The world’s desperation is reflected in its choice of so-called politicians
Where will tomorrow’s jobs come from? How secure are our borders? Is our country changing faster than our leaders can manage?
A decade ago, US financial services giant Lehman Brothers collapsed. That event triggered the landslide that became the most severe global financial crisis since the 1930s. Draw a line from that moment — September 1, 2008 — to all that came next.
The US financial crisis triggered a global recession and a European sovereign debt crisis severe enough to call the very survival of the eurozone into question. It also persuaded China’s leaders that economic reform could no longer wait.
A wave of unrest swept across North Africa and the Middle East. A street vendor in Tunisia lit himself on fire and within days the country’s government fell. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak went to prison. Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was executed in the street. Yemen exploded into violence. Syria sank into a civil war that has killed or displaced half the country’s population. Oil prices fell from $147 a barrel in the summer of 2008 towards $30 a barrel, shifting the international balance of power.
Middle East unrest triggered a new crisis in Europe as more than 2-million migrants made their way north in search of safety and a better life — transforming European politics by generating fear of insecurity and lost European identity. Angry, fearful voters began to reject establishment political parties.
Faced with a European future and a leap into the unknown, British voters chose to jump. The 2016 US presidential election then pushed aside a highly qualified and very familiar candidate in favour of a brash business man who had never before run for office. Donald Trump is the first person ever elected US president who had never before served in government or the military.
Voters in Mexico elected the first leftist president since the 1930s, a man leading a political party he created just four years ago. Then voters in Pakistan ... favoured a man who became famous as captain of the country’s 1992 World Cup-winning cricket team
In 2017, French voters said no to the political establishment. The long-dominant political parties of centre-right and centre-left were swept aside in favour of a candidate who had never before run for office. Emmanuel Macron led a party he had created from nothing just one year before. German voters re-elected Angela Merkel to a fourth term, but her centre-right party and its centre-left coalition partner posted their lowest vote percentages in decades. A party of the far-right won seats in the Bundestag for the first time since the Second World War. It is now the single largest opposition party in Germany.
In March 2018, Italian voters pushed aside the long-established parties of centre-left and centre-right to elevate a party founded nine years ago by a professional comedian and a rebranded separatist party from the country’s north. In July, voters in Mexico elected the first leftist president since the 1930s, a man leading a political party he created just four years ago. Then voters in Pakistan rejected the long-dominant Bhutto and Sharif dynasties in favour of a man who became famous as captain of the country’s 1992 World Cup-winning cricket team.
Where do we look next? Brazil is now on the verge of a future-defining presidential election. Two candidates have led in the polls for months. One, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, is in prison. It’s highly unlikely he’ll be allowed to run. The other, Jair Bolsonaro, represents a party he joined eight months ago, a party that still holds just nine seats in Brazil’s 513-seat lower house.
What’s the big trend in today’s international politics? Out with the old, in with something new. Voters around the world are looking for someone else. Anyone else. Someone they believe can help them regain control of their lives and get them off the path they believe they’re now on.
How do we prepare for a world where, two years from now, the country you care most about may be governed by someone you’ve never heard of and a political party that doesn’t yet exist? The pace of change is head-spinning. This global rejection of the known, and embrace of the brand new, isn’t a shift to the right or left. America’s Trump is a nativist of the right. France’s Macron is a centrist. Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador is a leftist.
Instead, this trend simply reflects the anxiety and anger that drives people to leap off political cliffs. Where will tomorrow’s jobs come from? How secure are our borders? Is our country changing faster than our leaders can manage? There are 100 more such questions. Ten years from the collapse that began to remake our world, the result of this fear is a world of profound political disruption. There is surely more to come.
• Bremmer is the president of Eurasia Group and author of Us vs Them: The Failure of Globalism.