Saturday, October 24, 2020
October 24-25, 2020: The World in 2020
[October 24th marks the 75th anniversary of the official establishment of the United Nations. So this week I’ve AmericanStudied five histories connected to the UN, leading up to this weekend post on global interconnectedness in October 2020.]
On two ways to analyze our 21st century global moment, and what lies beyond both of them.
Back in the early days of the Trump era, when I could still write the semi-hopeful phrase “presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump,” I wrote a piece for my (at the time) HuffPost gig in which I used Benjamin Barber’s somewhat dated but still relevant book Jihad vs. McWorld (1995) to analyze the rise of right-wing nationalist movements like Trump & MAGA, Brexit, Marine Le Pen in France, and others. If we parallel those movements to Al Qaeda, ISIS, and right-wing Islamic terrorism, as I tried to in that piece and still would, I think it’s fair to say that a great deal of what has happened around the world in the 21st century’s first two decades can be explained by such reactionary nationalist movements. Here in the United States, the Obama-era rallying cry of “I want my country back!” was a direct predecessor to Trump and MAGA, and I think that same phrase defines this vision around the world, whether it’s Brexiteers clinging to an imaginary, endangered Britain or Islamic extremists seeking to expel “the West” from their countries.
At the same time, another prominent global trend over these same decades, and especially throughout the 2010s, has been mass, progressive protests, against those reactionary movements but also and especially against longer-standing status quos. From Occupy Wall Street to the Arab Spring to the July 2019 protests in Puerto Rico and those that rocked the entire globe in late 2019, these mass uprisings have reflected (often) youthful communities and movements that are part of neither neoliberal corporate globalism nor reactionary nationalism (to use Barber’s two categories). The late spring/summer of 2020 #BlackLivesMatter protests that began with the George Floyd murder in Minneapolis but transformed into something much broader and more widespread, both in the United States (and indeed all fifty of them at once, making them the only protest movement in American history to achieve that milestone) and once again around the world, make clear that this youth-driven global phenomenon is only deepening as we move into the 2020s, and perhaps will dominate this decade as fully as right-wing nationalism did the prior one.
Unless climate change and its increasingly overt and destructive effects do. I worry that both the global pandemic (which is undoubtedly connected to climate change) and these opposing global social and political movements have diverted our attention from what has long been and certainly remains the most pressing issue facing the entire world. But on the other hand, what has long been absent is a truly widespread, collective recognition of the reality of climate change and its effects, the kind of shared engagement without which it’s impossible to truly begin considering and implementing the kinds of changes and policies necessary to confront and begin mitigating this crisis. Part of the reason for that absence is precisely the reactionary movements—a desire to return to a mythic past makes it difficult to deal with the present, much less address an onrushing future. So perhaps these global protests and activisms can become part of systemic change, not just when it comes to issues of race and justice (although yes please), but also and entirely relatedly when it comes to the changing planet on which, as my friends Dire Straits put it, we still must “find a way to be/One world in harmony.”
Halloween series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?