Thu, Dec 27, 2018 - Page 14 News List

2018: the year of the autocrat

The powerful men who put their own interests first made for 12 months of strange and daunting paradoxes

By Simon Tisdall  /  The Guardian

China’s President Xi Jinping applauds on Dec. 18 during a celebration meeting marking the 40th anniversary of China’s “reform and opening up” policy at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Photo: AFP

It was a year dominated by a handful of powerful men whose actions frequently imperiled the lives of millions and jeopardized the future safety and resilience of the planet. America’s Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping (習近平), and a rogues’ gallery of like-minded, second-tier authoritarian figures around the world used their positions to advance national and personal interests at the expense of universal democratic, legal, environmental and human rights.

The arbitrary behavior of these powerful men produced strange and daunting paradoxes. The American economy expanded, even as a US-China protectionist tariff war restricted global free trade. Europe marked the 100th anniversary of “the war to end all wars” amid fears of new conflict with Russia. Nuclear-armed states shredded key arms control pacts while ostracized Iran fought to save one. The furor over the murder of a lone Saudi journalist created more headlines than multiple human tragedies in Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Peace broke out between North and South Korea, Ethiopia and Eritrea, in South Sudan and in Spain’s Basque country, where ETA disbanded — but Palestinians and Israelis traded harsh blows, marking 70 years of strife. The climate change crisis was better understood than ever. Yet the international response was handicapped by political divisions, rendered more febrile by a 12-year scientific deadline to save the planet, reported worldwide declines in flora and fauna and extreme weather events such as California’s wildfires.

On a more optimistic note, in Malaysia, the good guys won for a change, toppling a corrupt leader and proving that hoards of jewelry and Hermes handbags do not guarantee happiness. The #MeToo movement continued its powerful backlash against predatory and domineering males.

A black American actor married a reddish English prince at Windsor Castle. The England football team surprised everybody by reaching the World Cup semi-finals. And Canadians, perhaps hoping to get away from it all, legalized cannabis .

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Donald Trump again dominated the news agenda, mostly for the wrong reasons. His intolerance of criticism, arbitrary decision-making and bending of the truth set the tone for anti-democratic, authoritarian strongmen around the world. Trump became America’s first “rogue president.”

Trump’s sinister attempts to intimidate what he called the “fake news” media raised fears about democracy and free speech. He used his Twitter commentaries — random, inaccurate and sometimes libelous — to distract attention from his failings, such as his enduring problem with women.

When Trump’s supreme court pick, Brett Kavanaugh, was accused of sexual misconduct during Senate confirmation hearings, Trump responded by denigrating the principal accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. His blatant misogyny polarized the country — a trademark Trump effect.

Trump himself faced multiple claims of sexual misconduct. Ex-porn star Stormy Daniels provoked embarrassment and derision with an unflattering description of the presidential penis. Trump’s legal troubles deepened as his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, talked to prosecutors and confessed to a string of crimes, including campaign finance violations that directly implicated the president. Trump continued to accuse the special counsel, Robert Mueller, of conducting a witch-hunt — but did not dare fire him. By year’s end, Mueller’s net seemed to be closing.

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