From the start, it was clear there was something a little different about Radcliffe Day 2018. The tables underneath the tent stood more closely together than usual, the temperature was warmer than a typical early summer day in Cambridge, and the energy, boosted in great part by the fiftieth-reunion class of 1968’s bright pink “Resist” armbands, was exceptionally palpable.
Once they’d settled down in the tent for the morning portion of the program, Lizabeth Cohen, the departing dean of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, welcomed the more than 2,000 members of the Radcliffe community by informing them that they were a part of the largest Radcliffe Day in history. After sharing a few words of welcome about this year’s Radcliffe Medal recipient, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who arrived at the beginning of the program, Cohen explored some of the circumstances that had prompted the topic of the day’s panel discussion, “Toward a New Global Architecture? America’s Role in a Changing World.” “Even challenges that once seemed solidly domestic have become increasingly global in nature,” she said. “Diseases don’t respect national borders. Climate change has been a global issue since we first started talking about it. The threat posed by non-state violent extremist groups such as the Taliban and Boko Haram similarly transcends political frontiers and demands global cooperation.”
Moderator Nicholas Burns, Goodman Family professor at Harvard Kennedy School, began by asking foreign-policy analyst Anne-Marie Slaughter, J.D. ’85, to reflect upon a perplexing reality: that the United States has “fallen from grace. We don’t have strategic purpose…we’ve abandoned allies. And trade. And refugees.” After chiding Burns for asking what would certainly pass for a leading question in any courtroom, Slaughter became serious: “We are not leading in the world, Nicholas, to answer your question.” She went on to implore the audience to acknowledge and embrace the fact that the United States has always been and must continue to be a leader on the international stage. “We have to recognize that right now, we are less the global hegemon than the global hypocrite. We are preaching values of democracy and universal values we are not practicing at home. We are preaching prosperity, but our country is falling apart—trust me, I live on Amtrak, I know of what I speak,” she said, drawing laughter and applause.