This year has been a challenge to order. Whether you like the current order or not, at least it exists. We live in order, not in chaos. The existence of an order is not pre-ordained and there are places without it.
A challenge to order can be a force for good when it is constructive and represents a coherent alternative future. The challenges seen this year have not been that. These were “burn it down” type attempts that would bring uncertainty to our lives.
Donald Trump’s presidency is the most important example, but Brexit and its looming uncertainty, Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon of France, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rigged referendum in Turkey and other developments have posed challenges to the world order this year.
But the order held strong, mostly. Trump’s challenge to the established order in the United States has been paralyzed because the American order is strong and well-established. Love them or hate them, the one absolute truth is that American institutions like the parties, federal agencies and most importantly, the courts, are strong. The Republican Party, an institution I have no love for, absorbed Trump almost completely and swallowed his “challenge the order” rhetoric whole. The past 100 days are a testament to the power of the American judiciary and separation of powers. America’s order, though damaged, goes on.
The European order also survived with wounds. The European Union (EU) has brought, above all, peace and prosperity to its members. It is lacking in many ways, but it is an order that strives for positive change. The EU is young, so it is not yet as strong as American institutions and needs time to develop. Brexit was a hard blow, but the European project will live. Thanks to Emmanuel Macron’s victory and Wilders’ loss, the EU will not have to face the specter of Dutch or French exits. The EU will have to adapt itself.
Turkey is moving from parliamentary democracy to presidential autocracy. Though Erdogan’s autocracy is fear-inducing, the death of the parliamentary system is just as depressing. It took decades and several coups for the democratic culture to form and that culture was formed around the parliamentary system. Looking at the list of prime ministers, the uncertainty worries me. Thinking of the post-parliamentary order in Turkey is scary. Order is hard to create and easy to sustain. When it gets damaged, it is hard to rebuild. Once Erdogan breaks the back of Turkey’s political system, it will be extremely difficult for the new order to be strong and durable.
Every change to the Turkish constitution, every comprise given to the United Kingdom in its exit, every vote won by Marine Le Pen, every bizarre policy and jab at the free press Trump makes will hurt the order, and it will take many years for these institutions to recover, but they will persevere. We need to be ready to repair them when the time comes.