This year has certainly been one for the history books.Throughout 2019, the world has seen the United Kingdom grappling with Brexit, the United States struggling through presidential investigations and impeachment, France seeing mass protests and worldwide financial markets beginning to show signs of strain.
Those who feel like the world is in chaos may take some solace in knowing that, in many ways, we’ve been here before. While 2019 has certainly presented unique challenges with their own specific details, we can look to history to learn from certain themes that have made something of a comeback.
Using the Nexis®archive of news stories going back to the 1970s, we’ve compiled historic headlines that may seem all-too-familiar today.
1991: Eight steps to European union; It could isolate Britain, bring down the government and wreck the Tory party, but what is it? (The Independent)
While Brexit may be a 21st century phenomenon, debates in the United Kingdom over the value of being a part of the European Union date back to the last millennium (funny how time works, right?). In fact, many of the same key phrases featured in Brexit headlines can be seen in in the early 1990s as European countries came together to debate, and eventually sign, the Treaty on European Union.
This includes debates on borders, currency, trade, foreign policy and security… many of the same debates being had today. In fact, some quotes from the 1991 article could be nearly impossible to separate from quotes today:
“There are two main problems: How far should policy- making powers be given to [EU] institutions? And, when foreign ministers meet, should decisions be taken by consensus or majority vote? On all counts, Britain fears a loss of sovereignty…”
1987: Presidential Counsel Issues Memo as Part of Preparation for Investigation (The Associated Press)
The president’s attorney, an independent counsel, a far-reaching chief of staff and a president under investigation. Sound familiar? While it would be unfair to say it’s a complete apples-to-apples comparison to what we’re seeing today, the invocation of a years-long special counsel to investigate internal memoranda and eventually impeachment isn’t exactly unprecedented by Washington, D.C. standards.
Rather than foreign interference and obstruction of justice, in this case congressional panels and a special counsel were investigating President Ronald Regan’s handling of the Iran-Contra affair, which amounted to quite the scandal for the mid-to-latter parts of the 1980s. In a time before social media; however, we can’t know exactly how Twitter would have responded to this specific scenario.
1990: Evolution in Europe; Gas Price Protest Cripples Hungary (The New York Times)
As 2018 came to a close, France made worldwide headlines for a breakout of violent—and in some cases, deadly—protests associated with a carbon tax that saw increases in the cost of fuel and electricity. While in this case the tax was meant to curb reliance on fossil fuels and improve the outlook on global warming, history has shown us past examples of country-wide protests in response to gas tax increases for other reasons.
When Hungary made the decisions to raise gas prices by 65 percent due to trading tensions with the Soviet Union, protesters shut down roads, closed border crossings and all but halted the nation’s entire economy. Hungary, like France would do more than two decades later, eventually reversed the gas tax as a result of protests.
What We Can Learn
Looking back at the past decades to find similarities to today’s headlines is more than an exercise in nostalgia. Researching history and its many perspectives can be a valuable tool in dealing with today’s challenges. By using the advantage of hindsight to analyze the moves and steps taken from past mistakes and successes, researchers today can seek to emulate or avoid such actions when planning strategies for today.