The President who vowed to “Make America Great Again” has lost sight of the values and sacrifices that made America truly great, leaving a vacuum that is “dangerous for our country and is dangerous for the world,” former Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday in Morristown.
“Russia and China are extremely busy trying to attack our leadership status,” said Kerry, in town to promote his book, Every Day Is Extra, as keynote speaker at the fifth annual Morristown Festival of Books.
The festival continues on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, with free talks by more than 50 authors from numerous genres.
During a 90-minute conversation with former NBC News anchor Ann Curry, Kerry blamed the Trump administration’s “obfuscation, avoidance of truth… lies, and outright gamesmanship and con jobs,” along with the President’s withdrawal from treaties and his bullying of allies, for helping Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping portray America as in decline.
As Secretary of State under President Obama, Kerry led U.S. efforts to broker the Paris Agreement to curb climate change, and the inspections deal to halt Iran’s nuclear arms program.
“Climate change is real,” Kerry said, citing Hurricane Michael and other increasingly violent storms as evidence.
“Lives are going to be lost because of this President’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement. Billions of dollars of damage are going to be done because we’re not moving fast enough to protect ourselves.
“We have 500-year storms all the time now. Every hurricane is more intense now. Why? Because the water is warmer. Because it puts more moisture into the air. This is all logical. But we have people who are not just illogical, they are disrespectful of science. They turn their backs with a willful kind of arrogance. We cannot accept that in our country.”
Trump’s decision to walk from the Iran deal, which U.S. partners are striving to salvage, also makes little sense, Kerry said.
“How does the ‘best negotiator in the world’ just pull out of an agreement without getting anything for it?” he said, getting laughs from the packed house at the Mayo Performing Arts Center.
Trump’s mockery of Professor Christine Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexual assault, was “utterly disgraceful,” added Kerry, a father of two daughters.
“Don’t get mad, get even,” he responded to a spectator’s question. “The way to get even is with the ballot box.”
Asked how the U.S. should respond to the suspected Saudi murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey, Kerry said the “deeply disturbing” act, if proven, “crosses a line that requires some kind of serious response.”
However, the nature of that response was inappropriate for a former Secretary of State to discuss while details still are emerging, Kerry said.
POLITICAL DYSFUNCTION, AND FORREST GUMP
The former Senator from Massachusetts spoke movingly of his friendship with the late Sen. John McCain, a fellow Vietnam veteran. Although the Arizona Republican campaigned for Kerry’s opponents, the two joined forces to secure repatriation of remains of more than 700 soldiers killed in Vietnam.
Such bipartisanship was easier before Newt Gingrich, the Tea Party and the Freedom Caucus turned Washington into a dysfunctional, my-way-or-the-highway place, Kerry said.
Now, the grim imperative to retain power at all costs and the relentless chase for campaign funds leave no time for socializing across the aisle, he said, urging an end to big-money politics and gerrymandering of congressional districts.
On a lighter note, Curry compared Kerry to Tom Hanks‘ peripatetic Forrest Gump character.
Kerry sailed with JFK. He protested with John Lennon. At a charity broom-hockey game, he even collided with…Tom Hanks.
With Gump-like optimism, Kerry insisted America can reassert its real greatness–by forgetting daily tweets and remembering its founding virtues of equality, liberty and justice.
This is the country of D-Day, the Marshall Plan and the Apollo program, after all. America invented the internet, cracked the human genome, and helped Africa tame Ebola. It can fix immigration, and meet virtually any challenge if everyone pulls together, Kerry insisted.
The pitch sounded a lot like Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid. Trump tweeted last month that he would relish a challenge from Kerry in two years. Curry tried her best to pin down the 74-year-old Democrat about 2020.
“I know you wanted me to announce tonight,” Kerry said, to more laughter.