Earlier this year, everybody’s second-favorite Kardashian that’s not actually a Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, realized something.
She realized that 2016 would be the year of realizations, and she divulged this realization to the world in a seminal New Year’s episode of her YouTube vlog series, KYLIE UP CLOSE.
“I feel like every year has a new energy, and I feel like this year is really about, like, the year of realizing stuff. And everyone around me, we’re all just, like, realizing things,” she said with a reasoned introspection reminiscent of Paris Hilton.
While it may sound vapid on the surface, K-Jen was right: 2016 was marching forth with a truckload of uncomfortable realizations, flinging them at our faces like bricks.
The truths that we had ignored while agonizing over Snapchat filters rose to the surface, and this year leaves a world that looks far different to the one that we welcomed it into. Here are some of the things the West has collectively realized in 2016.
The Post-Cold War Political Era is Over
When the Iron Curtain came crashing down in the late ‘80s, setting off an East-bound domino effect that would conclude with the toppling of the Soviet Union, famed political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, declared these events marked “the end of history,” and the beginning of a new post-ideological era. That political era, we realized, is now over.
The Brexit vote and Trump’s election victory were a clear sign that the unquestioned rule of the globalized, neoliberal order that has reigned supreme for the past 27 years is finished.
The Maastricht treaty that brought the EU’s modern incarnation into being was signed in 1992 –the same year Bill Clinton was elected – and in Britain it will soon be broken.
In the U.S., meanwhile, there’s a bitter symmetry to the fact that it was Hillary Clinton that was vanquished at the polls, marking an explicit rejection of the era that started with her husband, one that was defined by her own “third way” brand of politics.
The Experts Know Nothing
The people in charge, those that are supposed to know what they’re doing, the ones that we thought had a monopoly on all the answers, have been exposed as completely clueless as the rest of us, scrambling around like rodents on this rudderless, sinking ship that we call Western civilization.
This spanned from pollsters on both sides of the Atlantic that called it so wrong to now-former British prime minister David Cameron, who thought he was making an empty promise on an EU referendum that he would never be in a position to deliver, all the way to a Democratic party that sabotaged Bernie Sanders in favor of the ultimate establishment candidate in a year defined by anti-establishment resentment.
The Republican establishment wasn’t any better, with many abandoning Trump, convinced that he was leading the party into an election day massacre. And like the rest of them, we in the media never saw it coming. Even the well-oiled machine of the Clinton campaign got beat by amateurs. Everybody that should’ve been right was utterly wrong. We fucked up. Collectively, everybody fucked it completely.
It was a losing-our-religion moment for the West, where we all realized that the structures and systems that supposedly govern our world are feeble and powerless against the fundamental chaos of reality.
Facts Don’t Matter Anymore
The Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year for 2016 is “post-truth” because this year will be regarded as the moment we became aware of the post-truth era. But what is post-truth?
Post-truth is fake news that drives unhinged men with the right to bear arms to open fire on a pizzeria after they read on the internet that Hillary Clinton was using it as a base for a pedophile sex ring.
Michael Gove, former UK justice secretary and prominent Brexit campaigner, highlighted the post-truth mood of the nation when he told the BBC that “people in this country have had enough of experts.” The Brexit bus, which promised an extra £350 million funding every week for the National Health Service once Britain left the EU, only to have that promise dumped as soon as the result came in, is post-truth.
In our post-truth world facts don’t matter anymore. The world’s most esteemed factual institutions like the New York Times and The Guardian are referred to as “the mainstream media” with contemptuous suspicion.
Life-long politicians with four decades of public service behind them are rejected in favor of anti-intellectual TV stars. Why? Because in the post-truth era education, qualifications, knowledge, intellect, and most of all, the truth, don’t matter.
We Live in Parallel Partisan Worlds
After Trump’s election win, journalists, analysts, commentators and all the people charged with making sense of things tried to figure out how no one managed to spot the impending political tsunami that just washed away civilized discourse. A lot of them pointed to the social media filter bubble.
