By: Kevin Garcia-Galindo ’24 (he/him), Staff Writer
On November 4th, Davidson alumni Gloria Nlewedim ’17 and Dylan Glenn ‘91 sat down with Davidson Parents Margaret Spellings, the Secretary of Education for President George W. Bush, and Denis McDonough, the Chief of Staff for President Barack Obama. Their conversation aimed to begin to digest the election that started the previous day and look toward the future, regardless of who became president.
Both Nlewedim and Glenn hold experience working in the public sector. Nlewedim is the Digital Director for the Appropriations Committee Majority Staff in the House of Representatives, and Glenn served as Special Assistant to President Bush for Economic Policy.
The discussion centered heavily on race, party, and other issues connected to the current political climate’s divisiveness.
The event opened with a message from President Quillen thanking all the speakers and members of the Davidson family for taking part in this discussion, as well as for “helping us ground us and guide us” as we look toward the future. Glenn served as the moderator of the event and began by asking how exactly should Davidson students focus their efforts on civic engagement as we wait for a conclusion to this election?
This topic was referenced and built upon throughout the entire discussion. McDonough, who is/was also professor of public policy at the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, made a point to mark this ongoing election as a “learning experience for both sides,” while Spellings highlighted how she saw the country as “much more united about what they think the real issues are around education, health, and infrastructure.”
As President of Texas 2036, Spellings had the chance to interact first-hand with people who many see as pivotal minority or independent voters. In one specific voter group that she met with from voters from Florida and Georgia, she saw how issues like that of abortion could push so many people to vote for Trump. Because of this, she cautions to never make “assumptions on the why” because no one ever truly knows what motivates someone else to vote.
Nlewedim shared a similar caution, referencing her experience at Davidson during the 2016 election and the “sense of deflation” she felt following it. Having just come out of a White House internship and holding a newfound sense of optimism for the country, her sense of disappointment at seeing the election result was a “feeling she will never forget.” Even as Nlewedim admitted that she thinks that “there is a link between who someone is fundamentally and who they vote for,” she urged students to break away from party lines in order to enact real change.
Concerning the work that has already been done on issues like climate change, McDonough said, “You can see the change in people’s view on climate as you engage more effectively on the science and the facts.” This shift, he says, is a product of the conversations that many young people have already started.
As Glenn laid it out, “the old Republican Party is not anymore.” While Spelling said that she felt “a sense of despair” for the Republican Party, she made it clear that however people feel about the result of the election, the next step for a young Democrat or Republican should be to “get involved in the local races.” Even if it is “hard, gritty, [and] time consuming,” as she said, these are some of the offices that hold some of the most direct impact on people’s everyday lives.
McDonough’s statement that “the institutions of local and state government are made up of people” encapsulated the message of the discussion. It can be very easy to feel pessimistic about the direction of the United States when many of the institutions that compose it feel so powerful and unaccountable.
Nlewedim suggested, “Channel your energy to something positive” — whether that means finding an internship or finding ways to volunteer to push the issues that you support.
As McDonough said simply, “Uncle Sam needs y’all.”