January of 2020 will be remembered for several reasons. There are the obvious ones that are affecting the world now such as impeachment, the death of legendary basketball phenomenon Kobe Bryant, the 2019 novel Coronavirus (n-CoV) and the long-awaited departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union. Then there are repercussions of the events this month that will not be realized for months or years in the future, which will perhaps make this month one of the most consequential in modern history.
There are times in the world where the political establishment rearranges itself. One such rearrangement happened during World War II when old alliances broke down and others were made. Another such realignment occurred in the war’s aftermath with the Cold War with the advent of the United Nations and the European Union, along with the Warsaw Pact. These alliances were founded upon common political ideology and beliefs, and to a lesser extent geographic connection. Based on current events and further analysis, one can conclude that we are living through such a time.
University of Virginia researcher John Owen published in International Studies Quarterly that “the likelihood that alliances will form along ideological lines increases with the fear among at least two governments…. [when] they are threatened by transitional rival ideology.” Modern times reflect this theory. Domestic populist leaders, when elected, are forming alliances with other populist leaders in order to protect themselves. For example, populist British Prime Minister Boris Johnson touted a possible trade deal with the United States and more formalized relations with America. Populist Donald Trump has reciprocated these feelings.
The aforementioned alignment of populist ideologies also pertains to Brazil, where populist leader Jair Bolsinaro has been aptly described by Business Insider as the “Brazilian version of Donald Trump”. The two presidents exhibited a strong ideological alliance in 2018.
The United States has typically been the center of alliances founded upon ideals of democracy. Instead, under its current President, America is becoming a way for other populist-led countries to band together around a common strategy of partisanship, decisiveness, and patriotism. In other words, loyalty to a leader instead of a cause.
So why will January be remembered as one of the most consequential months in modern history, you may ask? Brexit, for one, is the most significant representation of the devolution of political alliances that began with Donald Trump withdrawing from NAFTA and the Paris Climate Accords.
The international destabilization of domestic affairs, not limited to but including unstable governments in the United States, India and Brazil, are occuring in the largest democracies in the world. These unstable governments that are being guided, or perhaps misguided, by populist and partisan agendas. In America, this came to a tipping point recently in the impeachment trial that will inevitably end with President Donald Trump’s acquittal in the U.S. Senate. Personal loyalty to the President and factional conflict has destabilized the world’s oldest democratic government, now that impeachment has been weaponized as a partisan tool.
Further, the Coronavirus that became an international epidemic this month brought to the forefront the impossible epidemiologic task of maintaining health safeguards in the era of globalism. Widespread travel and human-to-human contact makes it understandable easy for airborne viruses to travel. Yet, the health concern is not the only implication of the Coronavirus. Epidemics inspire isolationist tendencies such as the closure of borders. The United States, Russia, and other countries have restricted travel to and from China. Paranoia over the outbreak has run rampant.
The reality of the world’s state is dire, but there remains hope. The established order is being shuffled, but for the better or worse one can only guess. This month will also be remembered, although perhaps to a lesser extent, for the end of a trade war with China and a completed U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement ready to be signed by the President in a rare display of bipartisanship by Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives and the White House. As problems are created, they are also solved.
In the words of President Kennedy, “Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies. Those whom nature [has] so joined together, let no man [tear apart].” Let us hope that alliances are enough to sustain the world well into the future, and that January of 2020 will be remembered as the advent of a new, better era.