It feels like 2016 is never-ending.
As I sit here writing my final column of the year I’m looking at the news: 12 killed in a lorry attack on a Berlin Christmas Market and the Russian ambassador shot dead in Turkey.
In the last 12 months, the UK voted to leave the EU, Donald Trump was elected President of the US, terror attacks intensified around the world, and we saw the human tragedy of Aleppo unfold.
About 350,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Europe this year, a sharp decline from 2015 when more than 1m people arrived – but many didn’t make the journey. The arrival of refugees in Europe made many citizens question their allegiances and the rise of right-wing anti-immigration parties continued to spread across the continent.
As for our cultural icons, both Prince and David Bowie died in 2016.
It was a surprising year, full of uncertainties and question marks. Why didn’t we predict Brexit? Why did we underestimate Trump? We’ve discussed populism and elitism ad nauseam in the last six months but are actually none the wiser as to the cause of these seismic events or what politicians can do to quell voter anger.
I’ve been told over and over that Trump was elected because he wasn’t a “phoney”, because he connected with real Americans in a way that Hillary Clinton was incapable of. In many ways he reminds me a lot of Berlusconi. He shoots from the hip, speaks like he’s your mate down the pub and, when he’s attacked by someone, retaliates with nuclear force.
It’s very easy in this new world to be confused by what’s right or wrong, to question both real and fake news.
One thing is for sure, there are more anxious people than 12 months ago, and we’ve seen deep division within our societies. An insider in Brussels told me he’d rarely seen such a lack of common purpose among the heads of state in the European Union. Historians tell me this is the cycle of humanity: in the aftermath of war, regions come together. But prolonged peace provokes complacency, friction emerges in nationalist movements, and isolation triumphs over globalism; a common sense of belonging is lost.
In 2017 our leaders may not be the wisest or the best-educated, but even if they were elected on a platform of protest, we should give them a chance. Perhaps, because they were seemingly brought to power by voters that have in the past been ignored, we should give them even more of a chance. We should also demand of our leaders that they have a moral compass and we should judge them by reference to that.
In the first nine months of 2017 three countries go to the polls: the Dutch, French and Germans – and there is the possibility of early elections in Italy.
The outcome of the elections in each of these countries represents risks for the stability of Europe, as they all have anti-establishment, anti-immigration, anti-European parties that are gaining traction and support. But what is more concerning is that these anti-establishment leaders may be elected on the basis of promises that they may never be able to fulfil, with little understanding of the wider economy and the way the globalised world actually works.
It is dangerous when politicians are elected on the basis of policy plucked from the ether. Politicians should have allegiances and objectives that are clear and they must have well considered policies (and the hatred of others is not a policy).
You want someone in charge who knows what the hell they’re doing, no matter if you disagree with his or her views. Integrity and morality are qualities that we’ve lost sight of when assessing politicians. And yet it’s our leaders that will decide our future, our trade relationships, our humanity, our compassion and whether or not we go to war.
If a moral compass is too much to ask for, then I’ll settle for common sense in 2017.
Francine Lacqua is editor-at-large for Bloomberg Television. These views are not necessarily shared by Bloomberg