If I can sum up the year 2016, it is a Protest year with a capital P. On one side of the Atlantic, American voters brought in a businessman by the name of Donald Trump to lead the world’s most powerful country. On the other side of the Atlantic, UK has officially declared its intention to leave the EU with divorce proceedings soon to follow. For any observer of international politics, the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit were a matter of time; the two events are the culmination of years of protests against globalization and an international liberal establishment that was showing cracks. Yes, 2016 could be viewed a year of victory for these protest voters. On the other hand, it is not clear what alternative Donald Trump and the Brexit backers will offer the world. The victory may just be very short-lived. We all know that short-terming thinking, the type the Donald Trump excels at, can be dangerous. Short-term thinking, whether in foreign policy or running an economy, now appears to be the norm. Whatever the alternative may be, it is far more uncertain and risky.
In a healthy society, protests are a good thing. They contribute to the foundation of a strong and robust democracy. They encourage people to hold difficult conversations and collectively work out their differences with those who may not hold their world views. All civilized Western societies take pride in enshrining the freedom of speech in a national constitution as a powerful weapon against big government. However, frustration and anger also mobilize the extreme elements of our society that ironically also descend from our liberal establishment. When those elements join forces, we have a year like 2016.
I don’t think anyone has a clear picture of the world will look like starting 2017. All we know is that the protesters are here to stay.