Successful societies require competent and compassionate leadership, on the one hand, and social solidarity and trust on the other. How did we end up with excesses of both incompetence and social division? If Steven Pinker is correct in arguing that the human race has never had it so good, what are we missing? Who and what are driving the division? What are the ways to drive people back toward consensus? What is the path back to shared prosperity?


Stephen Kotkin, John P. Birkelund ’52 Professor in history and international affairs, Princeton University

Moderator: Colin Tate, Chief executive, Conexus Financial

Key Takeaways

  • The victory of Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the US general election is a “double repudiation” not just of Trump but of the “democracy in crisis crowd” who thought American democracy was under threat, argues historian and author Stephen Kotkin, the John P. Birkelund ’52 professor in history and international affairs at Princeton University.
  • The US system was not designed for good-hearted politicians, but to check the power of venal politicians and force consensus and coalition to get anything done, Kotkin said.
  • Kotkin said the last time an incumbent president was beaten by a challenger with such a large percentage of the popular vote was when Franklin Roosevelt toppled Herbert Hoover in 1932.
  • Biden won because women in the suburbs swung massively in his direction, not because he increased his vote with traditional Democratic constituencies.
  • The result was also a backlash against racialism, he said, with Americans increasingly mixed and in inter-racial marriages and no longer identifying racially the same way they used to.
  • But deep divisions remain in American society and Biden will need to focus on possible areas of bipartisan consensus.

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