BRIDGEWATER — Bridgewater College’s first public event at Cole Hall in over a year was a big one.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright first appeared from behind the curtains inside Bridgewater College’s Cole Hall on Wednesday evening, she received a room full of applause.
Albright’s keynote speaker visit on Wednesday was the first publicly held event at Cole Hall since March 2020, Bridgewater College instructor Jennifer Babcock said.
Now a professor at Georgetown University, Albright spoke with Bridgewater College president Dr. David Bushman to an almost full auditorium to discuss her political career, early role models and her advice for students — particularly in government and foreign diplomacy, among other topics.
“I was asked not long ago to describe myself in six words, and I said ‘worried optimist, problem solver, grateful American’,” Albright said as she spoke of her experience as a refugee from Czechoslovakia. “I can’t tell you what it’s like to sit behind a sign that says ‘United States’, and to do it at the U.N. and as Secretary, and so I have been worried about a lot of the things that have been going on.”
Albright spoke of what she learned while writing her book, “Facism: A Warning,” published in 2018.
Speaking on the characteristics of fascism and its founder, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, Albright said it’s a system of government that requires a group of people to create scapegoats at the expense of another to blame for a country’s problems.
“The other [characteristics] is that the leader thinks he’s above the law, the press is seen as an enemy and there is no discussion among various groups,” Albright said.
The best quote she could find to depict fascism from Mussolini was, “If you pluck a chicken one feather at a time, nobody notices.”
“That is what makes me a worried optimist,” Albright said. “That what one has to do is talk about the characteristics and point out what feathers are being plucked and what is happening in terms of undermining the system.”
Albright said she thinks it’s important to spend time talking with those you disagree with and think before labelling them as scapegoats.
“I think we need to respect those that have different views and listen and try to figure out what is motivating them,” she said.
The former U.N. ambassador additionally said she thinks misinformation is a problem in the U.S. and people need to do better at learning the facts.
“The role of information and where it comes from is absolutely essential for democracy,” Albright said, adding “democracy is not a spectator sport.”
Another area that she touched on was the difficulty she felt being a woman working in the government. When Bushman asked if she had any role models to look up to, Albright told him Eleanor Roosevelt, even though she didn’t know her personally.
“The truth is, many of my role models were men because that’s who I worked with,” Albright said.
She also said that women have to work twice as hard for men on the same job.
Albright capped off the evening recalling her penchant for wearing pins in order to describe the current mood or day’s events to staff, and how on one particular occasion, it got her into trouble.
In the summer of 2000, Albright and President Clinton made a foreign trip to a summit in Moscow. At this point, her pin wearing became more noticeable to people including the press and foreign politicians. Before a meeting with Vladimir Putin, Albright decided to wear a monkey pin.
Not long after, the Russian president turned to Albright and asked, “We always notice what pins you are wearing. Why are you wearing those pins?” and Albright, according to her, responded “Because I think your policy in Chechnya was evil.”