Vaccine mandates and the fight for freedom, Critical Race Theory, transgender sports, the continuing crime wave, Russia, China, and inflation all made headlines this year, but are likely to continue as hot topics with long reaching consequences into 2022 and beyond. No one knows the future, but each of these topics might change the world.
Predicting the future has always been a tricky business. Everyone understands that events happening right now will influence the years ahead like seeds in an untended garden, but history itself has a way of surprising even the most astute and insightful among us, growing beanstalks from what seemed like rocks. The world rarely conforms to our expectations. Therefore, instead of making predictions, I am presenting five things that happened or began entering the public consciousness this year that seem likely to have a high degree of influence on the next, perhaps in ways we do not not expect. These could be turning points in our political debates or even the global geopolitical order, or they might turn out to be nothing at all. Read and decide.
Coronavirus vaccine mandates and the ongoing fight for freedom
2022 was supposed to be the year we put the pandemic behind us, permanently. Instead, it was the year beset by a combination of rapidly spreading new variants and increasingly authoritarian actions of local, state, and federal governments, both combining to even further divide the American people. Loosely speaking, there are those that believe public health and safety trumps democratic norms and constitutional safeguards, enabling governments to pursue almost any strategy endorsed by the experts with almost no restraint. This has culminated in never before seen mandates and testing requirements. Opposed, there are those who believe these norms and safeguards matter no matter the risk, and the government cannot impose these restrictions by fiat. Legislatures, whether local, state, or federal, should vote, executives should sign bills into law or veto them, and the courts should remain the final arbiters.
It has become increasingly common to bemoan that this debate has become political and both sides are intractable, but beneath the bombast this is among the most important political discussions of our era. Not since the rushed debate over civil liberties in the wake of the 9-11 terror attacks has the country engaged in a debate so foundational and the overall stakes couldn’t possibly be higher. If the citizenry ultimately accepts that governments can arbitrarily suspend basic rights indefinitely because of a public health emergency, these rights will never be the same ever again. The next emergency certainly will come, likely sooner rather than later, and the same powers will ultimately be used and expanded. On the other hand, if the citizenry demands their freedom back and forces leaders to operate according to standard democratic procedures, governments will be far less likely to attempt the same in the near future and will exercise some level of restraint during the next real or imagined public health crisis.
What to watch: The court battle over mandates and government decisions on what constitutes fully vaccinated, both of which are likely to come to climax as soon as January. Whatever the court decides, is redefining fully vaccinated to require a booster shot simply a bridge too far for most Americans? The move would suddenly transform millions of currently vaccinated people into unvaccinated, requiring them to get another shot to comply with mandates and other restrictions. Will people stand for it? This is a moment that could well change the entire debate, finally tilting it in favor of freedom.
Critical Race Theory and the continuing backlash against dividing Americans by race
The 1619 Project was published in 2019, but 2021 was really the year that leftist racial thinking went mainstream. Prompted by the rise of Critical Race Theory inspired curriculum in grammar school and high school, parents around the country started pushing back, battling school boards and putting the issue front and center in the high profile Virginia governor’s race. The anti-CRT side prevailed in Virginia for now, propelling Republican Glen Youngkin to the governor’s mansion, but that was likely only the opening skirmish in a much broader culture war. The issue remains likely to reverberate in 2022 and beyond, serving as a key lightning rod in the midterm elections and quite possibly a major topic in 2024.
What to watch: Will progressives soften their stance at all or are they too committed to the racial agenda? I phrase this one in terms of progressives because conservatives clearly believe they have a winning issue, one which already won an important election in Virginia and will likely contribute to more in the future. For what it’s worth, progressives certainly seem committed right now. In fact, Nikole Hannah Jones, the creator of the 1619 Project itself, recently doubled down and said outright that teacher’s should decide what is taught and parents need not apply, restating what many believe cost the Democrats the Virginia election in the first place.
It should be noted that this isn’t a frivolous debate either. It’s about the nature of the country itself. Are we founded in freedom however imperfect the practical application, or are we doomed forever by our racist past? The CRT debate is the primary battle line right now and should remain so for at least the short and medium term.
