Pete Buttigieg, former mayor of South Bend, Ind. and a former U.S. Democratic Party presidential candidate, addressed the Tufts community in a webinar held on Sept. 16., as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series for fall 2020. University President Anthony Monaco shared opening remarks and Dean Alan Solomont (A’70) moderated the event.
Solomont, dean of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, began the conversation by asking Buttigieg about how his college experience fueled his interest in politics and eventually led him to run for elected office.
Buttigieg responded that, prior to the event, he answered questions from Tufts students, and related this to how his interest in politics evolved.
“[Hearing students’ questions] puts me in a little bit of a nostalgic frame of mind thinking about what it was like occasionally having the chance to ask questions as a student of practitioners, and having that chance I think helped nourish my own interest in politics and government,” Buttigieg said.
He added that, in college, he was convinced that his generation was underestimating the importance of political engagement.
Solomont then asked Buttigieg the reason behind his decision to run for president of the United States, and to what he attributed his appeal as a candidate.
“I think precisely that because we didn’t emerge from Washington or … an established political circle, I think it gave us a sense of being unconstrained by some of the patterns that have worn pretty thin with Americans and with voters inside my party,” Buttigieg said.
He believed he could use his experience as mayor to have Washington D.C. operate more like a well-run U.S. city or town, and break from the old norm, as the country had similarly expected after President Donald Trump’s election.
Buttigieg added that there were many Americans interested in a new generation stepping forward.
Solomont noted that members of Buttigieg’s campaign team were very respectful and easily accessible. He underlined that this was a great reflection of the candidate.
Solomont also expressed that people are becoming more anxious about the upcoming election and asked Buttigieg to share his own thoughts and concerns as November approaches.
“I’m worried about efforts of voter suppression, I’m worried about foreign misinformation, I’m worried about one simple and actually solvable problem, which is a potential shortage of poll workers,” Buttigieg said.
He voiced his concerns about potential attacks on legitimate election results and indicated that the public should be prepared for a delay in obtaining the final results of the election.
Buttigieg and Solomont also emphasized the importance of young people working at the polls for the upcoming election, explaining that it is a way for them to make a difference and relate to other young voters.
When asked about what inspires people’s attraction to Trump’s candidacy, Buttigieg responded that there is a sense among constituents that Trump consistently engages with the public.
Buttigieg also underlined that there is a need to confront and overcome the racial anxieties exacerbated by Trump and his campaign.
To conclude the discussion, Solomont mentioned that20 years ago, as a student, Buttigieg could have been a member of a similar audience, listening to an inspiring leader. He then asked Buttigieg to address the audience of mostly students and prompted him to share a message about participating in democracy, keeping in mind its responsibilities and opportunities.
“[Students] didn’t ask to be coming of age into a nearly catastrophic economic free fall, a moment of confrontation with our country’s inability to live the truth that Black lives matter … let alone a once-in-a-century public health crisis. That’s all obviously daunting,” Buttigieg said.
He indicated that students have the power to influence the long-term future of the country.
“This is one of those moments … that will be studied about and written about for generations,” Buttigieg said. “[This] will, in turn, set up how American life and perhaps global life will unfold for the balance of our lifetimes. No pressure, but the stakes couldn’t be higher.”