To shorten a very long story, Western countries are becoming increasingly divided on every possible front. The economic divisions have been evident for years, but what was less clear was how divided we are along educational fault lines – university-educated people largely socialize with other university-educated people.
City dwellers have little, and often no contact, with rural voters. Liberals couldn’t fathom why anybody would vote for an overtly misogynistic, latently racist boor like Trump, because many of them had never met a Trump voter before.
Social media takes these natural divisions and exasperates them by creating filtered bubbles that divert clashing opinions away from each other. Facebook can deduce your political leanings from the statuses you post and the links that you share, and its information bubble fills your feed with content that you’re likely to enjoy and agree with.
As such, is it any wonder why so many of us –particularly those of us who live in cosmopolitan urban centers– couldn’t begin to comprehend how Britain and America voted the way they did? Our contact with people who disagree with us is kept to a minimum, warping our perception of the world to the point of make believe.
Bigotry is Okay Again
Even just a few years ago, a racist slip of the tongue could instantaneously bury a career that took decades to build. In most circles (or, cosmopolitan circles, rather), bigots were only marginally more tolerated than child molesters.
In 2014, Los Angeles Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, was forced to sell his NBA franchise and banned from the sport for life after a tape emerged where he told his mistress to not associate with “black people” publicly. Michael Richards, best known for his role as Cosmo Kramer in Seinfeld, became a modern leper after bursting into a racist tirade at a standup gig.
The latter incident inspired the classic 2007 South Park episode, “With Apologies to Jesse Jackson,” which illustrated how widely (and rightly) reviled prejudice has become in the modern world. But then Donald Trump won the presidency by fighting a campaign so unabashedly racist that it attracted the endorsement of neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.
Stephen Bannon, the former head of Breitbart, a media organization so far to the right that it makes Fox News look like a reading of The Vagina Monologues by Lena Dunham, became his campaign manager and will now serve as his closest advisor in the White House. In 2016 we realized that bigotry isn’t merely tolerated, it’s rewarded.
Techno-capitalism isn’t Working
The economic crash of 2007 wasn’t a blip, it was a stroke, and capitalism has been bleeding from the brain ever since. The globalized neoliberal consensus has benefitted the few at the expense of the many, and the electorate have finally responded with a howling merciless rage after being ignored for too long.
Trump and Britain’s Nigel Farage spoke to voters’ inner racist by blaming immigrants, NAFTA and refugees, but more manufacturing jobs have been lost in the U.S. to automation than free trade or cheap foreign labor.
In Europe, tech giants like Google and Apple exploit loopholes to avoid paying tens of billions in tax, depriving public services of funding and weakening them far more than immigrants ever could.
And yet the tech industry still pushes on with Artificial Intelligence, which will decimate both white and blue-collar employment alike. Self-driving trucks will eliminate 1.7 million jobs in America – roughly 1% of the workforce, with a knock-on effect that hurts petrol stations, diners and numerous other businesses along the trucking route – yet it’s still going to happen.
Our planet’s dominant economic model is broken, and unfettered technological progress comes at a steep human cost. Neither can continue the way it has.
This is one thing on this list that not everyone has quite realized yet, but some are slowly waking up to. Republican strategist Steve Schmidt is one, who appeared on MSNBC on the eve of Election Day, saying:
“Politics has been defined in our lifetimes down the 50 yard line. We debate right and left between the 45’s, but increasingly what I think you will see is a lateral, horizontal line. Above that line are the people who have benefited from the technological revolution and benefited from globalization. Below it are the people who have been left behind. And I think that’s going to be the new fault line in American politics.”
And if we fail to realize this, then the events of 2016 are merely the precursor to much bigger, uglier realizations to come.
The views and opinions expressed in this piece are those solely of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of Highsnobiety as a whole.
Terry Richardson / Galore Mag