Making Sense of it All: America Changes Course
The Opportunity Senior Editorial Board
Regardless of your politics, it is fair to say that all of us are still trying to fathom what has transpired in our country since the early morning hours of November 9th. We at the Oppy have struggled with coming to terms with it. From our campus in New York City, we feel it can be hard to understand what has occurred in the United States over the past decades—even more so since the end of the Great Recession.
The economic pain and anger that has pushed our country into uncharted political waters is entirely understandable. The movement toward bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia and violence that came along with that frustration, however, is entirely unacceptable. How do we make sense of what we are seeing?
In 1945, Tennessee Senator Cordell Hull was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in establishing the United Nations. At the center of Hull’s work was the belief that free trade between nations could prevent future wars: if we are all doing commerce with one another in peace, there is much more to lose, on all sides, from conflict.
Since the end of World War II, now more than 70 years in the past, we have not seen warfare on the scale at which dominated much of the early and mid 20th century. And over the course of the past three decades, more than a billion people around the globe have been pulled out of extreme poverty—a feat for which our globalized economy deserves much of the credit. There has never been a richer or better time to be alive in human history.
But for all that globalization and free trade have accomplished in enriching the world as a whole, many individuals around the world have paid a catastrophic price in lost jobs and stagnated wages. This is a price that any economist will tell you is a natural outcome of free trade—most people win, some people lose. As a nation, we have not figured out real solutions for helping those who have come out at the wrong end of liberalized trade. Our government has, and most likely will continue to, fail to address the issues of income inequality and transitory jobs. And, as future leaders in the business world, we cannot afford to ignore the needs of all fellow Americans from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
In a New York Times article, penned shortly before the November election, Arthur C. Brooks and the Dalai Lama wrote:
“Selflessness and joy are intertwined. The more we are one with the rest of humanity, the better we feel.
This helps explain why pain and indignation are sweeping through prosperous countries. The problem is not a lack of material riches. It is the growing number of people who feel they are no longer useful, no longer needed, no longer one with their societies.”
It is not hard to see that a job greeting shoppers at Walmart does not bring with it the same pride as working in a steel mill or crafting much-needed goods with your own hands. So many people in the United States have had the satisfaction of work stripped away. The vitriolic anger that has accompanied the frustrations of so many Americans is tied so much to the simple feeling of no longer being needed.
The seeds of division in this nation were sown decades ago, as they’ve now grown into the situation we are facing today: a President-elect who advocated nationalism and prejudice and an internal conflict that refuses to give. And as students who live in a community that lives by a code of respect and inclusion, this is arguably a scary outcome. That being said, the activity and conversations happening on the Stern campus have been heartening, with affinity groups and colleagues bringing positive connections and support in the days following the election.
We have to use our status as MBA students, as students of the city and of the world, to promote the values that we hold so dear—and to be a voice for those who, in this time of uncertainty, feel like they have none. As MBA students, we are being molded into the future leaders of business. Learning from this election: we as leaders must ensure the stability of and invest in the domestic job market, and consistently give our future employees a sense of purpose and belonging.
For change can happen, but it will take time – as the great Martin Luther King, Jr. himself attested: “”The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”