Rep. Adam Schiff discusses the state of American politics, offers advice for aspiring public servants

Event is latest installment of the Thurber Dialogues on Democracy

Rep. Adam Schiff discusses the state of American politics, offers advice for aspiring public servants

Representative Adam Schiff (CA-38), the lead manager of former President Donald Trump’s first impeachment, spoke with School of Public Affairs professor James Thurber about the state of democracy.

The March 31 virtual event, co-hosted by AU’s Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies and the Kennedy Political Union, was the latest installment in the James A. Thurber Dialogues on American Democracy. The series of dialogues is moderated by Thurber, who will retire at the end of the semester after 47 years at the University. Previous conversations in the series featured Sen. Cory Booker and journalist Anne Applebaum.

At the start of the event, Thurber and Schiff discussed the themes of Schiff’s recently-published book, “Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and How We Still Could.” In his book, Schiff argues the principal threat of democracy comes from within.

Schiff and Thurber discussed the ongoing events in Ukraine, noting how people were “dying for democracy” with citizens “willing to sacrifice for sovereignty and for [their] democracy.”

Schiff asked Americans: “What are we willing to sacrifice for [our democracy]?”

Some of the examples that posed a “threat to democracy” that Schiff discussed were Trump’s attempts to “steal” the 2020 election result, the crisis in Ukraine, polarization in Congress, and more. Despite these dangers, he expressed admiration for the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her work as a leader in handling these events.

“I used to bemoan the fact that I arrived too late to serve with the great Tip O’Neill,” Schiff said. “And then I got to see Nancy Pelosi as speaker, and over time I realized, when she leaves the house, new members are going to think: ‘I wish I arrived in time to serve under Nancy Pelosi.’”

Thurber and Schiff discussed other elements of democracy in their conversation, such as freedom of speech, freedom of expression, fake news, the importance of future generations and the future of American politics. Their conversation ended with the conclusion that as a result of the current state of democracy, “the idea of America is at risk.”

To remain optimistic, Schiff explained he holds that one day, people will “marvel at how it was possible, but also be so glad that it’s over and behind us.” He further emphasized the role that people have now to have that day come sooner and prevent further damage. 

Towards the end of the event, Thurber and Schiff also discussed the level of political activism at AU. Given AU’s reputation and proximity to the Capitol, it was an exchange that was bound to occur. 

“Our students are full of hope, too,” Thurber said “And believe in this institution as you do.” 

Schiff also offered advice to future politicians, noting that this is an aspiration for many AU students.

“I’m often asked what’s the best path,” Schiff said. “Follow your interests. If you’re interested in poetry, study poetry. If you’re into literature, study literature. There are numerous paths to public service… but most of them involve being good at what you do.” 

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