We begin the New Year with great uncertainty. As we reflect on the overhang of a COVID year and a COVID Christmas, New Year resolutions are conflicted by the simultaneous images of who are we and what are we becoming, tumultuous beckoning of justice and injustice, fundamental values of humanity against dehumanization, affirmation of mature communities based on trust or those based on extremism leading to chaos. 2021 was indeed the year that was. It was a year that established the challenges to be overcome. The most popular GOFAD blogs last year listed below on the basis of our readers choices foretold many. We choose to highlight Democracy, COVID-19, and Climate Resilience.
Prospects of Reversing the Fatal Weakening of U.S. Democracy
Exactly one year ago, a violent mob broke into the United States Capitol in an effort to halt the certification of the electoral vote and overturn the 2020 election in favor of Donald Trump. While the insurrection was, thankfully, unsuccessful, its echoes continue to reverberate. One of the best illustrations of the dilemma is presented by Thomas Homer-Dixon "The American polity is cracked, and might collapse- Canada must prepare" in Canada’s Globe and Mail January 2, 2022. He may as well have inferred that the democratic world must be prepared. It is important to note that in November 2021, 150 professors of politics, government, political economy and international relations appealed to Congress to pass the Freedom to vote Act, to protect the integrity of US elections. The problem to be tackled is Trump’s “Big Lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him. This falsehood that nearly 70 per cent of Republicans now accept as true is such potent anti-democratic poison. Homer aptly describes the "big lie" amplified in outlets such as Fox News and Newsmax as “ the cracks have steadily widened, ramified, connected and propagated deeply into America’s once-esteemed institutions, profoundly compromising their structural integrity".
The implication is that political extremism feeds on itself, pushing polarization toward an irreversible tipping point. As a result, the January 6 storming of the U.S. capitol must be understood in the context of a series of factors . These include the rapid changing demographics that have reduced the percentage of non-Hispanic white Christians in America and inflamed the fears of right-wing ideologues that the traditional U.S. culture is being erased and whites are being replaced. The renowned Harvard Victor S. Thomas Professor of Government and Sociology Dr. Theda Skocpol in her recently edited volume puts it even more starkly, “The GOP has become a radicalized marriage of convenience between anti-government free-market plutocrats and racially anxious ethno-nationalist activists and voters”.
These factors are compounded by two major factors. First, elite selfishness with the wealthy and powerful in America broadly unwilling to pay the taxes and invest in “build back better” public and social security services to reduce inequities. Second, Trumpism increasingly resembling European fascism in its contempt for the rule of law and glorification of violence. The biggest danger stems from the fact that the people involved didn’t think they were attacking U.S. democracy – although they unquestionably were. Instead, they believed their “patriotic” actions were needed to save it.
COVID's Public Health Response; Get the Vaccine
New COVID infections and new restrictions have curtailed social life, effected trade, the supply chain, commerce, tourism and sport. The cancellation of flights made Christmas 2021 a misery for tens of thousands of travelers and subdued New Year’s Eve festivities, many of which were cancelled.
When the RNA vaccines became available just before Christmas 2020 they were hailed as the most striking technological achievement predicted to bring the pandemic under control within months. Instead a series on unpredictable consequences, including the reticence of developing countries to share in the distribution and access of vaccines together with an upsurge in anti-vaxxers, revealed that biomedical advances -- testing and vaccines -- are only half the battle. Those breakthroughs, along with genomic sequencing that can identify new variants and the promise of powerful antiviral pills, represent a revolutionary assault on the coronavirus. Yet , a year later, little more than 60 percent of the U.S. population are fully immunized with two RNA shots or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson product. In many developing countries that figure is less that 25 percent. What this means is that the vaccines are providing huge benefits to individuals while failing to fulfill their public health potential of protecting the entire population. Nowhere is this better illustrated than the case of tennis star, Djokovic, seemingly caring more about his anti-vaccine stance and shattering Grand Slam records. The deportation of Djokovic by the Australian Government as we write is a stain not only on Djokovic’s legacy, but also on the Australian Open and for tennis in general. One sports commentator puts this in perspective when he said “if he goes home with a new understanding that the world doesn't bend to his will just because he’s great at hitting tennis balls, maybe Australia will have ultimately done him a favor.” It may also have disseminated a meaningful lesson to the world.
Saving our Planet: A Clarion Call
In her end of the year Report, WTO President, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala called for changes to ensure developing nations are resilient to the effects of extreme weather and pledged the removal of trade barriers around the world to help tackle the climate crisis, enable a “just transition” away from fossil fuels and make developing countries more resilient to the impacts of global warming. At the same time, many are skeptical of including climate issues, and fear that “environmental” standards insisted on by some developed countries would be used as a cover for raising barriers to cheap imports from the developing world. Green campaigners have at the same time claimed that the WTO has encouraged high-carbon trade.
Hon. Gaston Brown, Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Chair of the Small Island Development States (SIDS) and the Caribbean Community during COP 26 highlighted six key demands for World Leaders that, if met, should ensure developing countries like those in the Caribbean are not entirely submerged by rising sea levels. They include:
• Decarbonize by rapidly phasing out fossil fuel extraction and ending subsidies.
• Commit to climate finance for small island states to mitigate and adapt.
• Ensure international institutions push harder for cooperation.
• Cancel developing countries debt so they can deal with the impacts of climate change.
• Implement a climate damages tax to make corporations compensate countries for climate related damage.
• Commit to limit global heating by 1.5°C.
Honoring the Legacy of our Heroes and Ancestors: Remembering Desmond Tutu
As we beckon hopes of a Happy New Year, we give thanks to the front line workers, the real heroes during these COVID times. It is with sadness that we mourn those family members, colleagues and friends who died during the past year and over the festive season. We think and care for those who continue to suffer as climate or political refugees. We therefore must contribute to, pledge and pray for peace and happiness especially for those “left behind”.
GOFAD is particularly saddened by the passing of the prince of a man, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, an advocate and believer in humanity, a truly fearless moral figure who spearheaded the tortuous journey from apartheid to democracy in South Africa. He understood that justice is not simply a concept to be grasped but a challenge to be lived. In his words so relevant as we contemplate New Year's resolutions: "Indifference to oppression victimizes the oppressed, comforts the oppressor and grieves the very heart of God."
ELEVEN (11) MOST POPULAR of 50 BLOGS FOR 2021
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.