By Sharon Jones
Events this year seem to be indicating a 50-year cycle has come that some political scientists think will be a period of civil unrest and societal upheaval much like the 1960’s. Already the United States is seeing the most contentious and crass presidential nomination battle in its history. Polarization has marked the political scene for years and social media looks like a battleground of swear words and insults.
2017 could be a big and tumultuous year.
The years since the economic meltdown of 2008 have provided fertile ground to sow the seeds of discontentment. Increasing economic disparity has become an important theme while the Wall Street executives behind the 2008 melt down have walked away with their bonuses intact. The United States has seen a rise in the service sector jobs but is failing to create the positions that once pulled people from poverty. College graduates, burdened by massive student debt, are finding that gaining meaningful employment is difficult and feel left behind. Meanwhile corporations have enjoyed years of record profits.
The topic of race has once again come to the forefront as African Americans were hit the hardest by the recession. Incidents such as the Ferguson and Baltimore riots have highlighted a growing discontentment not just with police treatment but systemic abuses all together. The disparities in employment, incarceration rates and gentrification of cities, are creating a new powder keg that is highlighted in the Black Lives Matter movement.
Congress has been at its lowest favorability ratings in its history, barely cracking double digits at 14 percent. Meanwhile the frontrunners for the presidential nomination of both parties have negative favorability ratings. The election of either candidate to the office of the Presidency would give the opposition something to rally around.
We are already seeing the violence associated with the Trump campaign and the reaction of protest that occurred in Chicago. Donald Trump has managed to rile up unrest not only under the Republicans but is also motivating those on the left. The potential for an undecided and brokered Republican convention could spell additional pressure.
Bernie Sanders does enjoy positive favorability ratings and his recent upset in Michigan means his campaign is still very much in the game. Like Trump, Sanders represents a growing discontentment with the way things currently are in the United States. It is possible that the Democrats could see a contentious convention as well.
Internationally, many economies are struggling with a slowdown in China looming and many emerging economies suffering from low commodities prices. Russia has been in a full blown recession for the last year and Vladimir Putin continues to be an aggressor on the world stage. Britain is weighing an exit from the European Union. The Syrian conflict has created waves of refugees that have further divided peoples in Europe and the U.S.
With the potential for a worldwide recession looming and its possible spillover into the U.S. economy, unrest would come from the middle and lower classes once again being disproportionately affected. The angst previously represented in the Occupy movement would once again come to a head. It is no surprise that last summer the billionaire owner of Cartier, Johann Rupert warned of pending social unrest fueled by the world’s massive and growing wealth gap.
It seems like the perfect storm is forming in 2016 that could set off a period of civil unrest that has been 3 decades in the making. In an increasingly connected world, such a period might not be limited to just one country. While civil unrest can be scary, it might also prompt systematic reforms that need to happen in order to stem a more violent upheaval if left unchecked.
Every action has a reaction. It seems the current actions spawned from discontentment might spell a turbulent and societally disruptive 2017. The only question is, what will this period of civil unrest produce?
Sharon Jones is a contributor to zenruption and has her degree in political science. As a frequent contributor to our politics section, she is anxiously watching the current state of our world and sees the potential for positive changes.
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial license