A cursory view would suggest that the year 2022 marked the culmination of a number of notable developments across the world, especially given the nearly-universal lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, with China being the only significant outlier. However, in other important ways, hindsight would suggest that 2022 could also be seen as the dawn of several critical global trends that reshape history for decades to come.
Here, we take a brief look at three of the most consequential political trends of the year that distinguish it from the past two years of the pandemic.
1) Election Victory in the U.S.
The so-called ‘mid-term’ congressional elections on November 8 delivered one of the biggest surprises of this year. While the neo-Fascist and alt-right elements remain strong in American politics, the populist MAGA movement has been delivered a potentially fatal blow with the largest defeat of an opposition party since FDR (that is 1932!).
On November 8, Americans sent a message to the world about the resilience of democracy in the face of nationalist authoritarianism. The Democratic party not only retained its Senate majority, but actually expanded it by one seat after the run-off elections in Georgia sent Herschel Walker home. Similarly, most prominent Trump-backed candidates elsewhere such as Dr. Oz and Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, and Blake Masters and Kari Lake in Arizona lost in both the congressional and gubernatorial races against moderate and progressive figures.
Nonetheless, America is still within the danger zone. Other populist Republican figures, such as Ted Cruz (S-Texas) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia) not only retained their seats, but the Florida governor and favorite Trump-successor Ron DeSantis actually won by a landslide in what was previously a purple state. The Republicans also secured the House majority by a small margin, allowing them to hinder President Biden’s agenda and improving their chances in 2024.
In other words, while much has been accomplished this year, much more work still needs to be done in the near future.
2) War in Ukraine
The single most remarkable event of the entire year of 2022 was the first full-scale invasion of a sovereign nation in Europe since 1945, which started with a massive Russian incursion into the sovereign territory of the Republic of Ukraine on February 24. Tensions between the two neighboring countries, both of which seceded from the Soviet Union in 1991 date back long before their modern foundation, and reached a new height in 2014 with the separation of Luhansk and Donetsk, and most notably the direct annexation of the island of Crimea by the Russian Federation. A new understanding appeared to be emerging since President Zelensky took office in 2019, but negotiations eventually broke down and Russia launched a three-pronged attack on the nation of 40 million people.
While only two nations comprising roughly 2% of the world population are involved on paper, the War in Ukraine impacted the entire world in a plethora of ways. The European Union has seen the largest wave of asylum seekers in its history, many times larger than the so-called ‘Syrian Refugee Crisis’ that ushered in the resurgence of conservative populism in the mid-2010s. Besides the hundreds of billions of dollars in direct belligerent costs to Western nations, including $50 billion in aid already from the United States, widespread sanctions on Russian oil in the invasion’s aftermath have left a deep mark on energy markets around the world.
3) Recession and Inflation
Another defining feature of the year 2022 has been an explosive rise in the rate of inflation across the globe. According to IMF estimates, global economic growth fell from 6% in 2021 to 3.2% in 2022, while inflation nearly doubled from 4.7% to 8.8% during the same period. Inflation in the United States reached its highest level since 1982 for the second year in a row, while real wages for low-income Americans actually fell from a year prior.
While the War in Ukraine might be the most visible factor fueling inflation this year, the upward trend in consumer price index was already clear before the invasion even began. The COVID-19 pandemic, while seemingly a distant memory to some, contributed in a substantial manner to the current Stagflation. For one, China’s insistence on a continued ‘zero-COVID’ not only left tens of millions of people stranded for little public health benefits, but developments such as the prolonged Shanghai lockdown literally cost the global economy billions of dollars in lost production and trade. These lasting effects of the pandemic combined with other supply-chain issues in the labor market to create a massive imbalance between supply and demand.
Fortunately, a much-feared recession was averted in the world’s largest economy of the U.S. so far, and growth remained strong. However, some experts fear that inadequate fiscal checks by the Fed might bring about a mild recession in the near future.