Among our recent alumni are Ayesha Rekhi, who graduated in and is currently serving as a Canadian diplomat in Thailand. Naheed Nenshi, the mayor of Calgary, graduated from the School in Gabrielle Scrimshaw received her degree from the Kennedy School last year; she is an Indigenous Canadian who is the co-founder of the Aboriginal Professional Association of Canada and an advocate for Indigenous leadership and economic development.
Michael Ignatieff, the former leader of your Liberal Party, taught at the Kennedy School for a number of years before becoming rector of Central European University in Budapest.
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I am proud that all of these amazing people and many more who are associated with the Kennedy School have done so much good in Canada and around the world. Yet, despite all of the good, important work done by you, by the Kennedy School community, and by so many others, we are gathered at a troubled time in the world.
We are gathered at a time when many people have lost confidence in their established political leaders and criticize those they view as elite for being out of touch and self-serving. We are gathered at a time when many people feel left behind by the rising tide of globalism in economic affairs. We are gathered at a time when the core institutions of democracy are under threat in many countries. We are gathered at a time when the international order built in the decades following the Second World War is being taken apart in some key ways.
Much that is happening in the world today should concern us deeply. However, I remain profoundly optimistic about the future, and about the ability of people of good will to make a better world. So with that combination of concern and optimism, let me offer my perspective on what is happening in the United States today and what I expect will happen next. That is, of course, a very big topic. To make the discussion somewhat manageable, I decided to structure my remarks around some of the deep divisions one sees in the United States today and the ways that I think we will overcome those divisions.
The United States is now divided, sorted, and polarized to a degree it has not been in at least 50 years. You can see this phenomenon in many aspects of American society. And more people now say they would be very unhappy if their child married someone with different political views. Moreover, political affiliations are increasingly aligned with other characteristics.
We are seeing unusually large differences in political attitudes and voting patterns between women and men, between college-educated and non-college-educated Americans, between people living in rural areas and those living in urban areas, and so on. It bears emphasis that divisions between people in the United States are not new. There have often been significant tensions in our country—tensions between Americans with different personal characteristics and different visions for the country. Thus, we have experienced ongoing push-and-pull between isolationist tendencies and desires to engage internationally.
Between city dwellers and folks from the country. Between distrust of big government and big business on one hand, and confidence in our large institutions on the other. Between defense of immediate American interests and standing up for fundamental American values.
Between a pluralist attitude with opportunities for new immigrants and a nativist attitude focused on protection of old immigrants. One great strength of democracies like those in the United States and Canada is that they allow competing visions to be expressed. The British novelist E. One key way in which democracy can fall short is that the variety of visions for a country grows wider and people with competing visions are not able to resolve their differences within the normal functioning of their democratic system.
In the United States, our divisions have grown—especially during the past decade—and we have not found ways to resolve those divisions or to move ahead effectively despite them. Let me explain what I see as the three primary sources of those divisions in our country and then offer some thoughts about how we will ultimately move ahead. I should note first that many of the forces causing wider divisions in the United States are having similar effects in other countries as well, but my comments will focus on the country I understand best.
One factor that has created growing divisions between people in the United States is rising economic inequality. Our economic system has not served lower- and middle-income Americans well during the past few decades. In particular, Americans who have less education or are living in certain parts of our country have had much less economic opportunity and much less improvement in their standard of living than Americans who have more education or are living in other parts of the country.
Moreover, the growing income divides are mirrored in growing gaps in life expectancy and other social indicators. Americans of my age in the top part of the income distribution are expected to live significantly longer than their parents, on average, while Americans of my age in the bottom third of the income distribution are expected to live no longer than their parents, on average. I could offer other worrisome data as well. A second, and probably more important, factor that has led to growing divisions between some Americans is social and cultural changes.
Women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals, and some others who have been discriminated against and marginalized historically in the United States are now in somewhat stronger positions, on average, in our society. These changes are very long overdue and very far from complete, but they are real. In addition, other people do not object to the changes in our society but do object to what they view as a growing focus on demographic identity in the United States.
Thus, social and cultural changes that are moving the United States in the right direction and have reduced some divisions in our country have unfortunately accentuated other divisions. In addition, the share of the U. The greater diversity of language, food, and custom that has resulted is exciting for many Americans, but it is disorienting and disconcerting to other Americans, who fear the loss of the culture and lifestyle with which they are familiar.
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A third factor that has contributed to growing divisions between some Americans is that more of our public leaders have been deliberately intensifying divisions for their short-term political gains. They have done so partly through the way they treat each other.
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Should we do more to lessen tuition costs? Many Americans feel corporations have too much sway in politics and the media.
Contemporary United States
Should there be limits to corporate power? While employment rates are trending up overall nationwide, a good chunk of the country remains unemployed or underemployed. Should women always have the right to choose or should access to abortion be limited, or even outright banned?
In public schools, colleges, and places of work, citizens remain concerned about various forms of bullying creating a hostile atmosphere. From ethical concerns over factory farms to issues of animal testing, many Americans feel we should do more to ensure the moral treatment of animals.
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Vaccines can help prevent dangerous diseases, but some fear routine shots can cause serious complications. Should vaccines be mandatory for everyone? Should the government be doing more to promote healthy eating and exercise? Ineffective Government As of , polls indicated public trust in the government was at all time lows. Poverty More Americans are living in poverty than any time since the early '90s. Pollution The United States is second only to China when it comes to producing greenhouse gas.