“If you’re not confused, you don’t know what’s going on,” David Gergen said at the Sept. 20 opener of the 2016-17 Tate Lecture Series.
Gergen has spent 21 seasons with the Tate Lecture series. As moderator, he sat in a red arm chair on the stage in McFarlin Auditorium with two other guests to his right: Tom Brokaw and Doris Kearns Goodwin.
Brokaw has spent some 50 years at NBC, more than any other media personality. He is also the first to host all three of NBC’s major programs: “Nightly News,” “Today” and “Meet the Press.”
Goodwin, a political and presidential historian, also graced the stage.
Though the buzz of this year’s Clinton-Trump campaign consumes the political discussion, Gergen urged the guests to think about both the past and future.
“We know what made leaders great in the past. We don’t go look back at that anymore,” Goodwin said.
The current democratization of the electoral process only dates back to the 1950s and ‘60s. Prior to this era, nominees were chosen by their parties. This two-party backbone,had the power, according to lecturers.
Though Goodwin argued this past system was a better one, you can’t take the voice away from the people once they have it. “It’s hard to go backward when you have democracy in place,” she said.
In her opinion, it is this power to the people that has allowed Republican nominee Trump to prevail.
Brokaw defined it as a “celebrification.”
“If you can explain the Kardashians, you can explain Donald Trump,” he said. “He’s known for being known.”
Though he said that statement pejoratively, he remained neutral. “It’s also dangerous if Clinton gets elected,” Brokaw said.
To say the least, there is a dissatisfaction with the 2016 election.
Gergen asked the speakers a series of difficult questions, such as: “How important is temperament?” “Who is better qualified?” and “Size up the trust issue with Clinton…”
“Temperament is the central component to any president,” Goodwin said. “All great leaders have been through adversity and prevailed.”
Neither of these assets categorize Trump, she argued.
Goodwin called Trump a six-foot-two filter-less personality. “That worries me,” Goodwin said, “that part of his temperament.”
“The presidency is so much more complex than Trump understands,” Brokaw echoed.
Brokaw cited Trump’s stance. For eight years where he claimed that Obama was not born in the U.S., despite evidence that proved otherwise. Just last week, Trump said Obama was born in the U.S., “period.”
Trump has a lack of regard for the truth.
Brokaw and Goodwin also had much to offer on Clinton.
“Clinton does not have a reservoir of support for her personality,” Brokaw said.
Goodwin pointed out Clinton’s lack of trustworthiness and her inability to confront the issues.
“When you meet Clinton, she is a different person than who you see on the campaign trail,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said that Clinton truly prevails when she looks at herself from the outside. In her acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, Clinton said, “I’m better at governing than I am at campaigning.”
Clinton fails to look at herself from this perspective often, Goodwin said, adding that she lives in the shadow of her past.
“Even the fact that she is a woman, a true milestone in America history, has yet to surface in a positive light,” Goodwin said.
Instead, Clinton more often than not glimmers in the darkness of negativity, Goodwin said.
“This election is not over,” Brokaw said. “I told people, ‘go ahead and order the pizza now.’ These debates will be bigger than the Super Bowl.”
Gergen led both guests to the questions of the future: What does each nominee have to do to succeed in the debates, and, whoever wins the presidency, what will they have to do going forward?
Brokaw called for Clinton to present a genuine agenda, not one that furthers the Obama administration or that of her husband, but step-by-step what she will do within week one, week two and so on. “Clinton has a hard time connecting with people beyond her supporters,” Goodwin said.
Goodwin said that Trump will have a better chance if he can manage to sound presidential, a tone that he only sometimes projects.
“The best thing would be to take him off Twitter,” Goodwin said jokingly.
Brokaw called for Trump to convey a thoughtfulness and reflectiveness in his responses, as opposed to relying on his intuition.
And moving into the future, Brokaw and Goodwin said both Trump and Clinton’s jobs would be the same if either were to be president: knit the country back together.
“I have two tips,” Goodwin said. She proposed the president should go on train trips around the country to “get out of Washington and to have congressmen over for breakfast, lunch and dinner — a move from the LBJ playbook.
“There’s a specific fear and anxiety,” Goodwin said.
“With increased globalization, there is a loss of community in modern life. People are looking for a leader who brings stability.”
“We’ve never been through anything like this before,” Brokaw said.