The populist revolt; Questions MBAs should be asking to understand today’s political reality
Few expected the election of Donald Trump.
None of the macro-trends seemed favorable to him. The outgoing president was popular. Stock market valuations were high. Unemployment was low. We here at The Harbus even went to print with a story on the first-100-day objectives of the Hillary Clinton presidency.
What made the result even more surprising to us here in Boston was the bubble that we find ourselves in. According to a poll commissioned by The Harbus in October, HBS students supported Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a margin of 85% to just 3%. Elsewhere, 63 million Americans elected him president.
We believe that we have a duty to understand the reasons for this, and to provide an open, objective forum to debate both sides of opinion. Ultimately, it was misunderstanding that led us here in the first place. All of us have a responsibility to speak not only to the people we agree with, but to the people we disagree with. If we can’t do this in the arena of academic debate, where can we?
In our issue we ask a number of questions about what Trump’s election means for society. Has globalism been a good thing, and what should be done for those left behind? Who are the business leaders Trump has picked to staff his government and what goals might they pursue? What do these waves of populism and protectionism mean for multinational business, international institutions, and American global leadership?
Closer to home we have other questions to ask — about the future of our MBA programs and our places in the world. How differently should global business leaders be trained for a world of rising walls? In what way can MBAs outside of government affect political change from the private sector? What duty do MBA program administrators have to protect the diversity they have recruited to their classrooms? When do academic experts engage with — or defy — elected government?
In a session organized by the Student Association this week, one student asked whether instead of traveling abroad for the FIELD Global Immersion Program, we should be traveling to other parts of the United States, since they feel “more foreign”. It’s a provocative thought. Would a supporter of Donald Trump now relate more closely to a British national who voted to leave the EU, than to a fellow American who voted for Hillary Clinton? Are some national divides now greater than some international ones?
By probing these questions (and piquing your interest through superior writing), we hope that this issue of The Harbus will inspire MBA students to engage those of differing political views with questions and conversation instead of scorn and soliloquy. We hope that MBAs will recognize the strong societal need for them to exert their leadership in the public as well as the private sector. And we hope that MBA programs will remain nimble, both in tailoring curricula and exerting their own thought leadership in the world.
For our part, we say this. Many controversial parts of the nascent Trump presidency have been about them. The refugees. The bad trade deals. The out-of-touch elites. The undeserving poor. In reply, we think that it is about us. We believe that we are smart enough to compete in the international economy without erecting walls. That we are brave enough to defend allies and lead on the international stage. That we are strong enough to welcome in refugees fleeing oppressors in search of freedom and safety.
To those who believe that these things cannot be done, or that in doing so we would unacceptably compromise our security, we ask this: is your underlying assumption that America is strong or is it that America is weak?