A year always feels like it has flashed by until we look back at some of the events that happened. Was it really this year that crowds were out protesting at the signing of the TPP? Was it this year that an alternative national flag flew alongside the familiar one on the Harbour Bridge? It was.

Both those projects look futile now. TPP was an early casualty of the rebellious mood of voters in the United States. At the dawn of the year it was still possible to hope the crowds turning out for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would not turn into real votes once the US presidential primaries got under way.

But it was quickly evident Trump especially was drawing legions of voters who did not normally take much interest in the preliminary contests. TPP became an easy target for antagonism to all things foreign or elitist though it was poorly understood, especially by Trump who thought it included China. Now he has vowed to make its cancellation the first act of his presidency when he moves into the Oval Office in a few weeks.

The alternative flag, meanwhile, was defeated at the referendum in March, 56.6 per cent voting against it, 45.2 per cent for it. Could that project ever be revived? Could the TPP?

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Both were on the right side of the future. New Zealand, like all postcolonial countries, is on an inevitable trajectory of independence and even the most ardent traditionalists know it. In time, the replacement of its flag will be one of the easier changes it makes. In time, the very name of the nation will probably change too.

The world, meanwhile, is remorselessly becoming an integrated global economy. It is beyond any man's mortal power to stop the trade that can now be done across border by the internet, the sourcing of goods from places were they are made most efficiently and the attraction of investment to poor countries with the potential to be rich.

Agreeing on a code of international law to govern globalisation will always be difficult. The nation state is not in decline. Rather it is Europe's hopeful post-war project to supersede nationalism that has taken a backward step in 2016. Britain might not be the only member to leave the European Union in the next few years.

The US election, too, was a re-assertion of nationalism, not just in economics and trade but in culture and ethnicity. Many have taken fright at the scale of migration in the modern, more integrated world.

But threats from migration have been overstated and the benefits not acknowledged by demagogues who have succeeded in politics this year. Migration is needed by most developed countries with ageing populations and birth rates below replacement level.

More important, migration enriches the receiving countries economically and culturally. Life is more better for the variety of skills, tastes and interests migrants bring.

Democracies have succumbed to fear this year because of terrorism from the Muslim world. Even the US, facing a fraction of the numbers pressing on the EU's borders, has been unnerved.

But fear is not humanity's natural state. We are an optimistic species and progress will prevail.