO side did their best to keep them contained,other than in their local or regional efforts to dislodge the other. It wasn’t until the post 9-11 period that violent extremism was seen as a global threat.
In the present and over the period we’re discussing, violent RWE, right-wing-extremism has replaced Islamic extremism as the primary threat to the globe’s precious stability. This is a fairly simple tactic to understand. Thugs like Putin, Xi, Modi etc. depend on extremist movements to control their domestic power-base. They also inspire the same in the societies of their adversaries. Putin’s centric posture to global RWE and enabling support to similar cultivated movements in other nations like Hungary, Italy, the US, Canada, the UK, India etc. has become a primary tool of aggression. This is a strategy as old as mankind. Disrupt and fracture the society and alliances of your adversary and it makes it easier to conquer them.
On all fronts, this type of RWE has diminished a bit, but still remains a serious threat, especially here in the US, Europe, India, etc. One of the promising signs here in the US is the disastrous campaigns of right-wing conspiracy theory-laden candidates during our midterms. Still, 168 US congressmen were elected last month that have expressed belief in ‘Election Denial.” Like post the US Civil Rights era and the FBI’s success against the Klan, we didn’t defeat RWE, it merely lost its public approval and crawled back under the damp, disgusting rock it had previously lived under. There are many signs that the current, prolific, US RWE, is also eschewing their Trump era, public extremism, for the safety of anonymity. Quiet threats are still threats and harder to assess than those waging war against the decent citizens of the nation.
In France, Putin’s support of RWE went down to defeat, Orban’ in Hungary has lost steam and is under pressure from most of Europe to moderate. Only Italy has shown any new, real support for RWE, by electing Giorgia Meloni as Prime Minister. Globally, despite some minor successes like Italy, more and more are coming to the understanding that the thugs benefiting from RWE as a tool of power, are transnationally connected and Putin is a primary enabler. The problem with all extremism though, is that once it empowers people to act publicly on these heinous ideologies, they can rarely be led away their extremist beliefs. They may go “underground” but will reappear when there is enough public support. Only narrative-centric educating can change this… over time.
As I wrap this up, I sincerely wish, that I’ve left you with a touch of optimism as well. There is no such thing as permanent wins over things as complex as global stability, economies or extremism. There are only moments. Trends though can be sustained and improved. In democracies, this requires participation by all citizens. Far too many misunderstood the stability and prosperity of the pre-Trump era in the US, washed their hands of participation, mistakenly thinking that the good times were safe. Democracy is a team sport and everyone must play in order to counter-balance the bad.
Those who seek power will always attempt to permanently solidify their power by changing systems, marginalizing voices, depriving economic opportunity and far more to the people. They use RWE ideology to enable rabid populism by manipulating folks to believe, that their governments are against them. The truth is, when these populists acquire power, it is their governments that exploit citizens for the selfish interests of the leaders. This better known as corruption.
The only defense is what our founders understood clearly from the beginning: That citizens must be well and accurately informed to sustain a healthy democracy. This is a challenge when so many have been manipulated in their beliefs by extremist media, masquerading as news. We may be on the mend currently but only every citizen doing their part, can sustain progress. Sustaining a well-informed nation is always on my New Year’s resolution list. In fact, it’s why I started this newsletter, TAT.
Happy New Year to all and may we all protect our budding recovery from this dark era of history.