This week, the University of Montana Mansfield Center presented a ZOOM conversation called ‘Fostering Freedom at Home and Abroad’ with Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.

Secretary Rice opened by sharing part of her background.

“I would just note that I grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama, and later on, took an oath of office to the Constitution of the United States of America that once counted my ancestors is three fifths of a man, so our Constitution is capable of channeling peaceful change,” began Secretary Rice.

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For his part, Ambassador McFaul, a native Montanan, shared an exchange he had with a Russian native.

“I too am an optimist about the American democratic system like Condi,” said Ambassador McFaul. “I was debating on a podcast the other day about Russia, with a friend of mine who was born in Moscow, and I sounded slightly more optimistic about the future of democracy in Ukraine than she did. At one point in the podcast, she said, ‘you know, Mike, I've known you for a long time. The basic difference between the two of us why you're so optimistic and I'm pessimistic is that I was born in Moscow and you're born in Montana’.”

Secretary Rice addressed the challenges faced by American institutions.

“American institutions are facing some real challenges,” she said. “First and foremost, I think is the challenge of a lack of confidence in those institutions by Americans themselves. Poll after poll after poll shows that Americans trust less their electoral process, they trust less the institutions of Congress, the presidency, and they don't trust the media. And so no great democracy can flourish if there's a lack of trust in institutions, and I think we need to start to get to the bottom of what's causing that lack of trust.”

Ambassador McFaul stated that his high school debate partner was now U.S. Senator Steve Daines, and in his view, most Americans are neither all red nor all blue, but mostly purple.

“You know, if you're on TV, or you're on Twitter, God forbid, and you're not interacting directly with people, it's really easy to think of them as being evil, and stupid and reactionary or radical communists or fascists, but when you talk to people, and you actually interact with them, it's a lot harder to do that,” he said.  “I think anecdotally, that is true every time I do it. I say this as a Democrat at the Hoover Institution, by the way, and I just think modalities of doing that on the micro level can help us get to the macro level that we want, which I think is where most Americans are purple, not red, and blue.”

The conversation emphasized the hard work of creating and sustaining democracy, with topics ranging from the importance of engaging rural America to Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Click here to view the entire conversation between Secretary Rice and Ambassador McFaul.

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