If 2017 revealed liberal democracy to be a delicate flower – as it surely did - then 2018 will decide whether its roots have reached deep enough to survive the fiery winds of ‘strongman’ autocracy sweeping the globe.
Right now, the prognosis is not looking good.
A quick glance at the big players is thoroughly discomfiting. The two most populous nations, India and China, are increasingly under the iron rule of autocrats Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping. Russia has become Vladimir Putin’s plaything. The Middle East, from Turkey to Iran to Saudi Arabia is a festering sore of autocracy.
Britain is sinking into irrelevance as a Royal theme park; Europe’s Angela Merkel has lost her mojo with her majority; and her fellow EU members are in various stages of political chaos, with France the exception that proves the rule.
As for America, well, where to start?
Actually, that former lighthouse of democracy tells the story of just how we came to be in this pickle. And much as we’d like to heap all the blame on Donald J. Trump, I fear the real villain of the piece was his predecessor, the sainted Barrack Obama. For it was on his watch that the American economy spiralled out of control and sent most of the world into recession.
Barrack Obama had the perfect opportunity to put things right and bring an end to the raging inequality that is undermining the people’s faith in the democratic system. His response was pathetic. The result was a split in the Democratic Party between the Bernie Sanders ‘left’ and the Hilary Clinton’s ‘business as usual’.
Little wonder the gerrymandered Electoral College elected Trump to the White House. Little wonder that country is now in a state of permanent convulsion.
Internationally, it was Obama’s gutlessness that allowed the vile Syrian dictator, Basher al-Assad to trample over his ‘red line’ when he gassed his own people and gave Putin his entrée to the Mediterranean…to say nothing of Obama’s lily-livered response to ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu’s support for Israeli ‘settlers’ stealing Palestinian lands.
And his much touted ‘pivot’ to Asia was a sad joke. No wonder he spends his days hob-nobbing with Prince Harry and his ilk while his successor undermines the notion of objective truth, the foundation of all human progress.
In Australia, we just bumbled along, propped up by China, and in the thrall of an America that doesn’t give a damn anymore. Turnbull is our own Duke of Plaza-Toro leading from the rear. Labor has some reasonable policies but promoted by a standard-bearer in Shorten that no one likes or trusts, and with good reason – he only reached his exalted position by knifing his two predecessors. Perhaps that’s our saving grace – no autocratic strongman here; instead, we have a blank space.
Of course, our Anzac mates across the ditch had the good sense to elect a woman PM in Jacinda ‘Smiler’ Ardern. No surprises there; they’ve been putting us in the political shade for years and we haven’t learned a thing. Our Libs are bereft of female contenders - Julie Bishop is barely forewoman material - and Labor’s Tanya Plibersek is far too loyal for her party’s good.
Oh well, at least we won the Ashes.
Let’s hope liberal democracy doesn’t end that way.
Robert Macklin has carved out a unique place among Australia’s literary biographers and historians. He has won numerous literary prizes including the 2009 Blake Dawson award for business literature with Peter Thompson for their classic THE BIG FELLA – the Rise and Rise of BHP Billiton. His Kevin Rudd: The Biography was shortlisted for the ACT Book of the Year; and he has won three Critics Circle Awards for his military biographies and histories. He has completed a lecture tour of three Chinese universities based on his works and is presently writing a history of Australia/China relations over the last 200 years.Queensland born, he has been a journalist at the highest level, a confidant and biographer of two Australian prime ministers; a documentary filmmaker in 32 countries of Asia and the Pacific; and is also political columnist and commentator in the nation’s capital. He presently divides his writing time on fiction, non-fiction and screenplays between Canberra and Tuross Head on the NSW South Coast.You can follow Robert Macklin's excellent commentary at CityNews