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The latest Global Trends report—brought out by the American intelligence agencies every four years, at the start of a new presidential term—paints a dire picture for humanity over the next two decades. Bear in mind, the 2008 report had warned of a potential pandemic emerging in East Asia, following which the Obama administration had set up a response-preparation mechanism that the Trump administration shut down. The latest report flags usual suspects like climate change, changing demographics, etc, as also emerging threats such as technologies that divide and erosion of trust in institutions and in democracy, with the gap between challenges and the will to deal with these growing and fuelling deeply polarising politics.
Tribalism is growing—because, globally, people “are becoming wary of institutions and governments that they see as unwilling or unable to address their needs.” This will arm fundamentalists of all sorts, from religious zealots to ethnic purists/ racists. And, with amplification of divisive voices—in no small measure, by technology—there will be “more political volatility” and “erosion of democracy”. The gloom of the Global Trends report may or may not come to pass, but it will be a folly to ignore its warnings. The US is already paying for one president’s assault on democracy and science, haunted by a devastating pandemic toll. Other nations need to learn from its example, and must analyse the factors that could land them in a similar state in the coming decades.