At the beginning of each year, we go through the familiar ritual of marking the end of the old year, while heralding the new one. There is the false promise of change and new beginnings. We make resolutions – to stop smoking, to lose weight, to find more time to relax – the same ones we’ve made before and often failed to keep, hoping against hope that this time will be different. Unfortunately, it may not be, because it takes more than a new page on the calendar to alter our behaviours. What is true for people is also true for the world.
After reading dozens of fanciful projections by political commentators about what “big” changes are in store for the new year, it feels imperative to offer a corrective note. In many ways, 2023 will be nothing more than a continuation of 2022. Whether in domestic politics or international affairs, the constants remain the same. And so, barring some dramatic and unexpected events, things will continue as they have, leading to their inexorable conclusions.
Let's begin with Russia’s war in Ukraine. Despite hopeful western projections that Ukraine will decisively defeat Russia or that Vladimir Putin’s rule will end, neither is likely. Russia, though negatively affected by sanctions and heavy losses in Ukraine, shows no sign of ending its assault. Better than expected, Russia has managed its economy and found new markets for its energy exports. And while the US continues to provide increased armaments to the Ukrainians enabling them to strike back, this has only served to exacerbate the conflict. Ukrainians and young Russian conscripts are paying the biggest price.
This conflict has already continued into 2023 with neither side ready or able to surrender or back away from their maximal demands.
Europe, which is reeling from a combination of an economic downturn and successive waves of refugees that have exacerbated internal fissures, will continue its rightward drift. This winter, the fuel shortages brought on by the war in Ukraine will continue to test the mettle of Europe’s democratic institutions.
Next is Iran, whose citizens have long chafed under the oppressive rule of their theocratic regime. This past year, we witnessed inspiring and courageous mass demonstrations against the regime, but the repressive institutions of the state remain in control – and will most likely continue to hold power.
Despite economic sanctions and the country’s increasing isolation from the West, Iran’s leadership has found allies and markets for their oil (and now even their weapons) reducing the prospects of either a new nuclear deal or a reduction in Iran’s meddlesome and aggressive regional role.
As for Israel and the Palestinians, the former’s new government has publicly declared its intention to accelerate settlement in the occupied lands and intensify the repression of the latter. As expected, the official US response, dictated more by domestic politics than by principle, has been a rather lame “we’ll wait and see what they do” – as if the new government has not already done enough to earn a rebuke. In the face of harsh Israeli policies, US public opinion will continue to shift, but not yet enough to push the US Congress or the White House to act decisively to stop Israeli behaviour.
US political dysfunction is a talking point, with Democrats and Republicans set to continue their dance unto death. Republicans will do everything they can to disrupt the last two years of Joe Biden’s first term as President. Not only that, but the Republican Party will continue to demonstrate the pervasive hold that Donald Trump and “Trumpism” still has over the base of the Grand Old Party.
The same pundits who predicted a “red wave” in 2022 and then, when it didn’t happen, mistakenly declared that Democrats had won unexpected victories, are now convinced that Mr Trump is finished. They are writing his political obituary and spilling ink searching for his successor. They continue to be wrong. The electorate remains deeply and nearly evenly divided. And Mr Trump and Trumpism live on. His strength is his tapping into a deep vein of resentment in a substantial portion of the electorate. He has targeted the media, the “elites”, the “deep state”, the courts, the FBI, and the Democratic Party – the very institutions that are attacking him.
In the eyes of his followers, the fact that these institutions are now “after him” only validates their resentments, making him stronger, not weaker. The only way the GOP will be able to replace Mr Trump, and remain a viable party, will be in the unlikely event that he voluntarily steps aside and endorses a successor.
Here's the lesson: when I was teaching, I would tell my students, “If you want to know where we are heading, look back to where we started, see where we are today, and follow that trajectory into the future.” Which is why instead of a “new year”, it seems certain that absent a dramatic or transformative “act of God”, 2023 will be a continuation of 2022.