The Decade of Disruption

The Decade of Disruption

Ten years ago tomorrow, Lehman Brothers, the financial services behemoth, collapsed. It was a crucial moment in what became the most severe global financial crisis since the 1930s. US banks teetered. European markets shuddered. Growth slowed in Asia. China’s diminished demand for oil, gas, metals, and minerals hit emerging markets in Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.


Crises radicalize voters, say the political scientists, and the decade since the fall of Lehman has provided plenty of new evidence. The US financial market meltdown didn’t directly trigger all the remarkable political events that followed, but the anger and fear of the future it provoked have effects that reverberate still.

  • The US financial crisis triggered a global recession and a European sovereign debt crisis severe enough to call the survival of the Eurozone into question.

  • A wave of unrest swept across North Africa and the Middle East. Tunisia’s government fell. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak went to prison. Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi was executed in the street. Yemen exploded into violence. Syria sank into a civil war that has killed or displaced half the country’s population.

  • Middle East unrest triggered a new crisis in Europe, as more than two million migrants made their way north, transforming European politics. Angry, fearful voters began to reject establishment political parties.

  • In 2016, faced with a choice between continued membership in the European Union and a leap into the unknown, Britons chose Brexit.

  • In the United States, voters chose a brash celebrity businessman who had never run for office over a rival who epitomized the political establishment.

  • In 2017, the long-dominant political parties of center-right and center-left were swept aside in France in favor of another candidate making his very first run for office. Emmanuel Macron led a party he had created from nothing just one year before.

  • German voters re-elected Angela Merkel to a fourth term, but her center-right party and its center-left coalition partner posted their lowest share of the vote in decades. A party of the far-right won seats in the Bundestag for the first time since 1945. It is now the largest opposition party in Germany.

  • In 2018, Italian voters pushed aside long-established parties to elevate a movement founded nine years ago by a professional comedian and a rebranded separatist party from the country’s north.

  • In Mexico, voters elected the first leftist president since the 1930s, a man leading a political party he created just four years prior.

  • In Pakistan, voters rejected the long-dominant Bhutto and Sharif dynasties in favor of a man who became famous as captain of the country’s 1992 World Cup-winning cricket team.

  • In Brazil, voters go to the polls next month to cast ballots in a wide-open election.

These events represent rejection of the known and a lunge toward the brand new. This has become a world of profound political disruption.

There’s no reason to believe this turbulence is nearing an end.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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28: The UK and the EU have again failed to agree on post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom. In a 28-page document, the British government had suggested further changes to trade rules that were already negotiated as part of the Brexit settlement, but Brussels was not having any of it.

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