Transgender sports and the new war on biological women
2021 was also the year that the current elite conception of gender fluidity as indisputable scientific fact and the implications of defining gender based almost entirely on an individual’s conception of it fully entered the public consciousness. A few events toward the end of the year set the stage: First liberal icon and author of The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, was roasted for sharing a news article that defended the continued use of the word “women.” Second, there is the continued backlash against Harry Potter creator, J.K. Rowling for insisting that women raped by people with male appendages are not being raped by women. Most importantly, a transgender collegiate athlete shattered women’s swimming records with apparent ease, upending the entire sport. Support for transgender rights is one thing, but prioritizing those rights above those of biological women is another, one that might well be too much for the average person to accept.
What to watch: Will transgender advocates continue to insist that biological women have to compete against biological men and that women with penises rape other women or will basic sanity prevail? Up until now, most of the debate over transgender rights has occurred in niche political circles and hasn’t really impacted the average person beyond hearing about it occasionally on the news. Transgender athletes competing in women’s sports will change all that as mothers and fathers around the country react to the idea that there daughters will be forced to compete against boys and men on an unfair playing field.
Progressive cities respond to the crime wave
Progressive soft on crime policies such as defund the police and bail reform boomeranged big time in 2021, resulting in some of the largest and most disturbing increases in violent crime in recent memory. According to CNN, more than two thirds of the biggest cities in the United States have seen an increase in homicides this year, continuing the trend started in 2021. At least nine of these cities have broken records in that regard. The increase has been accompanied by the appearance of new “smash and grab” style robberies at high end department stores and jewelers in California, Illinois, and other locations. Organized online, these robberies have resulted in the theft of millions of dollars of merchandise.
In response, some progressive mayors have started to sound downright conservative when it comes to crime. For example, San Francisco Mayor London Breed recently had a near-miraculous conversion to the need for aggressive enforcement. “It’s time that the reign of criminals — who are destroying our city — it is time for it to come to an end,” she said. “It comes to an end when we take the steps to be more aggressive with law enforcement, more aggressive with the changes in our policies and less tolerant of the all the bulls–t that has destroyed our city.” In addition, progressive enclaves like New York City have elected more tough on crime officials, including incoming Mayor Eric Adams who has promised a return to the police tactics that made New York the safest big city on the planet, even if it means defying Black Lives Matter.
What to watch: Is the progressive shift to aggressive policing a real change or just political posturing? The tragedy of the current crime wave has always been its senselessness. We’ve seen this movie before in the early 1990s and know exactly which policies will keep our streets safe. Progressives, however, have so far chosen not to pursue them, resulting in some 5,000 additional homicides across the country in a single year. Are we looking at a real course correction and an actual acknowledgement that being soft on crime breeds more crime, or will they quickly revert back to pushing flawed policies?
The country as a whole will be much better off and thousands of people in particular will be alive if progressives take the proven path forward.
China and Russia make provocative moves on the world stage
There is little doubt that our ignominious exit from Afghanistan has emboldened China and Russia. The question is how much with Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border and China making ever more aggressive moves against Taiwan. The Russian’s insist their posture is purely defensive and there will be no invasion if the US and our NATO allies in Europe agree to stop extending membership into Eastern Europe. A summit is planned for early next year to address these issues, but the future remains entirely unclear. There is widespread agreement that Vladimir Putin wants to push Russian influence into Ukraine and there is little we can do about it other than sanctions. Likewise, China seeks to retake Taiwan, and our position there is even weaker.
What to watch: Does Russia actually invade or are they just hoping we will appease them? Russia seems likely to move before China and Ukraine is tempting target. There is a large pro-Russia contingent in the country and their invasion might well be welcomed by broad swaths of the populace. China will probably hold off on anything too bold until they can observe the reaction from the rest of the world. One other thing to watch: Does the US and our European allies make concessions to Russia to avoid an invasion? This might temporarily delay a breakdown of the geopolitical order, but both Russia and China will also perceive it as weakness and damage will almost certainly be done either way.
Bonus: Inflation, temporary or here to stay?
The experts claim it’s just a temporary spike, but for students of history, increasing inflation and weakening economy seem awfully similar to the Great Stagflation that afflicted the country in the 1970s. At the time, the experts said it was economically impossible to have high inflation with low economic growth, but that’s precisely what happened. They were wrong then. Are they wrong now?