The year ahead: My (cloudy) crystal ball

From Donald Trump's curtain call to more European bickering over migrants, I offer some wishful (and not-so-wishful) thinking as to what awaits us in 2016. (For some headlines, simply cut-and-paste from 2015.)


US Election: Trump’s curtain call

True to The Economist’s prophecy, Donald Trump will NOT be the next president of the United States. Nor will he be the Republican party's nominee.

That dubious honor will go to Florida Senator Marco Rubio, the candidate perennially touted as a favorite for his supposed ability to corral a broad spectrum of bitterly divided GOP voters.

Trump will bow out in buffoonish fashion (I’ll leave the mechanics of his exit to your imagination) after placing third in February's Iowa Caucasus, the traditional opening salvo in the US primary season.

His subsequent endorsement of rival Ted Cruz will prove the Kiss of Death for the Texas senator’s own vaulting presidential ambitions.

Rubio, a Cuban American native of Miami, will seek to galvanize the race with a strong pitch – in Spanish - to the rising Hispanic demographic.

But he won’t fend off his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. She’ll ride a wave of electoral invincibility to her party's nomination - and the White House on Election Day on November 8th.

Vladimir Putin will be the last major world leader to call to congratulate the 45th US president-elect on her victory. It will be Clinton’s comeuppance for once likening Putin’s behavior in Ukraine to that of Adolf Hitler outside Germany on the eve of WWII.

Towards the end of the year, 87% of US high school students will be unable to identify Jeb Bush when shown his photo. A majority will respond with a question: "Wasn't he the president once, the guy that went to Iraq?"

Mass shootings: America sticks to its guns

It may be an election year in the United States, but don’t expect gun control to play big on the campaign trail.

While Clinton may pay occasional lip service to the need for tighter regulation, campaign managers and focus groups will point the candidates towards talking points on terror and security. Guns, when mentioned at all, will be an afterthought.

There were more mass shootings in America in 2015 than days: more than 350 as of early December.

Obama’s deepening frustration on guns will only deepen further as he enters the homestretch of his presidency.

We’ve seen the president practically despondent over his inability to crack the carapace of resistance when it comes to Americans and their firearms.

"If you look at the number of Americans killed since 9/11 by terrorism, it's less than 100,” Obama said after one shooting a couple of months ago. “If you look at the number that have been killed by gun violence, it's in the tens of thousands.”

He added: “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this kind of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn't happen in other places with this kind of frequency."

The National Rifle Association is due to hold its annual meeting in Louisville, Kentucky in May. Some 650 exhibitors and gun enthusiasts are expected to attend.

Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president, will likely trot out his oft-repeated line that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

He may draw raucous cheers from the crowd when he declares, again, that Barack Obama “has all the gun laws he needs to stop the bloodshed.”

The NY Daily News tabloid will continue to run brave headlines calling LaPierre one of America’s deadliest terrorists.

It won’t make a whit of difference.

Migration crisis: To be continued

This was the year when over a million migrants (0.2 percent of the total EU population) fleeing war, poverty and persecution streamed into Europe by sea and land. More than at any time since World War II, as we’ve been repeatedly told.

At the beginning, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, against great resistance, championed an “open door” policy, urging her compatriots to welcome the refugees with open arms

And many of them did. For a while.

But then the mood turned nastier as the flow of arrivals appeared to gain momentum and an anti-migrant backlash intensified, especially among eastern and central European states. Walls and fences started going up and, in some cases, we heard reports of migrants being beaten by border police in countries like Bulgaria.

We can expect that nasty mood to prevail in the year ahead, as the war in Syria grinds on (yes, Bashar al-Assad will still be in power at year’s end, as the transition hits speed bumps). Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan will continue to struggle to care for millions of migrants housed in refugee camps.

Colder winter weather and the bid for peace in Syria – the negotiations to find a political settlement will hopefully yield a modicum of diplomatic consensus – could lead to a very slight dip in migrant numbers. But come Spring, and balmier weather, we’ll see the flow pick up again as Europe resumes its bickering over a common approach.

Hungary’s hardline prime minister, Viktor Orban, will continue to gloat, “I told you so”, as the situation deteriorates.

Paris attacks: Endless state of emergency

The year in France will begin under a state of emergency. Though it may not end under one, a slew of measures will still be in place that restrict basic freedoms.

The first anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo attacks on January 7th will draw hundreds to the Place de la République in eastern Paris to commemorate victims of that terror assault – which seems almost a lifetime ago now that November 13th has become an even deadlier instance of jihadist horror.

France’s parliament will approve changes to the country’s constitution in February that put a premium on security over democratic largesse. The land of liberté, égalité and fraternité will be constitutionally a little less free, equal and fraternal.

Fighting terror will be on every politician’s lips. On the far right the bellicosity will reach fever pitch as the country looks towards the 2017 presidential race. Hollande will be increasingly in the crosshairs of his own party, with many accusing him of forsaking Socialist values.

France will also be looking to beef up its role in the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group, though an undercurrent of anxiety will prompt some to ask whether defeating the jihadist group on the battlefield is really going to address the problem of radicalism at home.

The first anniversary of the November 13th attacks will be attended by world leaders, an opportunity for each to reiterate their commitment to fighting an ever-elusive enemy.

Russia: Putin’s popularity soars…higher?

Putin’s approval rating in 2015 hit an all-time high of 89 percent in June. Though they have subsided a bit since, you can expect them to remain at stratospheric levels in the months ahead, even as the Russian economy struggles, the war in Syria grinds on and oil prices slump.

Outsiders often find that difficult to fathom. But in a vast country where nearly two-thirds of citizens get their news and views from a steady diet of state-run television, and where a strong tsar has always been an object of veneration, it’s hardly surprising.

Putin’s approval ratings may soar even higher in 2016 as Russia retrenches more against a West it perceives as hostile and out to get it. NGOs and human rights organizations, no matter how homegrown, will remain “foreign agents” in the eyes of the political establishment.

Putin will play the role of innocent – blaming Western powers for their belligerent ways.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for September. The last time around, in 2011, Moscow saw mass street demonstrations amid a dispute over whether electoral fraud had occurred.

Putin’s power isn’t at stake in this ballot, but he need not fear: a brow-beaten opposition will fail to field enough candidates to pose a real threat.

Oil prices will remain low in 2016, leading western pundits to predict Putin’s imminent demise, or at least a weakening of his grasp on power. They shouldn’t hold their breath.

This article was originally published on December 24, 2015.

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