(Photo by Katie Albertson / Daily Titan)
Michael Dukakis, a professor, former three-term Democratic Massachusetts governor and the Democratic presidential nominee from 1988, gave a presentation Saturday in the Pollak Library’s Rotary Room titled “President Trump – What’s Ahead?”
“Our speaker today is really someone who deserves respect on several levels,” said Joyce Mason, a Patrons of the Library Activities committee member, when introducing Dukakis. “He’s a politician, he’s a scholar and he’s most of all, a patriot.”
Dukakis spoke to over 120 people about his opinions, mainly focusing on highly interventionist United States foreign policy and the overemphasis on allocating funds for the military while other domestic programs suffer.
“I thought the turnout was excellent,” said Howard Seller, a Patrons of the Library Activities committee chair. “Typically we have between 40 and 60 people and the room was full today.”
Seller said the Patrons approached Dukakis because despite teaching at Northeastern University, he teaches winter courses at UCLA.
“When we invite speakers, we often take somebody who we think is prominent in his or her field and we may make a few suggestions, but we’ll often ask them to choose their topic,” Seller said. “Our motivation was not in any way political.”
In terms of foreign affairs, his main talking point revolved around how “not happy” he is with the overall military interventionist policy America has held since World War II, regardless of which party is in charge of the country.
“I got a laugh when people in Washington and elsewhere get very exercised over the fact that the Russians may have been hacking our electronic systems,” Dukakis said. “No country on the face of the Earth since World War II has intervened more aggressively, more illegally and more brutally in some cases than the United States of America.”
Dukakis went on to cite U.S. intervention in Iran, Guatemala, Chile, Iraq and other countries as examples of such interventions with “terrible consequences.”
He also questioned the focus on China in the South China Sea after they “bailed us out” of the 2007 recession.
“What have we got against China? What have they done to us,” Dukakis said. “The notion that China would interfere with international navigation is preposterous … Trade is their economy.”
One of the positive aspects of foreign relations that Dukakis discussed was the United Nations, which he said is the one institution out there that “has the potential” for dealing with foreign conflicts.
“It just so happens that five-sixths of the world’s surface is now conflict free. This is the first time in the history of mankind that we’ve had anything like this,” Dukakis said.
In terms of domestic policy, Dukakis mostly talked about how the United States allocates too much money to its military, more than the next seven countries combined including Russia and China.
“At a time when we have resources that should be devoted to our kids, to our public infrastructure, a very serious climate problem that threatens the very existence of this planet of ours … It seems to me that we can provide for our security in much better ways,” Dukakis said.
He also discussed his view on the electoral college, how it should be abolished and the Common Cause organization’s efforts to gather enough electoral votes to accomplish this.
“Al Gore won but lost, Hillary won by 3 million, but someone else is in the White House even as we speak,” Dukakis said. “To be perfectly fair, if John Kerry had gotten 60,000 more votes in the state of Ohio in 2004, he would have won even though Bush II got 3 million more votes than he did. Equally unacceptable.”
However, Dukakis does have some hope for President Donald Trump, referencing Ronald Reagan as the president who began ending the Cold War by negotiating with Mikhail Gorbachev.
“I am an optimist. You can’t be a pessimist and be serious about politics,” Dukakis said. “If you don’t think good people can come together and make a difference in the lives of their fellow citizens, try something else.”
After his presentation, Dukakis opened the floor for questions from the audience.
One audience member asked if he believed there was a historical precedent for Trump, his preferred method of precinct-based grassroots campaigning and his thoughts on immigration policies as the son of Greek immigrants.
“I obviously, from a personal standpoint, feel very strongly about (immigration),” Dukakis said. “That doesn’t mean that we don’t need limits … But if people don’t understand just how important immigration is to the future of this country, they just don’t get it.”
Dukakis did receive some criticism from the audience, like from CSUF history professor Kristine Dennehy, who felt the way he compared America’s problems with democracy to China’s problems with democracy was “an insult.”
“Obviously, they’re very different. One is much more oppressive, so on and so forth,” Dukakis said in his response. “All I’m saying is that even as we’re trying to encourage people to adopt democratic governments around the world, let’s just make sure that our own democracy is living up to its expressed values.”
However, most of the audience absorbed Dukakis’s bipartisan, historical views on foreign and domestic policies as well as the personal stories he told, such as his first venture into politics in the third grade with a teacher whose son was in the audience.
“I want two strong parties in our country. I want to be part of that democracy,” said CSUF geology professor Diane Clemens-Knott. “It’s so disheartening as an adult to feel that the system isn’t working. It was good to look back and see how people on both sides have had good contributions to make.”