(Image: Tyler Hicks / The New York Times / Redux)
Tanisha M. Fazal and Paul Poast
The political turmoil of recent years has largely disabused us of the notion that the world has reached some sort of utopian “end of history.” And yet it can still seem that ours is an unprecedented era of peace and progress. On the whole, humans today are living safer and more prosperous lives than their ancestors did. They suffer less cruelty and arbitrary violence. Above all, they seem far less likely to go to war. The incidence of war has been decreasing steadily, a growing consensus holds, with war between great powers becoming all but unthinkable and all types of war becoming more and more rare.
This optimistic narrative has influential backers in academia and politics. At the start of this decade, the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker devoted a voluminous book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, to the decrease of war and violence in modern times. Statistic after statistic pointed to the same conclusion: looked at from a high enough vantage point, violence is in decline after centuries of carnage, reshaping every aspect of our lives “from the waging of wars to the spanking of children.” (Read more)
Hilde Eliassen Restad
In order to understand Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, we must examine the master narrative that underpins it. Trump breaks with all modern presidents not just because he challenges the postwar “liberal international order,” but because he rejects its underlying master narrative — American exceptionalism. America First relies instead on the narrative of Jacksonian nationalism. What makes America great, according to this narrative, is not a diverse nation unified in its adherence to certain liberal ideals, but rather ethnocultural homogeneity, material wealth, and military prowess. In this view, the United States is unexceptional, and therefore has no mission to pursue abroad. By shedding light on this alternative master narrative, we can better understand Trump’s presidency, his grand strategy, and why a return to the status quo ante after Trump is unlikely. (Read more)
It was the harrowing of the North: the Ragnarök of Remain, when the waters closed over the progressive forces of British politics. As Labour’s “red wall” crumbled and its citadels burned, the 2019 election became a night of endings: of the Corbyn project; of Britain’s membership of the European Union; and of the Liberal Democrats’ dream that they could break the mould of British politics. Among the former Conservatives who ran as independents or for other parties, not one returned to parliament. Of the Independent Group for Change, none survived the slaughter.
For the shattered forces of the left, a “period of reflection” lies ahead. That process should be unsparing of those who have brought the left to this pass – some of whom might gently be reminded that reflection is an activity that starts from self-criticism, not something to be admired in front of the mirror. But the analysis should not be wholly inward-looking. Boris Johnson was able to draw on two forces that pose a fundamental challenge to progressive politics: the dark energies of populism, and the distorting effects of our electoral system. Tackling both should be central to a renewed progressive offer. (Read more)
A record number of women presented themselves for office ahead of the UK’s 2019 election. A total of 37% of candidates were female – an improvement of eight percentage points over the number of women standing in 2017 (29%) and 11 percentage points compared to 2015 (26%). This despite how challenging it can be to organise a campaign for a snap election.
It’s also perhaps surprising given the revelations made by women MPs over the past year about the abuse they receive from the public. When the general election was called, around 20 women from different parties announced they had decided to stand down. Among them were Conservatives Amber Rudd, Nicky Morgan, Caroline Spelman, Seema Kennedy and their former Conservative colleague Heidi Allen, as well as Labour MPs Louise Ellmann and Gloria De Piero. Many of these women cited daily abuse, harassment and intimidation as a reason for leaving parliament. This suggests that the aggressiveness of the political environment is undermining efforts to improve representation in the UK. (Read more)
New York Times
So much of the year’s news played out in the streets. Week after week, protesters poured onto the wide boulevards of Hong Kong, where the photographer Lam Yik Fei seemed to be everywhere. Brexit drew tens of thousands into the streets of London. A subway fare increase was the final spark that led to protests in Santiago, Chile, and people heaved makeshift bombs along a bridge linking Venezuela and Colombia.
The tumult of mass gatherings produced some of the year’s most powerful pictures. But a quiet image of two people stood out as perhaps the saddest: Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez lay with his arm limply draped over his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, their lifeless bodies locked together on the banks of the Rio Grande, where they drowned trying to cross from Mexico into the United States. (Read more)