November 21, 2017  

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Politics Dominating News Cycle, Conversations in Presidential Election Year

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Dr. Joseph Weinberg

In a presidential election year unlike any other, it’s almost impossible to go a day without hearing something about the two major party candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. For the people who are tired of hearing about them and politics in general, Dr. Joseph Weinberg, associate professor of political science at The University of Southern Mississippi has bad news for you: politics is not going away anytime soon.                 

“Politics is going to come up,” he said. “You can’t go anywhere and avoid government. It affects every aspect of your life. You can avoid calculus all your life, but you can’t avoid politics.”

Weinberg is an Asheville, N.C. native who finished his undergraduate career at American University in Washington, D.C. where he worked five years on Capitol Hill with his hometown congressman Charles Taylor of the 11th congressional district. Weinberg received his master’s degree from North Carolina State University and his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Although he wanted to pursue a career as an agricultural extension agent, he shifted to education and now teaches political science at Southern Miss.

Weinberg’s research focuses on international trade, a topic that doesn’t get the same front-stage attention as most other policy talking points in a candidate’s platform. Despite the lack of familiarity amongst American voters, world economies and the way countries do business with one another are changing quickly and will affect all of us in some way.

From the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (T-TIP), hundreds of countries have a lot to win or lose in the negotiation process of these deals, and the biggest winner or loser could be the average citizen. Weinberg argues it should be at the forefront of debate.

“If we could get the candidates to start talking about things like the TPP or T-TIP and let people make their choice based on things like that, then we would be better off,” he said. “If your goal is to cast a vote for someone who’s going to make your life better, worse, different, whatever, understanding what they can do and what things affect your life already is important.”

The two trade deals, TPP and T-TIP, involve numerous countries attempting to promote trade growth with each other, a process that would lead to dramatic changes in prices of goods, create or eliminate thousands of jobs, change wages of workers and much more. The TPP alone will affect around 800 million people and encompass 40 percent of the world’s economy. Given the many moving parts, isn’t it NOT difficult to understand why people wouldn’t be aware of it?

“How long does it take you and four other friends to decide where to go to eat?” Weinberg asked in an attempt to put the size of the deal in perspective. “We can’t even come to an agreement in our own Congress and now you add 180 other countries to the process.”

However, there was a time when international trade was the major issue. During the 1992 presidential election between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was an important policy issue, providing a staunch contrast from a 2016 election year when the two major candidates rarely mention the European Union or the Pacific Rim countries, and offer little to no policy arguments for the two major trade deals being negotiated now.

“It’s a lot easier to say ‘make America great again’ or ‘healthcare,’” Weinberg said. “But you don’t want to run on something like trade politics that people understand less.”

Weinberg believes that by learning about trade policy, the average American would likely start focusing on the things that affect him or her the most, not just partisan politics.

“Any political process, trade politics or how a bill becomes a law, gets people to look at decisions that affect them,” he said. “If we make this decision then this would happen. Some people will lose and some will win. Let’s walk through it, here are the people who benefit from it and the people who won’t.”

Americans need to start having the international trade conversation again, and Weinberg is taking that debate to his classroom. As a political science professor, Weinberg believes that learning to analyze political issues is a skill his students will be able to use for the rest of their lives.

Weinberg believes students who take classes in political science will help develop into a new generation of well-educated voters making choices based on policy issues that affect us the most.

“You get to pick because it's a democracy; you’re actually a part of this,” he said. “If someone wanted to fix your car but had no idea how a car works, that would be a problem. We have people who have no idea how the government works but get to pick who leads it.”

Weinberg will continue to research international trade as the two major agreements continue to unfold. He hopes his students will have enough political ammunition to back up their arguments at the table this next Thanksgiving, because whether they like it or not, political science is going to come up.

Learn more about Dr. Weinberg and the Southern Miss Department of Political Science, International Development and International Affairs at https://www.usm.edu/political-science-international-development-affairs.