Menu for 2019: News-makers & breakers

| Updated: January 19, 2019 21:58:38

Menu for 2019: News-makers & breakers

With the help of artificial intelligence (AI), we are getting more proficient in making our year-end appraisals. For example, we can now identify more accurately what were the major 2018 events, but also do so far more globally than ever before and far faster than hitherto. Making that a mission, Chartbeat could access over 3 (three) million articles involving over 2,500 publishing platforms to expose the 2018 newsmakers and news-breakers: some will be fairly obvious, others far less so, but in the overall we note (a) a diversification of citizen attention, meaning a remarkable shift from the traditional epicentres of economic and security developments; (b) how this issue diversification is matched by a geographical dissemination not always so conspicuous; and (c) because of the above two, in part, the world is becoming less US-centric, not that the United States matters so much to analyses such as this, but for some reasons, since World War II it has set the standard onto too many fronts to not make its waning presence so salient in this breakdown.

In the year of a World Cup Soccer Tournament, social developments caught more attention than any other globally. Prince Harry's May wedding to Meghan Markle. The royal marriage was already breaking more standards than one can count of any marriages: not only a divorced entrant into the noblesse-oblige royal circles, but also one older than the royal groom himself. If it takes all those oddities to become so globally popular, then common citizens had better take note: in addition to the 150,000 visitors to invade Windsor to catch a glimpse of the married couple, Meghan was also voted seventh highest in Time magazine's "Person of the Year" list. Something happened in Windsor with a rare gluing effect not expected in such a divisive year.

Also scoring higher than the World Cup Tournament were the November US mid-term elections, which saw the Democratic Party overtake the Republicans in the House of Representatives (with 227 seats against 198, with 10 still undecided in December 2018), increase state governorship tally (from 16 to 23, with two still undecided), although it could  not wrest the Senate (falling to 44 seats, against 51 Republicans, with three still undecided). While this broken US chamber outcome might be cheerful news on many social (and political) fronts, it fed a very volatile market: the record-breaking Dow Jones and Nasdaq swings in November and December serve as a precursor of 2019 developments. Expect a loss of investor and economic confidence and directions to rock the boat in 2019 and into the 2020 presidential election.

That was not the only World Cup distraction. US mass shootings commanded a lot of attention, less so in Pittsburgh during November than in Parkland, Florida, in February. With gun-control a divisive political issue, these shootings, like the mid-term election results, weighed heavily against President Donald J. Trump and the Republican Party, not to mention contributing to the confidence malaise alluded to earlier. In fact, Trump was central to three other highly monitored 2018 developments, each of which has thus far gone in the wrong direction for him and his country: the June Summit with North Korean Kim Jong-un; the subsequent summit with Vladimir Putin in the aftermath of worldwide condemnation and diplomatic pull-outs for Russia's blatant poisoning crusades abroad; and the June G7 Summit failure in Quebec, almost rupturing the most solid and predictable bilateral relationship in the world, between Canada and the United States.

Just as these events caught the United States stepping and sliding away in public attention (and admiration), other events made the United States a non-issue. Key among these were the heroic July cave rescue in Thailand and Jair Bolsonaro's November victory in a hapless Brazil as president. These captured almost as much global attention as the World Cup Tournament itself, and if we add Senator John McCain's funeral, Brett Kavanaugh US Senate hearings, and Jamal Khashoggi's protracted murder trails, all of which fundamentally questioned US commitments, in both principles and practice, 2018 could not have been a year any US citizen would like to have repeated. Trump was not invited to the subsequent McCain funeral, in which McCain's daughter even denigrated him; Kavanaugh's passage into a US Supreme Court justice was darkened by his teenage assault of a woman, which incidentally fed the "Me-too" movement and the 2017 Time magazine "Person of the Year" attribution (to the "Silence-breaker's movement"); and Trump's vacillating response to the Khashoggi murder, which eventually sided with the murder-inflicting side, Saudi Arabia, challenged basic notions of justice and decency.

If these multiple other events and developments stole the attention from the World Cup Tournament, France winning that cup both legitimately and convincingly, was a huge relief for a country that would also like to forget 2018. Emmanuel Macron convincingly winning what looked like an impossible victory against Marie LePen's fiery, forceful, and fearful populist supporters appeared as a breakthrough that the World Cup victory should have consolidated. Instead, the November-December "yellow-shirt" protests humbled him irreparably: this was a challenge from within his support-base, not directed by populists, meaning the immediate future of France looks very precarious at the turn of the 2018/2019 moment.

France's uncomfortable position echoes across West Europe, home of many of the rest of the G7 members, that is, those at the upper echelons of economic development and democracy. Angela Merkel's stepping down as the Christian Democrat leader in December was a direct victory for populists in her country, which she commanded with more grace and authority than many (if not all) contemporary leader in their own country after reunification (or even after World War II). With potential trouble brewing in the world's third largest economy and exporting country, the world must await 2019 with bated breath, especially since sister G7 country, Great Britain, emerged out of 2018 as helpless and hapless as France and Germany.  True, the Draft Brexit Agreement grabbed a lot of attention in November, but the message that it left is more of fastening our seat-belts for even more grimacing 2019 news.

Nowhere among the top-25 odd news of 2018 do we see China, the country whose 6.6 per cent 2018 growth-rate was surpassed only one other meaningful country, India (with 7.4 per cent). Yet that could be the most upsetting news, the one that did not stir global attention: the slow consolidation of Chinese, in other words, dictatorial leadership at a time when established democratic countries were either too torn to function, or just not interested in making the right kind of global waves of which leadership is made. Waves accumulating for a 2020 tsunami should not be ruled out, but how to nip that threat should deserve more credit, if doing justice to the messages from the global pulse Time is monitoring and disseminating is our priority.

Dr. Imtiaz A. Hussain is Professor & Head of the Department of Global Studies & Governance at Independent University, Bangladesh.

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