Predicting the future is a fool’s game.
Right in my wheelhouse, in other words. Fools and pundits rush in where wiser souls fear to tread. With that boulder-sized grain of salt in mind, here are my predictions for 2023:
Let’s start with a near-sure thing. The U.S. and global economies will experience rough rides this year. The International Monetary Fund confirmed as much in October, warning the world economy was heading into “stormy waters,” low growth and a high probability of recession.
Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine has made the outlook even worse. The Russians continue to impede essential grain shipments from Ukraine to hungry parts of the world and force Europe to find new sources of energy for heat and industry.
“The slowdowns in advanced economies are putting pressure on emerging markets, many of which were already fragile and facing high debt burdens as they recovered from the pandemic,” reported The New York Times when the IMF forecast was released. “Higher interest rates, soaring food costs and diminished demand for exports threaten to push millions of people into poverty. And low vaccination rates in places such as Africa mean that the health effects of the pandemic are persistent.”
“The poor are hurt the most,” David Malpass, president of the World Bank, told reporters. “We’re in the midst of a crisis-facing development.”
Another even more sure thing: India will become the world’s most populous nation sometime in April, surpassing China as it reaches 1.43 billion people, according to the United Nations. India continues to be dominated by a radical Hindu nationalist government that seems bent on disenfranchising and discriminating against Muslims, Christians and other minorities.
Many observers expect another year of grinding conflict as Russia seeks to destroy Ukraine’s will to survive as a nation. I’m going to go out on a limb, but not that far, and predict that the Ukraine war will end this year, either with a negotiated settlement favorable to Ukraine or with the fall of Russian tyrant Vladimir Putin.
Putin has vastly underestimated the bravery and fighting spirit of Ukrainians, as well as the resolute response of the West. And who could have foreseen that former comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, president of Ukraine, would emerge as a latter-day Churchill as greatness was thrust upon him?
Putin is isolated from the world, increasingly isolated from ordinary Russians — and burdened by a shockingly incompetent military that is crumbling in the face of determined Ukrainians equipped with sophisticated Western arms. Don’t be surprised if Putin, despite his long and corrupt hold on power in Russia, meets with an unfortunate “medical emergency” or “accident” this year that removes him from office.
On the subject of tyrants overestimating their power, China’s President Xi Jinping had hardly finished consolidating his dictatorial power at the 20th Chinese Communist Party Congress in October when he was faced with furious national protests — and even calls for his overthrow — over his harsh “Zero COVID” shutdowns, which have caused great human suffering. The government backed down and lurched nearly to the opposite extreme, triggering the COVID outbreaks now ravaging the country. China also is in the midst of a serious economic downturn.
So don’t expect Xi to invade Taiwan or escalate China’s regional military provocations this year, especially after he observed how the Western allies responded to the Ukraine invasion. He’ll have more than enough challenges at home, where Chinese citizens (and, reportedly, elements of the party and government) are weary of his incessant drive to control every aspect of national life.
In Iran, a revolution begun by brave women tired of theocratic oppression will not be put down by intimidation, violence, arrests or executions. It might even result in the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 83, who is reportedly unwell.
Nationwide protests sparked by the September death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s “morality police” for the “crime” of improperly wearing hijab have continued — despite increasingly brutal efforts to put them down. The angry women who started the demonstrations have been joined by students and many ordinary Iranians.
The people of Iran, especially the young, have had all they can bear of more than 40 years of rule by the mullah-led regime, which has given them nothing but misery and repression at home while it pursues mischief abroad.
“The (protest) movement amounts to the most serious challenge to the regime’s control of the country since the early days of the 1979 Iranian Revolution,” writes Cameron Abadi in Foreign Policy. “The protests are also the longest running since the Green Movement arose after the disputed 2009 presidential election. Unlike the earlier revolt, however, the current movement is leaderless — and more explicitly revolutionary in character.
“The protests are an expression of an Iranian society that has become less religious and more alienated from its theocratic system of government. The regime has tried to placate the public by claiming it would disband the morality police. But it may be too late to win back the affection of Iran’s restive youth. That raises the question of what degree of coercion would be necessary to keep them in line in the year ahead.”
The free world won’t determine the outcome of this historic struggle. But it would be nice if we paid a little more attention to it this year.
Joe Biden will announce his run for a second presidential term, despite his age. His undeniable accomplishments so far in leading America out of the nightmare of the Trump era and the worst of the COVID pandemic, coupled with the surprisingly good showing of Democrats during the midterms, almost guarantee he will seek a second term (barring serious health issues). Whether he really wants another four years is a separate question.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump will be indicted for federal criminal conspiracy and obstruction of justice for his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. He also may be indicted by one or more state courts for similar crimes, as well as financial corruption. No one is above the law. The wheels of justice turn slowly, but they turn.
Finally, America’s churches will begin to rebound in 2023 from the battering they have taken from the pandemic, political divisions and increasing secularization.
What evidence do I have? Not much. Numerous studies, surveys and news stories indicate U.S. religious faith and church attendance will continue on a downward trajectory. But just as many studies report Americans are increasingly lonely, isolated and desperate for community. What better place for them to come for solace and friendship than the house of the Lord?
If these be errors, and upon me proved, so be it. I’m a pundit, not a prophet.
Erich Bridges, a Baptist journalist for more than 40 years, retired in 2016 as global correspondent for the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He lives in Richmond, Va.