Senator George J. Mitchell returned to campus last Thursday to be interviewed by the Morning Sentinel’s Amy Calder. Over 300 people including Waterville residents, Colby students and professors filled Lorimer Chapel to see Mitchell in an emotional discussion that would illicit both laughter and tears from the audience.
In his introduction, Sandy Maisel, the William R. Kenan, Jr. Professor of Government, expressed his admiration for Mitchell, explaining that despite achieving considerable fame and prominence in Washington, the Senator continues to support the people of Waterville. Maisel referenced the political adage that contends that most “Politicians never go back to Pocatello.” Senator Mitchell, he said, is a “notable exception.”
The conversation began with a discussion about Mitchell’s youth in Waterville. The Senator grew up in a poor family, the son of Lebanese immigrants. His life in Waterville was defined by several figures including his father, who worked many difficult jobs before becoming a janitor at the College. “[My family has] a long intellectual history with Colby,” the Senator joked.
Mitchell also addressed the economic decline of Waterville over the last forty years, commenting that “a changing word meant changing circumstances”. When asked about Colby’s involvement in redevelopment of downtown Waterville, Mitchell expressed his support saying that “Colby and the Alfond Foundation have done great things in Waterville.”
The conversation shifted to national politics, where Mitchell expressed his opinion of the Trump administration, carefully avoiding personal attacks on the President by steering the conversation to one on policy “Presidents are ultimately judged by what they do in office, not what was said in a campaign to get them there,” Mitchell said. The senator expressed that he is mostly hopeful for the future, explaining that the President inherited a strong economy, and that America’s position in the world has improved under President Obama. “On the whole, the American economy is the largest, strongest, and most stable in the world. It will remain the economic and cultural leader of the world.” While Mitchell, a Democrat, disagrees with many of Trump’s policy proposals, he believes that compromises can be made in several areas including helping individuals who have been left behind by economic globalization and increasing infrastructure spending. Mitchell urged democrats to work with the President on these areas of agreement.
Mitchell did express great concern over the Trump administration’s foreign policy positions: specifically Trump’s criticism of NATO, his suggestion that Japan and South Korea develop nuclear weapons, and his repudiation of the one China policy. Mitchell mentioned his recent trip to Europe, where he witnessed “widespread fear and anxiety” amongst world leaders. Mitchell explained that many of the United States’ allies are worried that an “America first” policy will seriously threaten global security. He also called for the United States government to encourage European Union member states to remain, arguing that it is the best interest of both Europe and the United States citing the Russians as a mutual adversary.
Mitchell went on to discuss the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, arguing that at least a dozen countries have been prevented from attaining nuclear weapons, thanks to United States diplomatic measures. Mitchell argued that the United States brought nuclear weapons into the world and therefore the country has an obligation to manage them around the world. “[I] hope and pray that [Trump] will reverse his support [for more more nuclear weapons],” Mitchell said.
For the final question of the night, Mitchell was asked about Trump’s rhetoric on immigration. He responded by outlining a history of hostility toward immigrants that has existed since the nation was founded. In an emotional moment, Mitchell explained that “America is an idea” and that there is no American race, color, or language. Senator Mitchell concluded by expressing his gratitude toward America, explaining that his ascension from poverty to prominent lawyer, Senator, and diplomat is only possible in America.