Georgetown’s campus was buzzing with excitement on Monday when Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States, returned to Georgetown. The McCourt School of Public Policy, also known as GU Politics, hosted the multi-day event that culminated in the former President’s keynote address. While not everyone shares the same political outlook as Clinton, his message was something that is important for all.
The former president addressed several large themes in his speech, but the main lesson that I took away as the importance of communication, especially with those across the political divide. Clinton claimed that former President George W. Bush exemplifies this principle in his governance. Clinton praised his Republican successor for attempting to reform immigration — a policy issue hindered by both parties, according to Clinton — and Bush’s willingness to debate on virtually any topic.
A reoccurring theme throughout the evening was the absolute necessity of combating the “us versus them” narrative, as Clinton described it. He insisted that we avoid encouraging “tribalism” in America.
At one point, he directly challenged students, asking, “Are you just as guilty on only talking to people who agree with you?”
Perhaps ironically, Clinton’s address echoed a speech at Georgetown Law only a few weeks prior when Attorney General Jeff Sessions challenged students to engage those with whom they disagree.
“The American university was once the center of academic freedom, a place of robust debate, a forum for the competition of ideas,” Sessions told the crowd. “But it is transforming into an echo chamber of political correctness and homogenous thought, a shelter for fragile egos.”
Despite this common message, Clinton was not entirely bipartisan. Clinton criticized both the Republicans and Donald Trump directly, albeit these criticisms came secondary to his message about engaging diverse ideas.
“I don’t believe your ability to badmouth someone else is evidence of authenticity,” he said, and Gaston Hall erupted in applause. “We should be able to treat each other as human beings without assuming the worst,” Clinton noted.
Clinton warned that if we continue down the path of obstinate political opposition then “America won’t be America anymore.” Clinton challenges people from every political belief to engage, regardless of agreement. That’s the only way this country, this democracy works.