In front of an audience of more than 5,000 at Fox Theater in Detroit Friday evening, former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke to a crowd about the state of American democracy, growing resentment toward present-day political figures and life as retired public servants.
The talk, which was moderated by actor Ben Stiller, was part of a nationwide tour titled “An Evening With the Clintons” that aimed to give attendees an inside look into the workings of the American government. The Clintons also gave voters advice on how to proceed in today’s political climate, which they said was increasingly polarized..
During the 75-minute show, Bill Clinton urged voters to advocate for their beliefs ethically without criticizing or berating the other side. He noted how the tense political situation today is a result of this kind of “us against them” mentality.
“If you spend all of your time just dumping on people because they’re the object of your resentment, it won’t make you happy, it won’t empower you, it won’t change somebody else’s life for the better,” Bill Clinton said. “And in the end, it will make it into the kind of politics we have today where everybody is objectified.”
Hillary Clinton echoed Bill Clinton’s statement and said she hoped voters would make informed decisions during the 2020 election without interference from other countries or political parties. She said the wide range of candidates running for a Democratic seat gives voters a unique opportunity to find a candidate that speaks to issues they care about.
“I’m hoping that (the candidates) can each have their time, whether it’s on the big stage or in other settings to tell people what they want to do,” she said. “As Bill just said, there were a lot of problems in 2016, we don’t need to go into them, except to try and understand what happened so it doesn’t happen again. And part of that is for people, for voters, to take the elections back— take them back from social media, from the bots, from the trolls.”
Both Bill and Hillary Clinton discussed how relying on social media for political news can sometimes give voters a skewed view of an election — especially since, according to a study from 2017, 62 percent of US adults get news from social media and fake news stories are more often shared on Facebook than through any other medium.
Hillary Clinton said the growing presence of social media has permanently changed how many people, especially young voters, think about the world and the US political situation.
“There’s a lot of concern now about how participation on social media for kids and young people is actually altering the ways their brains work,” Hillary Clinton said. “It’s a form of addiction, and how do you encourage your child, and in our case our grandchild, to be engaged in the world without getting sucked into what is an artificial construct of the world?”
Stiller, who initially posed the question of social media’s impact on politics, said he often worries about how social media plays such a prominent role in determining how people absorb news.
“I think it’s insane, it’s crazy what’s going on because no matter your politics, it’s hard to understand what’s real and what’s true,” Stiller said. “I think about it the impact on children, and how our kids are experiencing the world and that never used to be a question. It’s definitely getting worse and worse.”
While the majority of the discussion focused on issues closely related to many Americans’ daily lives, like social media usage and voter turnout, the Clintons also devoted a portion of the talk to speaking about prominent moments in their careers.
Bill Clinton’s involvement in the 1993 Oslo accords, during which Israeli and Palestinian leaders came together to discuss a possible peace agreement, led into a discussion of how the Arab-Israeli conflict has become even more difficult to solve since the 20th century. Bill Clinton said the US must still try and make progress in the region even when it seems difficult or nearly impossible.
“We shouldn’t stop wanting Israel to be safe, we shouldn’t stop supporting them, we should be glad they get half of all capital investment for cyber security on the world arena, because we need help with that,” he said. “But we should never forget that the other people are people too … We’re not at a time now where this can be resolved.”
Hillary Clinton also spoke about her work assisting former President Barack Obama in managing the special operation that resulted in the death of al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011. She said the small staff helped Obama maintain focus and plan the operation effectively.
“It was one of the best examples of presidential decision-making that I have certainly ever seen or read about because of the way President Obama set the process up,” she said. “There was a small group of us — the secretary of defense, the vice president, the deputy chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, the director of the CIA — there was a small group of us who was asked to advise the president.”
LSA sophomore Alyson Chatterjee attended the event and said the balance between the anecdotes about the Clintons’ daily lives and current politics made the talk interesting.
“It was cool to hear them talk about their personal lives, politics then and now, as well as what we need to do going forward as a country,” Chatterjee said. “I’ve heard Bill and Hillary speak several times and while the conversation this time around seemed relatively similar and surface level, I couldn’t help but miss their presence in American politics.”