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WSU public policy director predicts global political division will persist

One of the major effects of a global political economy that has changed rapidly in recent decades is political division, which will likely continue as the presidential election approaches.

That’s according to Cornell Clayton, director of the Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy at Washington State University, who didn’t make many promises during a panel discussion Thursday at the annual 2020 Economic Forecast Breakfast at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. But Clayton confidently said that unless the challenges presented by the new economic reality — wealth inequality, employment instability and cultural identity issues — are sufficiently addressed, sharp political divisions in U.S. politics will continue.

“We are living in an unpredictable, chaotic political world,” Clayton said.

Since the end of the Cold War, the emergence of global trade organizations coupled with technological advancements has created global prosperity and investment. But Clayton said that it has also fostered inequality.

“What inequality does is it creates political instability and political anxiety, and we’ve seen that in our society and other societies around the world,” Clayton said.

One reason for the inequality: technology allows businesses to produce more with less labor.

“Now, that’s a good thing. That’s the very definition of wealth,” Clayton said. “The problem is it disrupts the way millions and millions of the workers in America and around the world earn their livelihoods. It’s upset their entire expectations about employment.”

The disruption has led to a distrust in institutions such as governments, media, schools and the economy, Clayton said. “We’ve had a crisis of confidence in our basic institutions.”

Wariness of political parties has sapped the parties’ ability to control which candidates they nominate, Clayton said. “That’s why someone like Donald Trump was able to capture the nomination even though he was vehemently opposed by the Republican Party establishment in 2016. That’s why Bernie Sanders, who wasn’t even a Democrat before he ran in 2016, almost won the Democratic nomination and may yet win it in 2020.”

As a result, members of Congress have been less likely to form bipartisan voting coalitions.

“We have large majorities of Americans who agree on the policy solutions, but our parties cannot enact those policies because they are cross-divided and cross-cleaved,” Clayton said.

In 2016, candidates ran largely on issues that would appeal to their bases of support, or “red meat” issues, and attacked their opponents with negative messaging, Clayton said. With a similar global economic situation in this election cycle, Clayton expects candidates to employ that strategy again, perhaps to a more serious degree.

“All of that is coming back to us again,” Clayton said.


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