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A Perilous World
Other countries have not stood idly by waiting for us to figure things out
There has been a tendency over the last several years for the United States to be consumed with domestic matters, and for good reason. The fractious political battles, orchestrated and stoked by Donald Trump, were, and remain, a serious cause of concern. We ask ourselves: What kind of nation are we? Who are our fellow Americans? Is the very idea of this country as a multiethnic, multiracial democratic republic in jeopardy?
With his toxic mixture of spectacle and peril, Trump produces a volume of scandal, lies, and outrage that might be unprecedented in American history. The sheer magnitude of his and his enablers’ assaults on long-cherished democratic values — punctuated by bigotry and ignorance — overwhelms our news cycles.
Humans have a natural tendency to be most concerned with what is taking place closest to us. That inclination applies to both our personal and professional lives, and it is understandable that it extends to our consumption of information — especially when our homefront seems so fraught.
As journalists, you learn that international stories tend to be a harder sell for readers and viewers. “If you lead foreign, you lose,” is a tacit industry nod to the intersection between ratings and coverage decisions at news organizations.
But even as we have convulsed around questions of our national identity and a precarious future, other countries have not stood idly by waiting for us to figure things out. And in a world further removed from the catastrophic global wars and crises of the 20th century and increasingly interconnected, we will have to learn anew how we can live together on this precious little planet.
As a member of the Steady community, you may be more knowledgeable about what is going on around the globe than are many others. And that means you may also already feel cause for considerable alarm.
Any discussion of the international environment must start with the environment itself — namely the global climate crisis. From sea level rise to expanding drought and extreme weather to the need to mitigate future dislocation and destruction, our warming and more volatile planet will increasingly shape the stability of our economic, political, and social structures. As people flee parched farms and flooded shorelines, as pathogens and invasive species spread, as our demands for cleaner energy grow, and as many more seismic changes arise, how we live, where, and with whom will undergo rapid transformation. This will create an added burden to a global system already straining under stress.
After the end of the Cold War, there was hope that we as a global community had entered a new chapter of human history in which democracy was ascendant and nations no longer sought power and influence by territorial expansion. Sadly, we now see a rise of autocracy around the world. And in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the saber rattling of China, we unfortunately face a level of military threats — including even the potential for a world war — not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
During the bipolarity of the Cold War, the decisions coming out of Moscow and Washington shaped global events. Even though the threat of nuclear annihilation hung over those decades, there was also a sense that one could understand much of what was taking place overseas through the lens of what it meant for the two great powers. Of course, this was always far too simplistic a mindset; the world is complicated. And we can see that even better now.
From the isolation and nuclear posturing of North Korea, to the war in Yemen, to new alliances in the Middle East, to unrest in Somalia and Sudan, to the violent crackdown on protesters in Iran, it is not difficult to look around the planet and see reason to worry. First and foremost, we should acknowledge the human suffering that is occurring. We should recognize how instability can spread like a virus. And in light of the ongoing global pandemic, we should not minimize how difficult it is to quarantine damage and quell destruction.
At the same time, we can see many reasons for hope. The bravery of the Ukrainian people and the international community's rallying to their defense — with leadership from the Biden administration — is inspiring and could lead to a safer and more secure Europe. The courage of the protesters in Iran is also deeply moving. They should be equally supported by the rest of the world.
On the climate front, innovations in clean energy are occurring at a faster pace than almost anyone imagined. The election of a new president in Brazil means the Amazon rainforest might be better protected. And again, the leadership of President Biden, with the most ambitious climate bill in American history, has reset our own nation’s forward path.
We intuitively know that foreign affairs are important, but in the recent midterm elections, it is unlikely that many voters made their decisions based on what was happening outside of the United States. This vote was about deciding which country we are going to be. How that matter is resolved will in turn shape the rest of our planet in profound ways. The influence of the United States remains that powerful.
Whether we will push back against autocracy or accept it, whether we will try to heal our planet or continue to despoil it, whether we will champion human rights or ignore them, whether we will try to build stability or foment chaos — these are the decisions that other nations are waiting to hear.
The world is precarious. That means it is balanced on the razor’s edge of danger. It also means it can be made much better. International news and global affairs don’t drive a lot of discussion in today's political debates, but the future of our planet and our relationships with our fellow nations are at stake and at risk. Votes for democracy here at home are also votes for a more democratic, free, just, and secure world.
If there are international stories that particularly attract your attention, we encourage you to share them with the Steady community in the comments section.
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