What We’ll Keep Watching in 2022: The authoritarian plague, climate vs energy crisis, US politics in Georgia
COVID & authoritarianism. Around the world, the pandemic has given national governments vastly greater mandates to manage how their societies and economies work. That has, among other things, created room for authoritarianism to grow and flourish. But there are different views on how that’s happened, and where. On the one hand, undemocratic or illiberal governments used pandemic restrictions to suppress anti-government protests or muzzle critics. Think of China using COVID restrictions to stop the burgeoning Hong Kong protests, or Russia doing the same to crack down on opposition rallies. Freedom House reported this year that the pandemic had contributed to democratic backsliding in 73 countries, the most since 2005. But there are also those who see authoritarian shadows in what democratic governments have done: imposing vaccine mandates, continued lockdowns, and school closures. In the US, a backlash against this has boosted Republicans ahead of next year’s midterms, while fresh lockdowns and mandates have also provoked fierce protests in Europe. There is also the thorny and unresolved question of how to police misinformation. Some Americans think social media platforms are erring on the side of too much content moderation as they struggle with the difficult problem of weeding out dangerous pandemic fake news. Overall, the question of what governments did during the pandemic, and whether it exceeded their mandates, will affect politics and geopolitics deep into 2022.
Going green without blackouts. This year at COP26, global leaders agreed to major climate pledges. As of now, some 90 percent of the global economy is committed to net-zero goals. That’s good news. But translating those promises into action is going to be a major political challenge in 2022. For one thing, new commitments to phase out fossil fuels are coming right as the world struggles with an energy crisis — shortages of natural gas and coal are driving up fuel and electricity prices around the globe. What's more, climate policies will figure in two major 2022 elections. One is in France, where it was barely two years ago that fuel taxes provoked the massive “yellow vest” protests which almost derailed Emmanuel Macron’s presidency. The other is the US midterms, where the climate aspects of Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan will be a major point of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats.Georgia 2022. As we move into an election year in the United States, we’ll be closely watching political dynamics in Georgia, a state that has emerged as a fascinating microcosm of several important trends in American politics. First, Georgia offered a vivid example of how the swing of suburban voters — in this case, in and around the state capital of Atlanta — tipped the 2020 presidential and congressional elections toward Democrats. Second, the January 2021 surprise elections of Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to the US Senate gave the Democrats majority control of the upper house. Anything Democrats accomplish in Biden’s first two years as president is possible only because both Democrats won in Georgia. Third, Georgia is a central battlefield in fights over the counting of votes in 2020 and for voting rules for future elections. Fourth, Biden’s sagging approval ratings in Georgia underline the strong national momentum that Republicans now enjoy. And lastly, Donald Trump is actively backing Senate and gubernatorial candidates in Georgia who are challenging the state Republican establishment — and potentially dividing Republican voters. Republicans dominated Georgia’s politics for a quarter-century until Democrats broke through in 2020-21 by the slimmest of margins. No state will provide a better bellwether for US political trends in 2022.