Dan Haar: Can we return to shared values as a global beacon?
How much can an idled iPhone, avoidance of clickbait and a rock band of United Nations diplomats advance humanitarian values in the world?
A lot, to hear Samantha Power and Julia Gillard tell it.
Power, U.N. ambassador under former President Barack Obama from 2013 until the Trump administration took over, and Gillard, prime minister of Australia from 2010 to 2013, came together in Hartford at The Connecticut Forum on Saturday night, ostensibly to talk about “America and the World.”
Instead, they talked about where power really comes from — power as in influence, not the Irish-born diplomat who’s now a Harvard professor — and about personal diplomacy and, mostly, the way shared values should, but don’t always, dictate coalitions.
President Donald Trump and his impulsive, sclerotic, transactional view of global politics as a matter of interests — not values — represents a sharp break from the world order these two hugely influential women helped shape.
“Ah, the old days, it feels like just yesterday,” Power said with sardonic wisfulness. “Your closest relationships would be with those countries whose values you shared.”
Many of us in the large crowd at The Bushnell expected to hear about Israel — Power and Obama declined to veto a U.N. resolution condemning the West Bank Settlements — and Venezuela, where a president holds power despite global scorn; the U.S. exit from the Middle East wars; and the China trade standoff.
The lesson is about finding shared values in a world where tensions seem very high. Trump, and more exactly, Trumpism, was the constant backdrop but these two world leaders, obviously not fans, didn’t dwell on that.
“I think we can manage these tensions, but the truth is it’s going to get harder and harder,” she said, with America — read: Trump — becoming more unpredictable. Aligning with dictators and abandoning allies would fit that description.
“What started out as jokes and humor during the campaign is now a sense of anxiety,” she said.
The point is that the ideas that gave rise to Trumpism — everything is open to negotiation regardless of underlying values — are fixable with effort.
That effort includes listening to people by putting away our devices — Power bans them, and laptops, from her classrooms — and by relating on a personal level.
“If we stop clicking on rubbish and start clicking on quality, then it’s going to put a corrective on the market,” Gillard said. “We’ve spent a decade glued to our devices. ... Think deeply rather than clicking on the next thing on the phone.”
That, she said, is a route to “common ground.”
Power rose under Obama as a former journalist, Harvard-trained lawyer and humanitarian activist with more than a bit of idealism. She talked about the clash of security interests vs. values in the White House, where she was on the National Security Council before the U.N. appointment.
At the United Nations, she was in a constant spat with the Russian ambassador over global security issues, with public screaming matches. “He was a friend through it all,” she said. “Behind the scenes he was trying to help me get Syrian political prisoners out of jail. ... So I felt he was working with me to try to pull water from a stone.”
But he wasn’t in the band called U.N. Rocks, in which Power was lead singer. And he wasn’t in the G-37 — the group of women ambassadors that she formed to unify the gender minority, modeled after a much smaller group called the G-7 (not that G7) formed by former U.N. Ambasasador Madeleine Albright.
“Me and my sisters would get together,” Power said, cutting across lines of ideology, wealth and poverty and geographic alliances.
We see the same examples of shared values in any political system, of course, and just as on the world stage, we miss the days when Republicans and Democrats ate and drank together at restaurants and bars around the state Capitol.
Maybe it’s coming back, that way of thinking and acting. And if it does, maybe it will have some effect. The world is complicated enough that no one thinks it’s that simple anymore, certainly not Power and Gillard.
Power learned a lesson about pragmatism from Obama, who, like most people in power, moved away from idealism.
“If you look at the last year of Obama’s presidency, he would say the following: ‘Better is good’,” she recalled. “Really, we went from ‘hope and change’ to ‘better is good?’”
As it happens, Obama inveighed, “Better is a whole lot better than worse ... better is hard.”