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Election Observer: Carey Cavanaugh ’78

| Thursday, September 29, 2016

Editor’s Note: Throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, The Observer will sit down with Notre Dame experts to break down the election and its importance to students. In this 13th installment, Associate News Editor Rachel O’Grady asks former United States ambassador and alumnus Carey Cavanaugh, class of 1978, about the impact of international relations on this election.

Rachel O’Grady: Broadly speaking, what’s your takeaway from Monday’s debate?

Carey Cavanaugh: When you know there will be a test, it pays to do your homework. This is true in regular life — and in classes at Notre Dame — but in the presidency it is essential. Donald Trump belittled the effort Hilary Clinton put into getting ready for their first debate, but her performance showed that a mastery of policies and facts makes a difference. The Oval Office is not the place for anyone who believes they can just wing it or who does not take advantage of the enormous expertise of those around them. The stakes are simply too important.

ROG: Given your experience as a former foreign service officer and U.S. ambassador, how are international relations playing a role in this election?

CC: From immigration and trade to combatting terrorism and addressing climate change, global issues are front and center in this election. The American people understand that we live today in an interconnected world. Our security and prosperity depend not simply upon our own policies, but on our international partnerships. Maintaining effective working relationships with friends and foes will be paramount to achieving our goals.

ROG: You have just returned from several months in Europe. How is the race for the presidency being seen there?

CC: Trump has set off shockwaves with his glib pronouncements about nuclear weapons, not defending NATO partners and other allies — if he believes they have not paid their fair share of defense costs — preparedness to have the U.S. engage in torture — waterboarding and “much worse” — and intention to expel millions of immigrants and implement a shutdown of Muslims entering the U.S. Countless nations have long regarded the U.S. as the global leader, a shining “city on a hill.” They cannot comprehend that a serious candidate for president of the United States could promote such policies.

ROG: As a professor, what do you think is the most salient issue of this election?

CC: The candidates’ basic approaches to economics. When I entered the Foreign Service, the first president I served under was Ronald Reagan — also, the speaker at my wife Laura’s Notre Dame graduation. He was a great believer in “trickle-down” economics, or as George H.W. Bush called it “voodoo economics.” It didn’t work then, and I do not believe it will work now. Trump is pushing that same approach, that the nation’s problems can be solved if we just give enormous tax cuts to the very wealthy and dramatically cut government regulation of business. This is, in part, how we reached the current state of extreme economic inequality. Also, the recent phony accounts scandal at Wells Fargo is just one more example that businesses cannot be relied upon to police themselves. Clinton is looking toward massive investments in infrastructure and education — student debt relief — via a tax increase on the very wealthy, as well as measures to rein in Wall Street.

ROG: Bringing it back to Notre Dame, what is the most important issue students should be paying attention to in this election? 

CC: Trump and Clinton present radically different images of America. Trump sees a nation that is in collapse, afraid, beset by violence, with a depleted military, run for decades by “stupid” officials and public servants — generals, admirals, trade negotiators, intelligence officers, even ambassadors — none of whom have a clue what they are doing. He argues that he is uniquely qualified to accomplish the task that he trumpets on his hat, “Make America Great Again.” Clinton sees an America that is already great, with tremendous human capital, a growing economy, reduced levels of crime, armed forces second to none and that today occupies the dominant position on the world stage. She has worked with those public servants, from the senior ranks of the military and State Department in Washington, D.C., to schoolteachers in Little Rock, Arkansas, and found them competent, engaged and committed. She acknowledges the daunting problems before us, in particular healing the racial divide, but believes that working together, the nation can bring to that task a spirit and a strength that can meet the challenge. I have a hard time connecting with Trump’s dark, bleak vision. It is not the America that I have known, nor as I travel across this great land the one I see today. True, our nation faces serious issues, but I have found the American people to be hard-working, competitive, optimistic, caring and compassionate. We are champions of freedom, justice and human rights, with an abiding belief that we can build not only a better America, but a better world. Furthermore, I have also found our public servants not only capable and dedicated, but willing to put their lives on the line — whether they are serving in Iraq or Afghanistan, aboard naval ships in the Pacific, at a remote U.S. Embassy or on the streets of Chicago. Students must decide for themselves which vision they believe is most accurate and from there determine who would best represent them in the White House.

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About Rachel O'Grady

Rachel O'Grady is a senior Political Science major living in Ryan Hall and is currently serving as an Assistant Managing Editor. Hailing from Chicago (actual Chicago, not the suburbs) she's been a Cubs fan since birth.

Contact Rachel