According to former acting Gov. Jane Swift, the Trump presidency has been engendered by a combination of factors, including oversimplified narratives, political extremes, reality politics, media coverage and gender norms.
Last Thursday, The Honorable Jane Swift, who is a North Adams native, gave a lecture entitled “The Trump Presidency” to an audience of MCLA students, faculty and community members at Church Street Center, as a part of this semester’s public policy lecture series. Swift joined Cokie Roberts and Gloria Steinem as speakers who have attended the College for the public policy lecture series. The lecture was made possible by the Ruth Proud Charitable Trust.
Political Extremes and Oversimplification of Narrative
According to Swift, both the Republican and Democratic parties are moving towards political extremes and away from moderate campaigns on a national level.
As a self-proclaimed “very liberal Republican,” Swift highlighted the parallels between Senator Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump, and how both campaigns exhibit oversimplified narratives.
During her lecture, Swift played a video clip from “Burlington Free Press” of Sen. Sanders speaking at a chorus concert at a school in Vermont. In his speech, Sen. Sanders argued that if the top one percent paid higher taxes, art programs, such as the one at the school he spoke at, would not be cut.
This, according to Swift, was an oversimplification of narrative.
The problem with former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, however, was that she lacked a narrative, or at the very least a memorable one, Swift said.
The Media and Celebrity/Reality Politics
The media’s role in the 2016 presidential election has been previously analyzed and critiqued. According to Swift, the press needs to remember that their job is to cover policy and not character. Swift criticized the media for focusing on the two presidential candidates’ character rather than their policies.
“You can’t ‘out-Trump’ Trump,” she said.
Swift referenced a recent Tweet from “The Boston Globe,” which provided a link to an article about the release of Melania Trump’s official portrait, which analyzed how her arms were crossed and how she wasn’t smiling. On the same day, there was a gas attack in Syria. This, however, “The Globe” did not give the same social media attention to.
This selected media coverage and attitude, she said, is how the country ended-up with a reality TV star as president.
Women in Politics
According to Swift, the same applies to women in politics. She noted that often times, the policies of female politicians are often overlooked in favor of topics such as their family life and appearance. Swift recalled times when her efforts in education reform and homeland security were overshadowed by her pregnancies and other coverage of her personal and home life.
Political Science Professor Samantha Pettey, who studies women in politics, reported connecting to this part of the lecture.
“She is the only female governor Massachusetts has ever seen and the media was not particularly kind to her being a mother in office,” Pettey said. “It was really interesting to finally hear first-hand about her work/life balance.”
Students Interact with Swift
Junior Kaitlin Wright, who is the chair of the campus’ College Republicans chapter and president of Political Science Club, had the opportunity to interview Swift for a College Roundtable discussion, hosted by Beacon Web News.
“I am happy to say that [Swift] was incredibly nice, welcoming and when I was nervous before the TV interview, she was comforting and motherly,” Wright said.
According to Wright, Swift was a necessary voice to include on campus.
“I thought it was refreshing to have a conservative voice on campus,” Wright said. “I hope that her talk opened people’s eyes about the realities of the other side of the political aisle. Swift is a very moderate Republican and I hope people were able to understand that a ‘moderate’ Republican actually exists.”
What’s Next: “Threats, Wildcards and Opportunities”
Swift concluded her lecture by offering the audience words of advice for how to move forward in the current political climate. Swift encouraged the audience to “act local,” a piece of advice she offers her own daughters, by getting involved with local politics. The best way to make change, she said, is to run for local offices and make the change that you want to happen.
A part of acting local, Swift noted, was how one has conversations and engages with neighbors.
“You can disagree without being disagreeable,” she said in a Q&A session afterwards. “Stop saying who started it and be more concerned with who is going to end it. . .Some of my best ideas were improved by talking to those who disagree with me.”
Swift served as the 69th Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts from 1999 to 2003 and Acting Governor from 2001 to 2003. During this time, Swift testified in support of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to a statement by the College. Swift also played an instrumental role in passing the Education Reform Act of 1993. The current CEO of Middlebury Interactive Languages, she currently resides in Shelburne, Vt. and has been a visiting lecturer in Leadership Studies at Williams College for over ten years.