West must bridge its internal divides or risk becoming irrelevant

The West has rightly been focused on the political, economic and security-related issues posed by China. Other rising nations, such as India, are destined to become similar challenges for the West.

In assessing the status quo, the chances of the West maintaining its role in the world, regardless of the challenges posed by external factors, do not look bright. This is not because the West will struggle to compete with China and other rising actors in terms of economic, military or soft power, but due to its failure to tackle internal political, cultural and generational struggles.

The primary case study for this is the United States. Its political system is essentially broken. An unprecedented degree of tribalism has paralysed the legislative branch, Congress, on too many occasions. The Supreme Court’s approval rating continues to slump. According to a recent FiveThirtyEight poll, only 34.9 per cent of Americans approve of the nation’s highest court, suggesting an overall loss of trust in the court system.

The executive branch is facing its biggest challenge yet, with the coming presidential elections in November and a potential return of insurrectionist Donald Trump. Above all, the country is arguably the most divided it has been since the civil war. In a nation where too many people carry machine guns with pride, maintaining the peace in an already very volatile situation becomes even more challenging.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom continues to deal with the Brexit fallout. The economy is still nowhere near where it was before Brexit, although the latest figures suggest an end to the technical recession the country has been facing. Westminster has been preoccupied with its own problems.

Over the past eight years, the UK has had five prime ministers. A sixth one is highly likely this year as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak seems destined to lose his premiership in a general election, with the Conservative Party’s prospects looking grim in opinion polls. Whether a Labour government can produce much-needed stability is also in doubt.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak addresses the House of Commons in London on April 15. Photo: Reuters/UK Parliament

Germany, Europe’s de facto leader, had the weakest economic performance among its large euro zone peers last year, dampened by high energy costs, feeble global orders and record-high interest rates. Long-term structural issues related to Germany’s workforce and infrastructure have still not been solved.

According to the International Monetary Fund, Germany was the only G7 economy to shrink in 2023. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his government find themselves in such a suboptimal position that they have to cosy up to China to keep exports high. Growth is expected to remain below the average of 1.4 per cent for advanced economies in 2024.

And then there is the eroding social cohesion due to the state of the economy and disastrous immigration policies over the past years which have allowed far-right parties to become a prominent feature in politics again.

But whether it is the decay of political institutions, the increased division that unmitigated migration in Europe has ushered in or fatalism about climate change, the West no longer seems able to apply rationality when it comes to its own issues, never mind a common denominator.



Germany arrests 25 suspected far-right extremists for alleged plot to overthrow government

Germany arrests 25 suspected far-right extremists for alleged plot to overthrow government

So many people have an extreme viewpoint and are incapable of even considering the arguments of the other side, regardless of their merits. The extreme polarisation and accompanying violent language that has characterised social media for years has spilled over into the offline world.

The most recent example of this is the student protests in the aforementioned nations alike. While the protests are a response to Israel’s war in Gaza, campuses have also seen the expression of antisemeitc worldviews.

Now, student protests are not a new phenomenon. In the 1960s, American students protested against social injustices, such as the appalling treatment of African-Americans and the Vietnam war. But unlike in the 60s, today’s protests aren’t a contest of ideas. There is no debate to be had.

Campus environments have de facto become unsafe for Jewish students. Various reports suggest that Jewish students have been deliberately targeted. Several universities have decided to cancel their main graduation ceremonies.

These developments sound even more worrying on a macro level. Universities are supposed to be the most liberal of spaces where free thinking and the exchange of ideas not only occur but are encouraged. It seems like that’s no longer the case.

For far too long, this noble idea about Western educational institutions has continued to erode, now culminating in some American and European students sympathising not only with Palestinians but with Hamas, which has been labelled a terrorist group by many countries and was responsible for the atrocities committed on October 7.

These students are fortunately a minority, but a loud one. What does it say about Western societies if a group of young people side with Hamas while pushing for Marxism – especially when it has been capitalism and democracy that allows them to pursue their dreams and to voice their opinions in the first place?

There is no easy fix for these issues, and perhaps none at all, as this clash between cultures and the battle between generations will only continue.

But if people standing with Hamas are supposed to be the future and to usher Western nations into the next century, we cannot win the challenges of the future. This requires overcoming internal struggles first. But we are utterly failing right now.

Thomas O. Falk is a journalist and political analyst who writes about German, British, and US politics



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