On E.J. Dionne, Tuesday Night, February 28, 2017

Contributed by R.C.

Almost all of the 600 seats of the Lobero Theatre were filled Tuesday night for the free event to hear E.J. Dionne. He is best known to most of us in his role as op-ed columnist for the Washington Post (previously also at the NY Times, I’m reminded by a member of the ISB Writers Group) or that amazingly insightful commentator on NPR, MSNBC, and PBS.

He has impeccable academic credentials including undergrad Harvard (Phi Beta Kappa) and Rhodes Scholar (D.Phil., Oxford), which were evident as he spoke to bridge successfully the Santa Barbara gap between town and gown. He’s also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and Georgetown University professor.

The evening was titled by the Capps Center for the Study of Ethics, Religion & Public Life as, “Make America Compassionate Again,” but that was modified to “MA Empathetic A” by a story E.J. told about the recent presidential campaign. A listener to one of Dionne’s presentations sent him an email and followed it with the gift of a red baseball cap emblazoned, “Make America Empathetic Again.” E.J. claims it’s a favorite even though his kids warn, “From a distance it looks like you’re a Trump fan!”

Dr. Dionne’s prepared remarks were laced with literary and historic quotes more than adequate to satisfy his academic sponsors. He’s a crowd-pleasing speaker even at his driest and he drew many applause interruptions. He was best, though, when mimicking his NY TImes colleague, Gail Collins, “But I digress.” It was the anecdotes, recollections and off-script comments the audience loved most.

His presentation seemed hurried and read from text but it became apparent he was making time for the interjection of personal asides and the Q&A period at the end. Excellent choice. Audience questions allowed him to wander and entertain. The perfect way to end the evening.

Dionne on America: “I’m more worried for this country than ever before in my life.”

Dionne on making up and moving on: “I’m still mad at Florida” for the 2000 election recount debacle.

Dionne on the world: “The world is undergoing a redefinition” with far-right politicians arising but also a backlash to them.

Dionne on activism: “You must risk appearing paranoid” to alert us all to real danger.

Dionne on media suppression by Trump: “Reporters still get their stories but they come from the growing numbers of alarmed inside leakers.”

Finally, Dionne on democracy (my favorite): “The best way to fight for democracy is to engage in it.”