With a new spin on the questions of faith and trust, Setti D. Warren wants to assess “the real crisis” in current American politics for the Week Four theme, “The State of Believing.”
“If the electorate does not have faith in governmental institutions, then we can’t function as a democracy,” said Warren, director of the Institute of Politics at Harvard University.
As a citizen of the United States, he said he’s concerned about the future of his country. Years of public service under his belt have not only made him passionate about the topic, but also taught him how critical it is to have faith in political actors.
“If we are to ensure that we protect the rights of people here in our country, if we are to deliver basic services in our country so that people can be successful, if we are to create an environment where people of all different backgrounds can be successful, we’ve got to address the lack of confidence in our institutions,” he said.
In his lecture at 10:45 a.m. today in the Amphitheater, Warren will present data that shows “the severe drop” in faith in government and discuss why he thinks the deterioration keeps occurring. Finally, he said he will propose solutions to rebuild faith in not just elected officials, but also governmental institutions.
Warren said he feels lucky to have had the chance to work at different levels of the government. His “wonderful mosaic” includes a role at the White House as a special assistant in the Office of Cabinet Affairs during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
He said he inherited the commitment to public service from his father, who grew up in “a tough neighborhood in New York and was able to escape a pretty difficult life” by joining the military.
Warren was a naval intelligence specialist during the Iraq War; his father served in Korea. After his father returned to the United States, he “threw himself into the civil rights movement,” and went on to become an educator, Warren said.
“The lessons from my father really stayed with me,” he said. “We have to work on the American experiment; we have to be a part of making it better for all people.”
In 2010, Warren became the first Black person to serve as a popularly elected mayor in Massachusetts. During his 8-year-long tenure as the mayor of Newton, Massachusetts, Warren said he was particularly proud of the passing of a “sensible” tax package and two housing projects, along with rebuilding five schools and “replenishing them with additional teachers and aides.” Warren listed housing and overcrowded schools as some of the challenges he faced while running for the position.
Warren said he was “fortunate” to run at the same time when Deval Patrick was serving as the first Black governor of Massachusetts and Barack Obama was the first Black president of the United States. Both men, Warren said, have been “great inspirations” for him.
Outside of responsibilities of being a mayor, Warren said he worked on encouraging people “who may not see themselves” in positions in the government to “move ahead” by sharing his journey. His determination, he said, was to make anyone – “wherever they are, whatever their background” – believe that they can participate in politics and be in a position like his.
“Providing that pathway for others … is just as important as me being the first,” he said.
Political leadership and its role in rebuilding the trust in governmental institutions and elected officials will also be a part of Warren’s lecture during his first visit to Chautauqua.
His current role takes him back to Massachusetts. As the director of the Institute of Politics, he aspires to create change through education.
“There’s a chance to regenerate young people’s interest in politics and get them ready to lead,” he said.