It is quite natural to be reflective during the final stretch of a year, tallying its low and high points. By any measure, 2017 was an Annus Horribilis! A year that turned even confirmed optimists into pessimists, with people losing hope in human decency, compassion and fairness. It was a year when the term “alternative facts” was coined by Donald Trump's cronies to camouflage blatant lies. A year when the US president ripped apart the Paris Climate Agreement, threatened a nuclear attack on North Korea, denied a safe haven to refugees, imposed a travel ban on citizens of selected Muslim countries, and unilaterally shifted the Israeli capital to Jerusalem, thus dashing the hopes of a “free” Palestine for millions. On the home front he has encouraged a culture of misogyny by berating women, and the Congress is on the verge of taking away health care from millions of citizens.
One might wonder how all this impacts our world. Unfortunately, these menacing actions have heralded a new era where racism, bigotry and misogyny have become kosher in politics and society. And one of the greatest democracies of the world is going through a crisis like never before. If it cracks it may create deep fissures and leave a permanent negative imprint on the global society.
However, despite a calamitous 2017 and its repercussions, I look forward to 2018 with hope. The reason for my optimism is that the very country that elected Donald Trump has shown that it can rise to the occasion and confront legislators and the president on critical issues like health care for the poor and tax cuts for the rich. The threat that the United States may slide into authoritarianism has triggered a well-organised, strong resistance led by a coalition of ordinary people and a segment of the media that believes in exposing the truth.
The year 2017 may be remembered as the year of “women's empowerment,” because the resistance movement started with the Women's March, the day after Donald Trump's inauguration. The president's sexual misconduct, admitted on tape, also generated a cascading effect—the outrage, pain, and shared trauma prompted numerous women to come out with their personal stories of harassment and abuse. This resulted in the fall of the Titans in the media world, including Hollywood Moghul Harvey Weinstein and some prominent TV personalities. Women's protesting voices even pierced the sanctimonious walls of the Congress and led to the resignation of a Senator and a Congressman after accusations of sexual harassment had surfaced against them. A Senate contestant in Alabama was rejected by voters due to his relationships with teenage girls while he was an adult.
Last year also witnessed the birth of the #MeToo movement that has become the rallying point for those who suffered the trauma of sexual abuse. The camaraderie created a critical mass of women who are demanding that the norms and standards of gender interactions be redefined, especially where power is a weighty element in the male-female equation. Fortunately, more and more men are supporting these remedial actions.
The “new” democratic wave led by minorities and women in the United States has successfully skewed the off-year election results in Virginia and Alabama toward candidates that are fighting racial supremacy, bigotry and misogyny. These minor, but significant, victories tell us that people's voices, when expressed through the ballot box or street protests, can be translated into political action. And it appears that we might see positive change after the mid-term Congress election in 2018.
There was some good news in 2017 on the global front. Europe stemmed the right-wing lurch of racism and white nationalism by electing moderate leaders like Macron and Merkel. These developments, combined with the humanitarian role of civil societies and communities in supporting refugees from war-torn areas and the persecuted Myanmar Rohingyas, have given us hope that all is not lost.
Please don't misread me—I am by no means claiming that the battle for fairness, equity, and justice has been won. On the contrary, it was in 2017 more than ever before, that the conservative media and authoritarian leaders duped the public with fake news and distorted facts. Reversing the trend is going to be an uphill task since the racial and economic insecurities of certain groups have been stirred by the populist ideas of “Making America Great,” retrieving “sovereignty” through Brexit and the nativist sentiments targeting immigrants and refugees.
My overall message for the New Year is that if ever there was a time for people to show resolve and be agents of tolerance and integrity, this is it. Let us welcome 2018 by reflecting on what each one of us can do. The time for complacency is over. Let's not say: “Since this doesn't affect me, it's not my business.” Politics is everybody's business in that it touches the core elements of our lives. Our civil liberties, our livelihoods, the health and education of our children, the safety of our daughters are on the line. We cannot retreat; we must be prepared to stop the tsunami that is likely to hit us.
In many ways, 2017 was a year of reckoning, self-reflection and self-awakening. Let us welcome 2018 by rolling up our sleeves, and getting into action. We have no choice: we must win back our fractured world and repair it.
Milia Ali is a Rabindra Sangeet exponent and a former employee of the World Bank.