Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the launch ceremony of the Titan-Polymer plant via videoconference in St. Petersburg, Russia, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2022. Credit: Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

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Some years are sure to end up in historical memory. 2022 is one of them.

Russia launched a land war in Europe long after people thought that the Second World War had ended such conflicts.

The economy underwent basic changes as people began to deal with the true costs of what they need and want.

And the dominance of one of America’s most disruptive political figures began to disintegrate.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came as a big surprise. With the end of the Soviet Union, Russia ceased to be seen as a threat to the rest of Europe. It was invited to join the club of the world’s major economies. But participation did not align with its desire to remain one of the world’s two superpowers, and it was kicked out of the club.

Russia, whose main assets are nuclear weapons and a large population, sought to recover lost Soviet territory, capped by its Ukraine invasion. It apparently expected that its formidable army and lack of interest in the West would make a takeover easy.

Heroically defending their land, the Ukrainians taught both Russia and the world a lesson. They revealed Russia’s military as a sham. Whatever the outcome of the war, Russia has little chance of recovering its superpower role. As Russia’s weakness became obvious, China emerged as the leading authoritarian power and the chief challenger to the U.S. and its allies.

American consumers are bargain hunters, and China enhanced its power by selling goods at low prices, collecting dollars to finance its world expansion. But the spread of COVID-19 interrupted trade flows from China, and U.S. leaders became increasingly aware that American customers were financing the quest for power of their country’s chief rival.

Parallel to this development, the unmanaged influx of immigrants had become a major concern in the U.S. and Europe. Though  millions sought unauthorized entry, the lost contribution of immigrants as workers and consumers became more obvious. Workers demanded higher pay, shortages developed and prices climbed.

Some may still believe that the world economy is merely passing through a difficult and stressful period, but that it will soon return to normal. Inflation will slow, but prices won’t retreat and business will not pick up where it left off. Such thinking misses some clear reasons that a new economy has been emerging in 2022.

Pay increases will not be rolled back. Many people have been seriously underpaid and they have implicitly joined what amounts to an invisible national labor union. They withhold their labor unless they get better pay and working conditions.

Countries are getting more serious about climate change. Turning environmental damage around will make goods and services more expensive. U.S. production costs will initially be higher than were charges on imports from China, which despoils the environment while exploiting its workers.

Paying increased labor costs, less dependence on cheap Chinese imports, and environmental improvement action will keep prices from dropping back. People may have enough money to meet their needs but not to satisfy all of their wishes. This new economy could last for decades.

Former President Donald Trump probably changed the U.S. and its world standing in a brief period more than all but a few previous presidents. (He would say more than any of them.)  He has his MAGA supporters. Like a stopped clock that is right twice a day, he has some accomplishments. But they are byproducts of a destructive ego, and he has proved dangerous to his country.

His greatest faults have been giving comfort to bigotry and placing his own ambition and interests above the values and norms of the country he was elected to lead. He chillingly proposed the “termination” of the Constitution so he could seize the presidency he knew he had not won. He encouraged irresponsible officials to dismantle essential constitutional practices.

His combination of ignorance and arrogance came up short. In Maine, former Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who had been an ardent ally of Trump, chose to challenge Gov. Janet Mills, the Democratic incumbent. His record, irresponsibly flaunting the will of the people, would be pitted against her record as a rightward-leaning, moderate Democrat.

Her victory was the hard evidence of Trump’s decline. Mills had a mainly positive, though not flawless, record to run on, but LePage was stuck with his Trump-like legacy. If he tried to distance himself from his previous positions, it only looked like opportunism, which did not help.

This year, Trump was losing in the judicial system and key Trumpers like LePage were losing at the ballot box. Mills showed that voters would support steady progress over chaos and controversy. In Maine and elsewhere, a brief political era was ending.

Valiant Ukraine and failing Russia, the emergence of a new economy and the descent of Trump combined to make 2022 an historic year.

 

 

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Gordon Weil, Opinion contributor

Gordon L. Weil formerly wrote for the Washington Post and other newspapers, served on the U.S. Senate and EU staffs, headed Maine state agencies and was a Harpswell selectman.