Coronavirus Report

Coronavirus Report: The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews Anne-Marie Slaughter

The Hill’s Steve Clemons interviews New America CEO Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Read excerpts from the interview below.

{mosads}Clemons: Your book, “The Idea That Is America: Keeping Faith with Our Values in a Dangerous World,” is so prescient to the battle going on today. Give us your insights of how you’re looking at the struggle over the values that define us as a nation.

Slaughter: In many ways, we are battling for the soul of America, for an idea of this country that, frankly, we have never achieved, right. They are our ideals to begin with, of the equality of all people, which we are far from — democracy, liberty, justice. But fighting for that idea, even while recognizing that we fall short, is the best engine of progress that we have. And I got the title, “The Idea That Is America,” from a memorandum written by Capt. Ian Fishback when he was writing to Sen. John McCain to say “American troops are torturing Iraqis in Abu Ghraib. I have tried to stand up against this. I’ve written my commanders. I have not gotten a response. I am writing to you because we cannot sacrifice the idea that is America.” We have to face our own laws, our own hypocrisy in many cases. But we have to do that with radical honesty so that we can then try once again to hold ourselves to our highest ideals. And that’s, in large part, what I think is going on right now.


Clemons: As we look at what’s happening domestically in the United States, how do you think other countries in the world are looking at this moment?

Slaughter: Well, I think what’s so interesting is that the actions of our government, of Trump, in so many things that he has done — essentially trying to tear up the multilateral order, being much more favorable to dictators than to democracies — that has lost us respect and power around the world in ways that are deeply worrying. But these protests are actually inspiring imitation or solidarity. In other words, people have been coming out in countries around the world both to protest the killing of George Floyd and violence and police abuse in the United States, but also in their own countries. So there’s a moment here where ordinary Americans standing up for being better than we are is still inspiring to people around the world. But the country we have been in recent years has been essentially a rejection of those values in ways that are frightening to people, but they also lead countries around the world to decide that we are not to be trusted.


Clemons: Do you think the Republican Party can come back as a responsible stakeholder in some of these issues?

Slaughter: I do not think that the Republican Party, as it has evolved under Donald Trump, can continue over the longer term as the Republican Party that was created by Abraham Lincoln. I think we are at a moment of reshuffling, whether that looks like 1913 with the Bull Moose Party and the Republican Party. It’s not clear, and I actually strongly favor a system of multiparty democracy, which we could have if we adopted ranked-choice voting so that where you have third parties, they don’t act as spoilers. But I’m certain that we’re at a moment of political evolution where the parties — particularly the Republican Party, but to some extent the Democratic Party as well — are reconfiguring, or the underlying political landscape is evolving. And again, part of this is demography. I was just listening over the weekend, 90 percent of the American electorate was white in 1970, of voting Americans, in part because voter suppression. That’s now down to 70 percent, 65 percent. And as we go forward, we have to find a way to actually be in our power structure, the country we are becoming. Right now, our power structure is overwhelmingly white and still pretty overwhelmingly male. We cannot have that power structure on top of a country that is genuinely reflecting the world more and more.


Clemons: What can be done to make sure the social contract that comes out on the other end actually addresses our issues?

Slaughter: I do think this is a time for really big change. I would talk about building an entire infrastructure of care and connection, in ways that creates a new social foundation. And New America works on a lot of those ideas. But in my own self-examination over these past weeks, and longer than that but brought to a head now, I am quite convinced that we can’t just look at the big ideas out there and think we’re going to somehow fix things out there without taking a really hard look in here. That means as individuals. I mean, a question I’ve been asking myself is, Do I have the courage, next time I see an African American pulled over by the police to stop and either to film or simply bear witness. Is that something that I can now do, recognizing what I have seen. But similarly, inside organizations — New America has a number of people of color in leadership positions, not nearly enough. And if we look at the divide between the people who are in policy positions versus administrative positions, something I think we see certainly across Washington and the country. We have to make changes at the individual and personal level, not just the abstract advocacy, “what we want to see happen out there” level.


Clemons: As a former State Department leader, what are your thoughts on what is going on in the Pentagon right now?

Slaughter: There was a very, very dark moment last week, at least for me, when I saw Gen. Milley in combat fatigues walking behind the president across Lafayette Park, which they had just cleared violently with flash bangs and tear gas and helicopters flying really low. And I really thought, this looks like dictatorships around the world and as you point out, around the anniversary of Tiananmen Square. But I will say that by later in the week, on the anniversary of D-Day, these quotes from Gen. Eisenhower about taking responsibility and upholding the Constitution, the extraordinary articles in The Atlantic from Adm. Mullen, who, of course, was the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also former Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis, enormously important, as well as Gen. Milley’s memorandum to the troops, saying, your loyalty is to the Constitution. It is to the country more than the commander in chief. He didn’t spell it out quite so bluntly. But it was in the end, you cannot break the Constitution, even at the orders of the commander in chief. And that, to me, is fundamentally the heart of the best of our military. Our military is also far more diverse than many, many American institutions, and I truly don’t believe that our military would turn on the American people. And we got close in a way that frightened many of us, but I think we pulled back from the brink, although we’ve still got to keep fighting.


Clemons: When we think about the idea that is America and what it has stood for people around the world, can America snap back into a global leadership role? Or do we have to negotiate these currents now, of doubt and lack of trust of the United States, for a long time?

Slaughter: I actually don’t think that we can snap back. I’m an optimist and a sort of a globalist and a multilateralist, all those things. But I really think that we have to find a new way to be in the world. We can still lead, but we’re gonna have to lead in a very different way, not a 20th century, “we are a superpower, and we expect you to follow us.” But much more in a whole of America, not just our federal government, but our mayors and our governors and our business leaders and our civic leaders, all of our resources focused on enormous global problems from climate change to pandemics to scarcity of water and food and energy, much more universal problems. Rather than seeing ourselves as the most powerful nation among 200 other nations still engaged in great power competition and expecting other nations to follow our lead. We’re gonna have to figure that out. But again, we’re a different country in this century. We’re going to be a plurality country, no white majority, and we’re going to face the different set of global problems. And so much of the foreign policy establishment is still looking firmly backwards.

Tags Coronavirus Coronavirus Report Donald Trump James Mattis John McCain

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