2017 was in respects an exacerbation of what many saw as a crazy 2016. The establishment lost out to be supplanted by – many believe – a shift in power to the Right in the UK and the US. Brexit, voted through by the British in the summer of 2016, is currently under review and negotiation by EU and British representatives.
Closer to home, the Northern Ireland Assembly remains dissolved since accounting errors related to the overpayments to energy companies for winter fuel subsidies caused the initially stable, then fractious Unionist-Nationalist coalition to collapse. Homelessness in the Republic continues to dominate headlines. Housing remains expensive for students and others. Alongside the tracker mortgage scandal, Irish banks have continued to ignore Frankfurt’s low interest rates, charging mortgage holders (and landlords) higher rates to return to the black after the recession a decade ago.
The charge of “fake news” has been levelled at established media channels in recent times, both by the Right and the Left. This culture of fake news undermines reality for some. Trump’s belief that everything he says should be taken at face value – from what he contended was the crowd size at his inauguration to his legitimacy in what the media has consistently called out as authoritarian behaviour – is a cause of massive concern as the media continues to question and highlight his falsehoods. Internationally, in the Rich North, everyone from the Centre Right to the Far Left seems to have experienced a sense of shock, while conservatives have grown tired of political correctness.
Groups on the Right maintain that much of the racism, misogyny and cultural appropriation promoted by the media does not exist. There is an overly-respectful accommodation of minorities – whose views often appear to be in conflict with each other. The Right have a sense that their own European, heteronormative, secular, WASPish or Christian cultures are being encroached upon. Indeed, there is legitimacy in some of the arguments.
Since Trump’s election in particular, we’ve seen examination of viewerships and readerships, voter demographics, the US system of electoral college voting, the USA’s Democratic National Party’s candidacy-nominating procedures; an attack on the white male voters who disproportionately helped to elect Trump; discussion of such phemonema as confirmation bias; a critique of the political advertising standards of social media corporations (and promises from Facebook’s Zuckerberg and others to reform); and the rise of more recalcitrant, interrogative and aggressive conservative and right-wing pundits and commentators.
While some of these pundits make sense in their arguments, there are those who hijack debate, or maintain that skewed statistics or other purported “facts” legitimise their viewpoints. Last year’s insistence by pro-Brexit campaigners that the money that the UK sends to the EU could be put into the NHS is such a case. Figures such as Nigel Farage maintain similar lines of mendacity today, as he encourages Ireland and other member states to leave Europe.
Meanwhile, people keen to call attention to a rise in sexual assaults and violence by Muslim migrants in Sweden and Germany following their introduction to these communities are accused of racism – not least by the victims themselves. Often, however, critics of interculturalism keen to highlight the unrest from these incoming communities hold problematic views elsewhere. More protection for Muslims in their homelands is one solution, with the possible establishment of safe zones where dictators such as Syria’s Assad cannot harm opposing forces, or the families of those who oppose him, or those caught up in the crossfire.
People forget, too – and it’s an argument made by Yanis Varoufakis among others – that it is moderate Muslims who die disproportionately fighting extremists in their homelands, that terror attacks in the West are aberrations relative to what is faced in the Muslim world, and that many of these problems have been caused by the tolerance of Wahhabism, and wrongheaded Western interventions of both history and within living memory.
In North America, progressive ideas like new pronouns for trans people (such zer and zie, chosen by and insisted upon by the person zerself, and legitimised in any state-related or university documentation or correspondence), and the possibility of rights being extended to trans people to use bathrooms of their choice, have been questioned by academics and others in the last few years.
Trump’s order that trans people be excluded from the armed forces has been endorsed by both supporters and detractors through an insistence that members of the trans community are frequently less mentally stable than the general population. They cite scientific data and statistics. It is nevertheless a regression from the egalitarianism on which the USA prides itself; the same principles could be applied to the likelihood of Black Male incarceration, the prevalence of psychopathy among white males, or any other statistics in order to bar a minority from service.
In the entertainment industry and elsewhere, the MeToo phenomenon of women calling out and shaming the sexual predation and abusive behaviour of male colleagues and authority figures is a mostly welcome cultural shift. However, some have argued for caution in unfairly targeting “good men” in media-shaming witch-hunts. In an environment where a purported sex criminal is the US President, and Mens’ Rights Activists and traditionalists can baulk at female empowerment with little sanction, there’s a case to be made that this opportunity for change shouldn’t be squandered.
Similar advice can be levelled at socialists in many circumstances; unrepentant support for Venezuela’s disastrous Maduro government ought to be challenged. The British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s views on both Maduro and Irish republicanism have been queried. Politically, however, Corbyn has been embraced by the mainstream as his “loony” policies are frequently vindicated, shown to be no more radical – universal healthcare, for instance, and anti-austerity measures in response to the Conservatives’ handling of the economy – than the politics of more centrist representatives perhaps half a century ago.
Will 2018 bring more of the same?