How unprecedented really was the 2016 presidential election? Will humans go the way of horses, losing jobs to robots and artificial intelligence? What does the future of work look like? Does 2016 mark a turning point in the global order and the end of Pax Americana?
In our first ever podcast series, we looked at these questions and more, talking with former presidential candidates, directors of major banks, academics, and journalists as we grappled with the implications of this year in politics and international affairs: Donald Trump’s election; Brexit; the ever-worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Syria; the refugee crisis; and the future of liberalism.
Below you’ll find a summary of our episodes, all of which you can see at this link. Receive future podcasts by subscribing to our iTunesU page.
The first episode, recorded three weeks before the election, featured Howard Dean, former governor of Vermont and 2004 candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. Reflecting on “the most buffoonish election since I entered politics”, Dean presciently warned that Clinton should not succumb to complacency, despite Secretary Clinton’s significant lead in the polls at the time and the appearance that “Donald Trump was preparing to lose but Hillary Clinton was preparing to govern.”
“This time they don’t want to reset the table, they just want to kick it over,” Dean said, referencing New Gingrich’s prediction that voters are fed up after eight years of one party in the White House. Making a comparison with Brexit and the rise of far-right populism in Europe, Dean observed: “Globalization has lifted a billion people out of poverty, it is an extraordinary thing. But, there have been people left behind … That’s common across the west and it has to be changed.”
In episode two we turned to other disruptive forces, discussing how technology and artificial intelligence are upending the world of work and destroying jobs. We were joined by Stephen Roach, former chair of Morgan Stanley Asia.
“The hope and dream of the innovation-focused, forward-looking, aggressive-thinking economist is always that we are creative in uncovering new sources of innovation that will replace existing technologies,” Roach said. “We have done that repeatedly since the agrarian societies were replaced by the industrial revolution. And the hope – without any substantial evidence to back it – is that the same thing will happen again this time”
Roach also discussed Donald Trump’s economic outlook, questioning the president-elect’s judgement on the United States’ trade relationship with China. “Blaming China for America’s deficits, for stealing our jobs … [arguing that] if we beat China everything will be all right for America. It’s flawed analysis,” he said. “Yes, we have a gigantic trade deficit with China. But, guess what? We have trade deficits with 101 countries. And the reason we have them is because we don’t save as a nation and we must import surplus savings from abroad to grow and run massive trade deficits to attract the capital.”
Next, Emma Sky, former advisor to the Commanding General of US Forces in Iraq and Governorate Coordinator of Kirkuk for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003-4, discussed what advice she would give President-elect Trump in his approach to the Middle East. “I would tell him, “President Trump, Mosul is not yours to govern” … I would try to help him to understand why Mosul is important, who the different players are, and what sort of role America might be able to play to coordinate some form of political settlement. We must understand the complexity but we do not own it. When we owned Iraq, we collapsed the state and brought about civil war. We brought about the death of 200,00 people. It’s [now] about helping to contribute to an Iraqi political settlement.”
Sky argued that the current state of world politics reflects a shift in the global order. “The old order which provided global security since the end of the Second World War, that era has come to an end,” she said. “We will look back and see the Iraq war – not 9/11 itself but the way we responded to 9/11 – that brought that old order to an end.”
In episode four, Professor Daniel Magaziner, an intellectual historian of South Africa, reflected on the recent decisions of various African governments to withdraw from the International Criminal Court. “Because of the history of interventionism and because of the ways in which this term ‘human rights’ has been levied against leaders in the global south that are only a generation or two removed from colonial rule, you are seeing what can now be classified as a retreat from international conventions regarding human rights,” Magaziner explained. “This idea that human rights is some sort of universally-accepted norm that is applied equally and equitably – we have to get rid of that concept.”
Magaziner expressed his particular pain at seeing South Africa’s withdrawal from the ICC. “It hurts with South Africa, not because I’m a great fan of the ICC, not because I think it’s fair or functional, but because I see in that a rejection of the idea that the international community has something to say about what happens in sovereign states. And why that hurts in the South African case is because [the international community] was what kept the ANC alive during the years of its exile.”
Magaziner also discussed the visit of Rwandan president Paul Kagame to deliver Yale’s Coca Cola World Fund lecture. The visit raised questions about the role of historians in challenging the way politicians use the past to justify policies. “History is the ceaseless probing against accumulated narratives. So when someone says to you, this is the history that matters, you should begin by asking, what is left out by that history? When Paul Kagame spoke on campus, there was one history that mattered. It was the history that began with the advent of the genocide in April 1994. There is a lot more that happened before that point … History’s job is to stand at these moments when people are using the past to claim legitimacy for present actions and to trouble that … to say, “look, this is a story, but it’s not the only story. What is to be gained by telling this story?” To be a historian is to be a critic.”
In our fifth and final episode, philosopher and political scientist Seyla Benhabib discussed the refugee crisis and the future challenges of democratic liberalism. “I don’t remember being this scared for the fate of democratic liberalism, not even in the time of the Cold War,” she said. “We are seeing the emergence of presidential authoritarianism from within so-called democracies. Transformations in Hungary, Poland, Turkey, India, Singapore, hopefully not the United States but there is some new regime type seems to be emerging. Instead of redefining rules of global cooperation [nation states] are retreating into a regressive nationalism.”
On Turkey’s accession to the European Union, Benhabib said: “It is a situation with very little dignity. It makes refugees into footballs.” Benhabib criticized European leaders, in particular Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarkozy, for not proceeding with accession negotiations earlier. Yet the fact that the conversation continues is troubling. “What is puzzling about the current situation is that surely President Erodgan knows that Turkey is far from meeting these conditions. So what kind of political game is being played here?”