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Harvard Professors Discuss Domestic and International Implications of 2020 Election

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Harvard professors analyzed how the 2020 presidential election revealed the domestic and international consequences of political polarization at a Weatherhead Center for International Affairs forum Wednesday.

Panelists included Government and Sociology professor Theda Skocpol, Harvard Kennedy School International Affairs professor Stephen M. Walt, and University Professor Danielle S. Allen. Michèle Lamont, the faculty director of WCFIA, moderated the event.

Skocpol began the panel discussion by predicting that the Democrats would clinch the victory in the presidential contest but lose its senatorial races.

“With the counting of mail-in and absentee ballots, Joe Biden is on track to get at least 270 Electoral College votes,” she said. “The Democratic Party and the pollsters that we all were following were dead wrong about what would happen beneath the level of the presidency. The Senate is not going to be in Democratic hands.”

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Skocpol added that the governance of the United States will be “weakened further” in the coming years by environmental and racial crises and a stagnating economy.

While Skocpol predicted a grim outlook for the country, Allen discussed how the election emphasizes the importance of “local engagement and civic action” in combating political polarization.

“Mayors across America’s communities are in a really distinctive position responsible for knitting communities together across divides and delivering a foundation for a well-being at a local level that has to touch everybody in their community,” Allen said.

“We need to look to them for vocabulary and language that helps us begin to have a way of telling a story that gives us — rebuilds — the possibility of common purpose.”

Allen explained that mending the United States at the local level will be a “key political project” for the country.

“We have to really draw a circle around that local work of reknitting some type of shared understanding and common purpose as a key political project, one that is fundamental to the health of the nation generally, both domestically and internationally,” Allen said.

Walt explained that the presidential election evinced the deep political polarization in the country and weakened the United States’ position in foreign policy.

“The election has confirmed that the United States is deeply polarized, and this has serious consequences for government and serious consequences for foreign policy,” Walt said. “If I had to pick the big winner [for Election Day], I’d say it was Xi Jinping.”

According to Walt, Chinese president Xi Jinping “won” the election since political polarization leaves the United States more susceptible to manipulation from “foreign powers.”

“It’s going to make it very difficult for the United States to launch bold initiatives abroad, and it’s going to make it harder for other countries to put their trust in any commitments we do make,” he said.

In a Wednesday interview with The Crimson, Skocpol discussed how wealth inequality and the split between metro and non-metro voters will continue to intensify the country’s political divide.

“President Trump was selling an idea that we need to brush the virus off and get back to real life, which is quite appealing to people,” she said. “And it’s especially appealing perhaps to working-age men who might live in smaller communities. Trump has always been good at selling hope.”

In a written statement to The Crimson, Lamont wrote that the comments from the panelists were “insightful” and helped to contextualize the political moment.

“The comments from the three panelists helped the audience make sense of the situation in this moment of great uncertainty and anxiety,” Lamont wrote. “The election results to date shows us that the US will continue to be polarized. I believe we will need to pull together knowledge from our respective disciplines to figure out how to address the situation and implement necessary changes.”

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