With economic and social disillusionment profoundly reshaping political landscapes in the U.S., Europe, and around the world, the 2017 McCourt Policy Conference arrived last week with an important theme: feeling left behind.
The two-day conference convened academics and practitioners from across the policy spectrum to dissect the roots of disaffection with standing norms and institutions and to offer ideas for inclusive paths forward.
The first day provided a format for speakers to examine voter discontent and broken trust that is specific to the U.S.
Justin Gest, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, delivered an illuminating lecture on the plight of the white working class in once-thriving industrial cities that as a consequence of globalization and automation have been devastated by widespread crime and a dearth of opportunity.
Gest, author of ‘The New Minority: The White Working Class,’ couched his remarks in terms of the complexities of race, identity, and shared empathy in modern America.
A panel moderated by McCourt Professor E.J. Dionne continued the dialogue. Despite an array of philosophies and experiential backgrounds, the panelists largely agreed that economic realities in the U.S. could have predicted the rise of President Trump, similar to the surge of then-candidate Bernie Sanders.
“We’re in deep trouble as political analysts if we think people are voting on social issues, especially for people who care a lot about voting,” said Dr. Michael Kazin, a history professor at Georgetown.
Kazin pointed to the fall of unions as a major impetus for the despair of industrial cities. Though populism has naturally surged as a result, he cautioned: “populism is a style, not a way of governing.”
“Ethnocentrism doesn’t rise when” people are doing well and economic anxieties are low, added Sarah Jaff, an independent journalist and Nation Institute fellow.
Michael Lind, co-founder of New America, said that it should come as little surprise that straight talk on the campaign trail by Trump on economic issues that struggling workers care about would propel him to the presidency.
Pratik Chougule, executive editor of The American Conservative, agreed, pointing to his predictive analytics run during the campaign showing that Trump had a unique and clear path to victory based on where he stood on individual issues.
The second day of the conference expanded the dialogue on ‘feeling left behind’ to include panels focused on youth and underemployment in America; regional independence movements worldwide; and unwanted refugees and asylum seekers.
The audience during the second day heard from numerous speakers including, but far from limited to, Dr. Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution; Dr. Andrew Davis, a Catalan Government Representative in the U.S.; Katharine Donato, director of the Institute for the Study of International Migration; and Dr. Nayla Rush, a senior research analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.
As with previous McCourt Policy Conferences, the forum goal was to begin providing answers to vexing questions, including one posed by an attendee who, in terms of this year’s theme, aptly asked, “how as citizens do we begin to understand each other?”