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Ups and Downs - Winter 2020

I heard a fun fact about February 2, 2020. If you turn it into a number with no dashes in-between, it becomes a palindrome. It’s also the first time in more than 900 years that a date could be manipulated in this way!

If this all sounds like Greek, then let me show you what I mean: 02-02-2020 is 02022020 without the dashes. This is the same number read backward or forward. The most recent past date when this same trick would have worked was September 1, 1090. Ten-ninety was a long time ago – as a point of reference, the Battle of Hastings (1066) was still a living memory!

So why, you might wonder, would I start my Ups and Downs article about such an insignificant mathematical phenomenon? My first answer is that I thought it was kind of cool. My more serious answer is that 2020 is also shaping up to be a pretty unique year in a lot of other, more important ways. And maybe that Battle of Hastings reference is not as off-base as it would seem.

We all know that this is an election year. It already had its stranger-than-strange kick-off with the Iowa Caucus meltdown. If you’re looking for an omen, there must be one in there somewhere…

But on a more serious note, if the 2020 election is about anything, it is about nationalism and identity politics versus the forces of globalism, economic integration and rapid technological change.

For many Americans, recent decades have brought unparalleled prosperity, technological advance and a strong conviction that the world is becoming a smaller place. Many of those Americans live on the Coasts, and most live in cities.

But for roughly equal numbers of Americans, these same forces have created fear and a sense of helplessness as entire industries have been wiped out, wages have stagnated, living costs have risen and demographic changes make the country seem almost unrecognizable. These people mostly live away from the Coasts, and often live in rural areas or small towns. These left-behind people don’t just feel nostalgic about the past – increasingly, they are angry and want to stop what their adversaries see as progress.

This trend is a global phenomenon. And politicians, both at home and abroad, are listening. The fight between those who feel passed by and those who embrace the promise of the future is now ramping up for a no-holds-barred battle, and 2020 could play a decisive role in this conflict.

This is a battle that has been brewing for a long time. In the United States, the first signs of trouble probably date back to the 1970s when rumblings about the “deindustrialization of America” and the impact of global trade started to make headlines. Back then, it was not clear that this schism would become so deep or so wide. Today, it looms across the political landscape like the Grand Canyon.

Consider some of the momentous changes we have experienced over just the past four years:

  • The UK voted to leave the European Union, largely over the electorate’s discomfort with immigration policies that many Britons did not like and could not control.
  • President Trump won the US Presidency with a similar “America First” message, winning the presidency from the votes of a slim majority of discontented voters in a handful of Midwestern states that had been most deeply impacted by globalization and industrial decline.
  • Jair Bolsonaro won the presidency of Brazil with a strong nationalist and anti-urban-elite message that played well in the Brazilian interior.
  • Narendra Modi has maintained power in India with his nationalistic pandering to the Hindu majority and relentless attacks on the country’s Muslim minority.
  • Angela Merkel lost her seemingly rock-solid support after she allowed one million Syrian refugees to settle in Germany as Bashar Al-Assad doubled down on his bloody crackdown of the Civil War then waging in Syria.

These are just some of the examples of the resurgence of nationalism now raging around the globe. This year will be an important turning point in this battle of ideas and ideals. In the United States, the 2020 election will be as much a referendum on the past versus the future as it will be a vote for the Republican or the Democrat. I believe that 2020 will be an important year and one that will shape the future of this country and this planet in profound ways. What that choice will be, and how it impacts our future, is anyone’s guess.

Steve Cain is Secretary of RPBG. He writes articles and compiles content for our quarterly newsletter. The opinions expressed in this column are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of RPBG and its Members.


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