“What a strange world.” Lately, it seems I hear comments like this several times a week.
For those of us who work in journalism, covering an ongoing war, an invasion, a terror alert, two hurricanes and three presidential speeches – all within a few days’ time – may be business as usual. It is, however, getting harder and harder to explain why the world seems to grow messier all the time.
Still, I must admit that I prefer today’s disorder over the upheaval we experienced during the Cold War. Back then, as tensions reached critical levels between the United States and the Soviet Union, the planet was divided into two blocs: those who sided with the Americans and those who sided with the Soviets. The conflict might have been simpler to explain, but we were all living in fear of nuclear war.
These days, even President Barack Obama – a former college professor and an eloquent speaker – is having a hard time explaining why the world appears so particularly grim and out of control. He has attributed this perception to the rapid spread of information: “If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart,” Obama said during a speech in August at a Democratic fundraiser. “The truth of the matter is that the world has always been messy. In part, we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through.”
A significant portion of the world’s population used to believe that the United States, the world’s only superpower, could create order where there was none, and that an American president could conjure solutions and single-handedly implement them around the globe. But Obama can’t solve the world’s major problems alone. He can’t, for instance, stop Russia from invading Ukraine. He can’t compel the Israelis and Palestinians to make peace. And he doesn’t want to mire the United States in a conflict that could end up like the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan – hence his recent acknowledgment that he doesn’t have a particular strategy to deal with the Islamic State’s growing influence in Syria.
Of course, the recent strife around the world can’t be attributed solely to the United States’ diminishing global influence. In reporting the news over the past 30 years, I have noticed three major political trends that have all contributed to today’s messy state of affairs.
First, emerging new powers are challenging America’s hegemony. Russian President Vladimir Putin is testing American policy with his involvement in Ukraine; the expanding influence of China is testing the United States’ ties to the East; and the rising regional economic power of nations like the BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – is challenging the United States’ superpower status. The United States can no longer play the role of the lone ranger; we are transitioning from a unipolar world to a multipolar one.
Second, Democratic ideals are being attacked from all sides. The Arab Spring has ended, and a totalitarian winter has set in; the governments of Cuba and Venezuela endure as monuments to authoritarianism; and extremist Islamic groups, from Hamas to the Islamic State to al-Qaeda, are still trying to force their ruthless vision on the world. Totalitarian ideals are experiencing a renaissance, as are radical groups who will not tolerate pluralism, individual liberties or dissent.
Finally, violent groups are waging an “asymmetric war” against nations. Drug dealers and terrorists alike have adopted the position that a few individuals can cause mass destruction, so they use violence, kidnapping, rape, threats and extortion to attack enormous governments and institutions. The Sept. 11 attacks, in which 19 terrorists in four planes killed almost 3,000 Americans, serve as their inspiration. This is why Britain recently alerted its citizens to watch for terrorist activity, and why the United States was forced to strike Islamic State militants after the journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff were executed.
But history has taught us that such upheaval is never permanent. Yes, we are living in a strange world, but what is broken can indeed be fixed. There is hope.
Jorge Ramos, an Emmy Award-winning journalist, is the host of Fusion’s new television news show, “America With Jorge Ramos,” and is a news anchor on the Univision Network. Originally from Mexico and now based in Florida, Ramos is the author of nine best-selling books, most recently, “A Country for All: An Immigrant Manifesto.”