Difficult figures: Germany abandons nuclear power, (some) Americans justify anti-government violence, elections in Mali in danger, Scottish witches pardoned
Joe Biden: The president asterisk
Biden won over 81 million votes in the 2020 presidential election, the highest number of presidential candidates in U.S. history. Would that be enough to give his presidency an air of legitimacy after his predecessor’s claims about electoral inconsistencies?
The response became urgent and clear on January 6, 2021, when rioters supporting Trump stormed the United States Capitol, resulting in destruction and multiple deaths that will forever mar the record of American democracy.
It is not just the rioters who have doubts. A new poll released Tuesday found that 71% of Republicans – a third of the nation – say they still don’t believe Biden’s victory was legitimate.
Political polarization intensified further throughout 2021. Covid vaccine – or not – has become a political statement. Some 60 percent of the unvaccinated identify as Republicans, compared to just 17 percent who are Democrats. This phenomenon is also reflected in very different perceptions of the state of the economic recovery, which remain divided between parties.
As Trump maintains a grip on the GOP, many Republican politicians are realizing that loyalty to the former president is the only way to ensure their political survival (just ask Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who was deleted of his leadership position after rallying to the former president for encouraging the Capitol riot).
A Europe without Merkel
Angela Merkel has been Europe’s focal point for the past 15 years, while leading the EU through a range of challenges, including the eurozone sovereign debt crisis in 2009, as well as a massive wave of refugees in 2015 that sparked a populist tide across much of the continent.
Today, as the omicron wave hits Europe, the challenges facing the Union are intensifying. As the gradual closures continue, will the promised economic relief, made possible in part by Merkel’s leadership, actually be delivered in the years to come? Who will manage the EU’s relations with illiberal governments in Hungary and Poland whose COVID relief funds are contingent on rule of law reforms?
Indeed, Frenchman Emmanuel Macron had tried to position himself as Merkel’s legitimate successor, but as Macron focuses on his own risky re-election prospects in April, no one seems convinced yet – certainly not apart from agitators like the Russian Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive army is heading for the Ukrainian border have recently become much more brazen. Putin saw Merkel as a force to be reckoned with. It is a problem for Europe that no other leader deserves this kind of respect from the Kremlin.
Sino-US relations: strained but could be worse
“After Trump leaves, US-China relations will not be so blatantly divisive,” Eurasia Group analysts wrote earlier this year. This did not entirely turn out to be the case. President Biden has made the fight against China his top foreign policy priority, while a recent Mountain peak between Xi Jinping and Joe Biden has not resulted in any breakthrough.
The two sides remain at odds over trade, technology, Taiwan, the South China Sea and Xinjiang. In addition, Biden recently hosted a world summit on democracy to isolate not only China, but also those who come closer to the rising economic juggernaut. Washington is also investing heavily in partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to create a bulwark against Beijing’s continued expansion of influence.
Yet for the past 12 months, the two leaders have been mightily distracted by domestic crises (for China, it’s about COVID and a plummeting real estate sector; for Biden, it’s COVID and, well, the near collapse of large pieces of his national agenda), proving those who predicted a Cold War-type clash in 2021 wrong.
Latin America: backlash at the polls
The pandemic has compounded many of the social, economic and political woes that have plagued the region for decades. Weak governance, poor infrastructure and economic instability meant that by mid-2021, although they represent only 8 percent of the world’s population, a third of all deaths from COVID have occurred in Latin America. This has changed in recent months as vaccination campaigns have spread.
At the regional level, poverty and inequalities have worsened – with the use rate now 11 percentage points lower than before the pandemic.
This continued economic deterioration has provided an opening for political outsiders who have capitalized on disillusionment with the incumbents. In Argentina, the ruling coalition, led by the Peronista party, has lost control of both houses of parliament for the first time since democracy was restored almost 40 years ago. In a similar sign of frustration, the small Central American nation of Honduras recently overthrew President Juan Orlando Hernandez – who ruled the country for nearly a decade – in favor of a leftist woman who has never previously held elected office. Meanwhile, Chileans, also disappointed with inequalities exacerbated by the pandemic, recently voted for a 35-year-old former student activist.
Sigh … 2021 was to be the year of hot vaxx summer, masquerade vacations and unruly office Christmas parties. This was not the case. Hoping 2022 will be kinder to all of us.
Keep an eye out: On January 3, 2022, Eurasia Group will abandon the Top Risks report for 2022.