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As 2019 comes to a fitful close, we at Opinary find ourselves reflecting on this past year’s trials, tribulations, and (occasional) triumphs. As political turmoil dominates global news, some of us seek refuge in the supposed safety of entertainment, only to find ourselves disappointed (why, Game of Thrones, why!). As impeachment proceedings ramp up in the United States, perhaps it seems that the arc of the moral universe will bend towards justice – but do our publishers’ readers agree? We also find ourselves wondering at the strange confluence of genius and chaos that seems to define our age – and perhaps even Boris Johnson’s campaign strategy.
Oh, 2019, there was never a dull moment. Let’s take a look back on the past year’s major news stories:
January: Bolsonaro begins term
Elected in October 2018, Jair Bolsonaro assumed leadership of Brazil on January 1, 2019. His far-right policies and tough-guy persona place him firmly in line with a global trend of democratically elected leaders with right-wing nationalist views. His (lack of) oversight of the widespread fires that ravaged parts of the Amazon rainforest over the past year has been the subject of widespread criticism while a series of scandals (relating to drug smuggling, his son’s gang connections, and his appointed Minister of Justice’s questionable antics, to name a few) have further tainted his reputation. Most AOL readers thought that Brazil had made the wrong choice in electing Bolsonaro to the presidency.
On January 23, 2019, Juan Guaidó declared himself President of Venezuela in defiance of incumbent President Nicolás Maduro’s second inauguration. The Organization of American States, including the United States, has publicly supported Guaidó and condemned Maduro’s election as illegitimate. One of the first serious struggles between Guaidó and Maduro came in February, involving shipments of humanitarian aid that had been rejected by the latter and encouraged by the former. In the midst of this debacle, Deutsche Welle asked readers whether the international community should work against Maduro – and they overwhelmingly responded in the affirmative.
March: Mueller Report
In March, special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with investigating allegations of interference by and collusion with Russia relating to the 2016 US presidential election, submitted his official report to Attorney General William Barr. The 448-page report, which was released to the public in April 2019, indicated that the investigation had not found sufficient evidence to conclude that the Trump campaign had been involved in courting Russian interference in the election. However, the report did reveal a series of accounts that could be interpreted as obstruction of justice, ultimately stating that while the investigation “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” AOL asked its readers how the Mueller Report would ultimately influence Trump’s presidency – and they were quite torn.
April: Game of Thrones, Season 8
The highly-anticipated final season of Game of Thrones aired in April only to be met with widespread criticism after the series finale in May. As of December 2019, over 1.8 million people have signed an online petition demanding that “competent writers” remake season 8 of the HBO program. A majority of readers of AOL (73%), Complex (66%), and Huffpost UK (61%) agreed that the final season should be redone; inews readers were less convinced, however, as 48% of voters considered the series finale to be satisfying.
May: Theresa May Announces Resignation
The UK’s tumultuous political year took another chaotic turn this past spring with the resignation of Prime Minister Theresa May. After failing to pass her Brexit deal through Parliament on three occasions, May announced her intended resignation on May 24, 2019, before officially stepping down in July upon the election of Boris Johnson as new Tory leader (see below). Yahoo! UK readers were largely divided on her premiership, but ultimately 44% of voters considered her time in office to be bad news from the beginning.
June: Hong Kong protests start
The ongoing Hong Kong protests began in earnest on June 9, 2019, when hundreds of thousands of protesters demonstrated to oppose the adoption of a proposed bill concerning the extradition of Hong Kong citizens to mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau. While the extradition bill (which was later revoked) initially inspired these protests, they have since assumed a distinctly pro-democracy orientation against the existing government in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. 55% of Deutsche Welle readers thought that the protests were doomed to failure to the extent that China would exercise control over the island’s political trajectory.
July: Boris Johnson becomes PM
On July 23, Boris Johnson defeated rival Jeremy Hunt to assume leadership of both the Conservative Party and the UK government after the resignation of Theresa May. Readers of AOL, HuffPost UK, Yahoo! UK, and The Telegraph did not have significant amounts of confidence in Johnson’s forthcoming premiership. Among these titles, readers of HuffPost UK were the most skeptical, with 83% of voters assuming that Johnson would not be a good prime minister; Yahoo! UK readers were the most confident, with 41% of voters anticipating an excellent premiership.
August: Jammu and Kashmir
On August 5, the Government of India revoked the special status of the Jammu and Kashmir region that had been granted under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution of 1950. With this move, the Muslim-majority region, which had been administered as a semi-autonomous state for 69 years, was officially brought under the rule of the central Indian government, currently run by the right-wing Hindu nationalist party. The abrogation was met with international criticism, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the move as an attempt to “restore Kashmir’s past glory.” Readers of Deutsche Welle were more in favor (44%) of the move than readers of HuffPost UK, who largely (60%) felt that the region should retain its special status.
September: Global Climate Strike
On September 20, 2019, millions around the world participated in the Global Climate Strike to demonstrate against the inaction of governments and businesses to combat the climate crisis. Part of climate activist Greta Thunberg’s “school strike for climate” initiative that encourages students to protest climate inaction, the Global Climate Strike amounted to the largest climate protest ever. Coming only days before the UN’s Climate Action Summit 2019, the strike was intended to raise awareness of climate-related issues and to encourage governmental institutions to take seriously the environmental threat. Readers of the Financial Times were largely in support of the strike (65%), while 29% of voters indicated that the strike would not amount to anything meaningful.
October: Syria offensive
In October, US President Trump declared that US American troops would be withdrawn from northern Syria after a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan. This decision was widely condemned, both in Washington and among the international community. Kurdish forces were abandoned by their American allies and left to confront an offensive by Turkey into northern Syria. The withdrawal of US American troops was not seen favorably by NBC Think readers, 83% of whom disagreed with this controversial policy decision.
November: Impeachment hearings
December: UK general election
In December, Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won an absolute majority of Parliamentary seats across the UK, defeating Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Jo Swinson’s Liberal Democrats. His victory ensured five more years of Conservative government in the United Kingdom and promises that the country will, indeed, leave the European Union by the latest deadline of January 31. Readers of AOL and The Times’ Red Box were proved right in their respective assumptions that Johnson would secure a majority in Parliament.
2019 has not ended with a whimper, but with a series of bangs. While it is true that the news will never stop (that tremendously resilient 24-hour news cycle!), perhaps we can all take the transition to a new year (and a new decade) as an opportunity to reflect, recover, and brace ourselves for whatever novelty 2020 will inevitably bring.
Happy Holidays from Opinary!
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