It’s that time of year when everybody asks, “is it that time already?”. And that time is one of new beginnings, resolutions and ventures. Many will be glad to see the back of 2022, writers especially, having exhausted all available adjectives to adequately describe just how tempestuous a time it has been. So, as we keep one keen eye trained for the 2023 Oxford English Dictionary update, let’s take a look back over the five most turbulent events of 2022.
Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine
On the 24th of February, Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, marking the most dangerous moment not just of the year, but of the century so far. And for many, it came out of a clear blue sky. Right up until the eleventh hour, there was a feeling of disbelief that it would, or could even happen. The prospect of another European war seemed incredulous to many. As Boris Johnson (remember him?) held press conferences in Kyiv, warning of an imminent attack, the British press dogged him with questions about Colin the Caterpillar cake and Partygate.
Much of the intelligence community, the media, and the population were as stunned as a Ukrainian border guard when a cavalcade of Russian tanks and men breached the national threshold. Some were surprised further still, by the resilience of the Ukrainian armed forces. What some analysts had expected to be a two-day war dragged out to weeks, then months, and now has outlived the year.
The conflict has wreaked a terrible price on human life and wracked the globe with its economic and political shockwaves. As a stunned world was blinking its eyes back open after being shut down by Covid, it was jolted back into a fresh crisis that dwarfed the pandemic in scope and severity. The build-back better refrain was quickly shelved as a new, far harsher reality dawned. As of the final moments of this year, neither the bloodshed nor the fallout, show any sign of abating.
Elon Musk’s Twitter Tussle
At $44 billion Elon Musk overpaid for Twitter, and that’s the least surprising episode in the ongoing saga. The CEO of Tesla and Space X made an offer Twitter’s shareholders couldn’t refuse. In the wake of what critics branded a free speech crackdown by the social media giant, Musk stepped in to wrestle control from the censors. For the South African billionaire, the affair was more of a moral crusade than a business prospect.
But amid a dispute with the Twitter board about the prevalence of bots on the platform, Musk moved to renege on the acquisition. This prompted a lawsuit, culminating in a second U-Turn by Musk, who ultimately made good on his purchase and took Twitter private.
Since he assumed his self-styled role as Chief Twit, Musk has rolled back many of the bans that had seen users, including former President Trump, taken off the site. Tens of thousands of accounts have been reinstated with the goal of making Twitter a neutral forum for free speech.
The new ownership clashed with elements of the senior Twitter staff, NGOs like the ADL, and dissenting users. As a result, many of the old guard were either dispatched or resigned and public recriminations, largely aired through Tweets, followed.
Things took an even spicier turn with the release of the so-called Twitter Files. Musk handed internal documents to selected journalists from across the political spectrum, that purported to reveal collusion between the platform and the FBI in aid of censoring speech – a conspiracy that would amount to a breach of the First Amendment right to speech.
All this culminated in Elon sacking himself in what must be a world first – at the instruction of a Twitter poll. Musk posted a public poll on Twitter asking users if he should stand down as the CEO, and with over 17 million votes the result was a clear yes. As a result, Musk has pledged to step down as soon as he can find someone willing and capable to onboard the work, which may yet be a while.
Prime Minister’s Musical Chairs
“Ten more years” – so chanted Conservative party staffers on the eve of Boris Johnson’s election victory. The 2019 general election would, it was supposed, see the Labour party consigned to opposition for a generation. The stonking Tory victory which cut through Labour heartlands and smashed the Red Wall, armed the then Prime Minister with an 80-seat majority, so as to set about his mandate however so he wished.
That initial optimism soon gave way to despair as the Coronavirus pandemic took hold of the world in early 2020. Two years of tumult followed as Boris’s pledge to level up was side-lined in favour of lockdowns and bailouts. Through this period that election day goodwill which swept him to power was squandered. Through a maelstrom of misjudgements and scandals, from the Matt Hancock affair to Owen Patterson, a cache of political capital was idly spent. With the Johnson agenda abandoned and the fate of his premiership on a knife edge, Partygate would ultimately surface to tip it over the edge.
Conservative MPs believed that Boris’s credibility was shot, he was tarnished – yesterday’s man. What was needed, they divined, was a fresh face and a clean start. And so, they conspired to remove him, and ultimately, replace him with Liz Truss. Truss was booted out of Number Ten so fast a book detailing her rise – Out of the Blue – had yet to be released – and ultimately landed on shelves with the added subtitle: The inside story of the unexpected rise and rapid fall of Liz Truss.
Next up it was Rishi Sunak’s turn – shunned by Tory members and then foisted into place by the party’s MPs, the former Chancellor marked the third British Prime Minister in a few months and the fifth in seven years. As commentators remarked, Britain was fast becoming Italy without the weather.
The political upshot of the psychodrama at the heart of the Tory party is that Labour’s chances at winning the next election are better than any could have dared to imagine just three years ago. And if when the music stops it’s Keir Starmer sitting on the chair, he’ll be our sixth Prime Minister in nine years.
The American Midterms
Pundits had by and large predicted a red wave – that is a sweeping Republican victory in the mid-term elections. Amid difficult economic circumstances, wavering confidence in the Biden administration, and flagging public support for the federal government’s policies, the ground was set for the incumbent party to get a kicking.
What transpired could barely be characterised as a red dribble. The Republicans won over the House of Representatives, just, and went backwards in the Senate. With hindsight, the general consensus is that the GOP was scuppered by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe V Wade, a ruling which opened the door to the imposition of massive restrictions on access to abortion. With the old case overturned, states were permitted to set their own rules about abortion, and though in several referenda, even the most conservative quarters of the Bible belt opted to keep it legal – the furore around the occasion activated young women who voted for the Democrats in droves.
Mid-term elections, so-called because they take place in the middle of a President’s term, are an opportunity for the opposition party to capitalise on general discontent. In the American system, it’s something of an expectation that the incumbent faces a drubbing in a mid-term contest. So that Biden and the Democrats dodged it, is a historical feat.
Reeling from their dismal performance the Republicans are clashing over who they should elect as their leader in the House, with discontents agitating against the Trump-endorsed Kevin McCarthy. While the GOP should have emerged from these elections having gained a foothold toward an eventual victory in 2023 – as any opposition party in this climate should hope to do – they have sunk into acrimony and strife.
To make matters worse, Trump looks set to go to war with Florida governor Ron De Santis, threatening to take this internecine conflict nuclear.
Meta Share Collapse
“Remember Myspace?” is the Millennial’s take on “Ever heard of Betamax?”. The once dominant social media platform was kicked off the top spot and into the gutter by Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook. For a long time, Facebook, now Meta, had that June Brown quality – we came to believe it would live forever. And we’re now finding that, as ever, nothing does.
Dwindling Facebook usage prompted parent company Meta to pursue virtual reality as an innovative solution. But the enormous time and materiel invested into the Metaverse has amounted to nothing – worse than nothing even – as the dearth of excitement around the VR project has been blamed for Meta’s titanic share collapse.
The failure of the Metaverse also prompted widespread job cuts across the firm, and an apology from its CEO, who wrote to employees telling them that:
“The macroeconomic downturn, increased competition, and ads signal loss have caused our revenue to be much lower than I’d expected. I got this wrong, and I take responsibility for that,”
From a peak of $378 per share, Meta stock now trades at just $115, less than a third of the price. With Facebook losing ground amongst the youth market to rival platforms like Tik Tok, and Instagram suffering the same fate, it might not be that much longer until Gen Z jokes: “Remember Facebook?”