Journalist Joan Didion wrote in an essay on the 1988 presidential campaign that “the insiders invent year after year the story of public life.” Didion, who died on December 23 in New York, used to reflect on the distance from reality, complicated, varied and difficult to foresee, and the “ideas” we try to fit it into to fit a round narrative.
With the pandemic and perhaps for the first time in history, the world has a simultaneous, similar and very intense experience, and it is almost inevitable to draw a common story about its effects. It can be the good or the bad.
A common story for 2022 could be that of governments that strengthen the Welfare State due to the obvious deficiencies in their health systems, the network to protect the most vulnerable and the lack of investment in science, care and better cities. The reflection on the health coup and the consequent solidarity between different people build environments with more bikes, more flexible jobs and people with less selfish priorities.
In this version of history, Joe Biden is the paradigm shift of presidential cycles as drawn by Stephen Skowarnek of Yale University among presidents who rebuild, articulate, or break with the past. Biden aspires to be the beginning of a new world as were Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan, who managed to change the framework of thought, each in opposite directions.
In this 2022 story, the coming to power of the Social Democrat Olaf Scholz leads other European countries by example and with EU policies to invest more and cut less, and the stability of southern Europe helps the euro zone to seize. may allow a more sustainable response than that of the last crisis. The trend toward a stronger welfare state is even noticeable in conservative governments like Boris Johnson’s. With his model of higher taxes, investment in a green plan, in the fight against obesity and in the reinforcement of the health care, Johnson is already a reflection of a more moderate trend and more similar to social democracy than the majority of his party . In this 2022 account of a larger state and countries less lacerated by inequality, Biden succeeds in passing his $ 1.9 trillion bundle of social investment pending the vote in the Senate, even if it is smaller, and offer to the workers of the United States more protection in case of leave and help to repair the social housing or distribute more free meals in the schools.
They lose the extremes
In this scenario, as has happened in the elections in Italy and Germany, the most extremist parties do not capitalize on the exhaustion of the pandemic and lose seats and attention from the cameras and tweeters. That is what can happen in fact in the presidential elections in France (April 10 is the first round and 24, the second) where Emmanuel Macron is expected to win again and the extreme right will be weakened by the emergence of Éric Zemmour , the gathering to the right of Marine Le Pen who after so much fanfare does not seem to take off. Across the English Channel, the regional elections in May may be the final straw for the leadership of Boris Johnson, who could be ousted by his own party in a new uncertain stage for the Tories, perhaps a prelude to the return of Labor to power in the next general election scheduled for 2024.
The triumph of the left may come to Colombia from the hand of Gustavo Petro in the presidential elections in May – something that would be very newsworthy given the history of Colombia, with the constant triumph of parties from the center and the right. And to Brazil, with the return of Lula in front of one of the most damaging figures for public health, the environment and equal rights, Jair Bolsonaro, whose defeat at the moment seems likely, according the surveys. Chile’s new left may perhaps lead the way for other Latin American countries, one more akin to European social democracy.
Orban and other Putins
The other story about 2022 and the more turbulent consequences of the pandemic is that of more authoritarian governments, more unequal countries and also more violent. 2022 may be the year of another triumph for Victor Orbán in the spring parliamentary elections as the model of Vladimir Putin-inspired leaders takes hold in Eastern Europe. It is the story of the erosion of the rights of women, LGTBI people and minorities in Hungary and in other neighbors such as Poland, increasingly confronted with the principles of the rule of law of the EU. In this context, the most feared conflict may break out in the East, about which the United States and NATO have been warning for weeks, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.
It is the story of the pandemic that brings more extremism, more hoaxes, less respect for press freedom, less trust in the media and less social cohesion in countries that are increasingly isolated and less interested in the conflicts of others.
It is the story of unequal access to vaccines, which can take a particularly high toll in some middle-income countries in Africa where the coronavirus is a real problem (in the poorest public health emergencies are usually other) and that they have become late to vaccines that protect less than the messenger RNA vaccines of Pfizer and Moderna.
It is the story of chain conflicts in several African countries, whose economies suffer the drop in demand, tourists or humanitarian aid that the pandemic has brought, and, in the most extreme case, that suffer again the civil war, such as Ethiopia. . Extreme poverty is being reduced again for a glimpse of recovery, but some of the most promising African economies have stopped again, such as South Africa, which was already suffering before the pandemic despite having more economic and human resources than countries of its surroundings.
It is a world in which Joe Biden is still in retreat, after the collapse of Afghanistan, the size and dire consequences of which we will see in 2022. The Democratic president will be deeply engrossed in his domestic problems as polls and the history for incumbent presidents suggest that in November his party will lose the majority in the House of Representatives and will find the same and fragile majority in the Senate, but without the more moderate Republicans to pull from because several will have retired and it is expected that they will be replaced by more politicians radical and close to Donald Trump.
The 2024 presidential elections will begin in the United States the day after the November 8 legislative elections, and for now, Trump says he wants to present himself. He may not do it in the end but he has already managed to create a party marked by inventions such as that Biden did not win the election or that the assault on the Capitol did not happen and by an increasingly surreal message against vaccines, masks and facts. A party with which it will be difficult to approve any legislative measure and with which the peaceful transfer of power will not be assured.
The best bets
Making predictions amid the uncertainty that has marked the past two years is even more complicated than usual. Just look at some of the “best bets” that the company has made. Economist about the world in 2022 and published in November, consulting “journalists and commentators.” The first said that there would be no dominant new variant after delta until September 2022. Only 1% of those consulted They answered that it would happen before January 2022.
What comes out in this new year will not have a clear or direct story to fit into a perfect story. But we humans need hope to move forward and we assign the calendar a power that it obviously does not have to improve reality.
This is why most of the world is optimistic about 2022. In an Ipsos survey of 33 countries, 77% of those surveyed say that this new year will be better for them than 2021. So do 72% of the people surveyed in Spain (although 20% of Spaniards have answered in another question that they believe “probable” that an asteroid hits the earth).
As Didion wrote in The White Album, “We interpret what we see, we select what works best from the many options. We live in a complementary way, especially if we are writers, imposing a narrative line on disparate images, the ‘ideas’ with which we have learned to freeze the changing phantasmagoria that is our real experience ”.
2022 will probably be an imperfect and chaotic mix of what we have lived in the previous two years, but since we need those stories that we tell ourselves to live, as Didion said, we can at least tell ourselves the best ones.