Urgent Issues, Extraordinary Politics, 2020: National Elections at a Time of Intersecting Crises and Political Polarization
As we approach perhaps the most consequential presidential election in at least a generation, attention on the choice between candidates is overwhelmed by a sense of national crisis rooted in the rapid global spread of a new coronavirus. But underlying the anxiety accompanying this moment is a sense that this catastrophe reveals what many have suspected implicitly for some while: democratic societies appear increasingly incapable of managing difficulties with deep structural roots in the forces unleashed by 21st century global society. Whether it is skyrocketing economic inequality, the disorienting transmission of false information via new media, massive waves of human migration, or accelerating global climate change and accelerating rates of deforestation and extinction, the issues we face appear to overwhelm the capacities of democratic publics and the governments they elect. To make matters worse, unprecedented extreme partisan polarization makes it difficult for public opinion to coalesce around even the most urgent political issues. Partisan politics seems incapable of identifying either a shared understanding of common difficulties we face or a range of viable policy options, basic prerequisites if the political process is to broker any kind of compromise solutions to these problems. This course starts from this grim diagnosis but moves to a more optimistic prognosis: on a broad range of the most urgent economic, social, environmental, technological, health and human problem we face, there is no shortage of viable and promising policy approaches that, if effectively implemented, would at least mitigate and perhaps solve what most of us agree are pressing difficulties besetting us and the world today. We will examine policy issues in the context of national political election, looking at the most important issues we face, the policy options available for addressing them, and the political fate of these proposals and candidates who embrace them. We will subject these policy options to the serious examination they deserve, modeling the kind of discourse that should be present in an important presidential election year.
David Peritz earned his BA from Occidental College and Ph.D. from Oxford. A Professor at Sarah Lawrence since 2000, he is the recipient of a Marshall Scholarship and taught at Harvard, Deep Springs, Dartmouth, UC Berkeley, and Cornell. His research specialization is modern and contemporary political philosophy, especially theories of democracy and justice and their relation to issues of diversity and inequality. He has taught at the Fromm Institute since 2016 and in lifelong learning for 20 years.