Top Stories of 2020

Trump’s madness, Biden’s plans, Lukashenko under pressure and statism’s return in the UK.

At least 2020 ended well.

Donald Trump lost reelection. The European Union agreed an historic €750 billion coronavirus recovery fund in addition to €1.1 trillion in long-term spending that includes funding for a European Green Deal. Britain and the EU negotiated a post-Brexit trade agreement at the last minute. COVID-19 vaccines were developed in record pace that should allow a return to normalcy in the new year.

Before we close the book on this annus horribilis, a look back at our most important stories of 2020.

The American Dream Could Use Some European Inspiration

Copenhagen Denmark
Cyclists in Copenhagen, Denmark (iStock/Leo Patrizi)

Bernie Sanders’ popularity and the Democratic Party’s lurch to the left convinced me to take a closer look at how the Scandinavian countries he cites as inspiration have dealt with child and health care, housing and student loans, which are the four main drivers of America’s affordability crisis.

The answer isn’t “socialism”. The economies of Northern Europe are among the most competitive in the world. The trick is mixing a dynamic free-market economy with social protections. That is something America can do as well.

There is a tradeoff, though: higher taxes. Read more

Trump Once Again Throws Europe Under the Bus

Donald Trump Vladimir Putin
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Vladimir Putin of Russia answer questions from reporters in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

When Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed reciprocal flights over military facilities, in May, I listed the many ways in which he had consistently sided against Europe and Europe’s interests — from pulling out of two nuclear treaties with Russia to raising tariffs on European goods to throwing doubt of his commitment to the security of NATO. Read more

Trump’s Geopolitical Madness

Donald Trump Emmanuel Macron
Presidents Donald Trump of the United States and Emmanuel Macron of France watch a flyover of American F-15s in Normandy, June 6, 2019 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

What made Trump’s foreign policy so exasperating is that he ignored all the lessons of the twentieth century.

America’s overriding strategic priority for a century was to prevent the emergence of a power bloc in Eurasia that could dominate the continent, and thus challenge North America, yet Trump encouraged Sino-Russian rapprochement.

America learned in two world wars and the Cold War that it could contain Eurasian land power by allying with the continent’s many coastal states, yet Trump disparaged democratic allies in East Asia and Europe.

America learned that power needs to be married with legitimacy; that in order for countries to willingly subject themselves to the liberal world order, America needs to respect the same rules it imposes on others. Trump put “America first”. Read more

EU Once Again Proves the Doomsayers Wrong

Mark Rutte Pedro Sánchez Charles Michel
Prime Ministers Mark Rutte of the Netherlands and Pedro Sánchez of Spain speak with European Council president Charles Michel in Brussels, July 20 (European Council)

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic this summer, the usual suspects — American conservatives, British tabloids, Russian propaganda channels and anxious Europhiles — predicted the EU’s imminent demise. “Frugal” Austria, Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden were singled out for insisting that pandemic aid needed to be at least partly paid back and tied to reforms.

Some people never learn. We hear the same do-or-die rhetoric in every crisis, and every time the EU finds a reasonable compromise and takes another step toward closer integration. In this case, a €750 billion recovery fund with half the money coming from EU-issued bonds.

Do you think the doomsayers will dial it down next time? Nah. Read more

What Biden Wants

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

When Joe Biden wrapped up his party’s presidential nomination in August, I took an in-depth look at his policies and found that, for an alleged centrist, the Democrat has surprisingly left-wing plans.

Biden wants to expand tax credits for child and health care; give parents twelve weeks of paid family leave; invest $2 trillion in the green economy over four years; raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour; make it easier for workers to unionize; define “gig economy” workers as employees; triple spending on primary education; make public university free for families with incomes under $125,000; introduce a Medicare-like public health insurance option; expand housing vouchers; increase refugee admissions; decriminalize the use of cannabis; end incarceration for drug offenses; ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; increase corporate tax from 21 to 28 percent; and tax capital gains as ordinary income.

If that’s considered a centrist agenda, it tells us more about the American left than it does about Biden. Read more

Don’t Defund the Police

Los Angeles California police
Mounted police in Los Angeles, California, November 27, 2015 (Thomas Hawk)

Policing in America is broken. I didn’t realize just how broken until George Floyd was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis and I started investigating for this article.

Police kill about 1,700 Americans per year, making them responsible for one in twelve violent deaths. Nearly one in two victims of police shootings are mentally ill or under the influence of drugs. Black men in America are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by police than white men.

The solution is not to “defund the police”. Some European countries spend more on police, others spend less. Yet they all have lower crime and far less police violence.

The problem is that American police are undertrained and what training they do receive is heavy on repression and violent crime when they will spend most of their time dealing with nonviolent offenders. Add to that the militarization of the police and the proliferation of firearms in America and routine arrests and traffic stops will frequently escalate into shooting matches and murder. Read more

Belarus’ Lukashenko Under Pressure from All Sides

Mike Pompeo Alexander Lukashenko
American secretary of state Mike Pompeo meets with President Alexander Lukashenko and other Belarusian officials in Minsk, February 1 (State Department/Ron Przysucha)

One of the big unresolved stories of 2020 is the fate of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko, who still faces the largest protests against him in 26 years.

Nemanja Popović explained that Europe’s last dictator was under pressure from two sides: at home, for his mishandling of COVID-19, and from Russia, where Vladimir Putin has tired of his nominal ally’s independent-mindedness. Read more

How to Restore American Democracy After Trump

United States Capitol Washington
United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages)

It has become a cliché to argue that defeating Trump was only the first step to restoring American democracy, but I agree. His presidency exposed and exacerbated fundamental weaknesses in the system.

I propose five reforms to restore fairness, restore balance between the three branches of government and reverse the polarization that has made it impossible for the two parties to compromise on everything from climate change to gun laws to health care to immigration: abolish the Electoral College; add states; put Congress first; make it easier to remove the president; and abolish the two parties. Read more

Why Europe Needs Its Own Army

Polish tank
NATO troops participate in a military exercise on the German-Polish border, June 18, 2015 (NATO)

Europe finally started to take its own defense seriously in 2020. With the UK leaving the EU, the main obstacle to closer military integration was removed.

Igor Dordevic argued American disinterest isn’t the only reason to form a European army; it would also allow Europe to focus on its own strategic priorities and avoid being dragged into American-led wars that do little to enhance European security. Read more

Statism Makes a Comeback in the United Kingdom

Cabinet Office London England
The British flag flies over the Cabinet Office in London, England (Shutterstock/Willy Barton)

The dual shock of coronavirus and Brexit has given statism a new lease on life in the land of Margaret Thatcher.

A generous furlough scheme, modeled on Germany’s famed Kurzarbeit, could be a sign of things to come. David Downing expects the government’s role will grow in housing, industry and rail. Read more

English-Language Media Blame France for Islamic Terrorism

Place Masséna Nice France
Place Masséna in Nice, France, April 29, 2014 (iStock/Rossella De Berti)

You would think the murder of three Christian worshippers in Nice, coming on the heels of the beheading of a schoolteacher in a Parisian suburb, would have convinced American and British journalists that France really has an Islamic terrorism problem, and it’s not a figment of President Emmanuel Macron’s imagination.

But no.

The English-language press lost its mind in the last few months of 2020, when it blamed Macron of “cracking down” on France’s entire Muslim community and “whipping up anti-Muslim hysteria,” which was both disproportionate to his policies and put the cart before the horse: as if Macron’s response provoked the terrorists and not the other way around. Read more