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Secretaries Kerry and Cohen speak on bipartisanship, American policy

On Tuesday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m., members of the University of Maine community gathered at the Collins Center for the Arts to see Secretaries John Kerry and William Cohen deliver the 2019 Cohen lecture, “Defense and Diplomacy in an Uncertain World.”

The event began with a posting of the colors by UMaine’s Army and Navy Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC and NROTC) students, a performance of the national anthem and a land acknowledgment by President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. The land acknowledgment is a ceremony that recognizes that the land that UMaine is located on is Penobscot Territory. 

After these formalities, Secretaries Kerry and Cohen walked onstage to discuss a few timely and political topics. These topics consisted of foreign policy, bipartisanship, domestic politics and the impacts of President Trump’s administration. 

Secretary Cohen, the former Secretary of Defense under former President Bill Clinton, expressed concern over the direction in which President Trump is taking American foreign policy and diplomacy. Cohen noted that he believed America is becoming more isolationist under Trump. Cohen thought this isolationist attitude was extremely prevalent in Trump’s “America First” policy explaining that he was already seeing isolationism’s more detrimental impacts on global and domestic politics. 

“(America) no longer (sees) a competitor in politics. (America sees) an enemy,” Cohen proclaimed. 

Later on, Secretary Kerry, who served as the former secretary of state under former President Barack Obama, chimed in on the conversation. For the most part, Kerry agreed with Cohen’s points. He also believed that President Trump’s policies have had particularly negative effects on American policies. Kerry noted that these policies have caused extreme division between American political parties which has prevented bipartisan work.

Kerry found that this current division was rather extreme, noting a stark difference between the way he had seen senators work together when he’d been in office compared to the way senators worked together today. 

“We didn’t think of ourselves as Republicans and Democrats, except when we had to,” Kerry noted. “We saw each other as senators.”

Kerry believed that bipartisanship could help American politicians work together to achieve practical foreign and domestic policies. 

Recently, these controversial topics have become both extremely prevalent and relevant. The American public is no stranger to Trump and his many controversies. Ever since the 2016 election, President Trump has made some extremely polarizing and unpopular foreign policy decisions. Many people remember the uproar following Trump’s 2017 travel ban and his removal of American forces from parts of Syria. 

Some of these decisions have caused Republicans and Democrats to drift farther away from each other. The United States has a Congress controlled by Democrats, a Senate controlled by Republicans, and, according to the Pew Research Center, a Supreme Court that has become less bipartisan. 

Cohen and Kerry delivered a very bold lecture about foreign policy, bipartisanship and President Trump. The two former secretaries both took a very public stand for bipartisanship and interdependence, both arguing that, without these ideals, America could not succeed in the arena of global politics. 

This lecture served as an interesting and insightful discussion about the direction of American policy and provided the UMaine community with an opportunity to learn more about the current political sphere.

Secretaries Kerry and Cohen speak on bipartisanship, American policy

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