- - Sunday, January 3, 2016


The famed satirist Aldous Huxley once remarked that “experience is not what happens to a man; it is what a man does with what happens to him.” Thus, as we look forward to 2016, we should do so while keeping in mind the lessons that past years of experience have taught us.

The first thing that 2015 taught us is that predictions of future events almost never conform to reality. For example, it was widely predicted that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s entrance into the presidential race would result in a clash of political dynasties, and he and Hillary Clinton both would emerge victorious in their respective primary contests. However, that “foregone” conclusion has been upended by the rise of the outsider candidates, led by political novices Donald Trump and Ben Carson.

Probably the biggest theme of 2016 is that it is an election year. We will see massive spending on political campaigns, a cavalcade of punditry and the usual spate of promises and dire warnings of impending doom. Given the political tension and gridlock of the past four years, it is unlikely that the new president will be elected with a broad mandate as in past years.

But 2016 also will likely be a referendum on the political climate of post-civil rights America. The culture wars and the racial conflicts that have come to the forefront in 2015 will play themselves out in interesting ways.

The lower circuit courts paved the way for the Supreme Court to hear another set of cases related to the Hobby Lobby decision, this time focusing on the Little Sisters of the Poor and whether exemptions for employer-sponsored contraception coverage for closely held corporations also extends to religious nonprofits including hospitals and universities. The growing tension between ever-expanding government and the diminishing private sphere is something to look out for in 2016.

On a related note, racial tensions surrounding the use of force by police in minority communities will pit the issue of crime against the issue of civil liberties. Increased pressure for police accountability and transparency comes in the wake of the emerging surveillance state. Cameras are now pretty much ubiquitous, including on the bodies of law enforcement officers themselves. An unprecedented number of high-profile cases involve officers being indicted for excessive force against civilians, with important implications likely for how law enforcement is conducted in the future, especially as the legal framework governing police use of force rapidly evolves. One wonders how actual policing — training, tactics and operational procedures — will change in light of the fact an officer’s version of events will increasingly matter less than in the past.

But experience also teaches us that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Thus, while a coalition of nations has now coalesced in a fight against the scourge of Islamist extremism, we should not expect that battle to be won in 2016.

France, which refused to join the Middle East war that toppled Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, now appears to be eager to take the fight to the enemy. In the aftermath of attacks on its own soil, its stance regarding the threat of Islamic extremism has changed from tepid to quite aggressive.

But don’t expect a resolution to the Middle East quagmire this year; this is a millennial struggle that will likely continue to rage on. However, 2016 may see a less accommodating stance toward immigrants on the part of Europe — which fears that large numbers of Muslim immigrants could not only pose potential security risks, but also disrupt the cultural dynamics of the continent.

Russia’s adventures in Syria will not bode well for Russia itself or the Middle East in 2016. It has waded into the fray without building the necessary international support for its efforts, and the cost to Russia’s already-faltering economy could prove insurmountable as Russia is no longer a world superpower but a regional power with globalist tastes. The Kremlin cannot sustain a protracted war in the Middle East and risks political turmoil at home as it commits precious resources to a war with little upside in the minds of everyday Russians.

This latest adventure reveals Vladimir Putin’s desperation to remain relevant and avoid a power transition that might not only reveal the voluminous political skeletons in his closet, but also potentially expose Mr. Putin himself to the same sort of ruthless persecution he has meted out upon his political enemies over the preceding decades. Look for a political shift in Russia in 2016.

All these issues offer both opportunities and challenges for those who are exposed by virtue of necessity or adventure. But as with all experiences, it is ultimately what we learn about ourselves in the process that is likely to matter most in the end.

Armstrong Williams is sole owner/manager of Howard Stirk Holdings and executive editor of American CurrentSee online magazine.

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