As President Donald Trump continues to solidify America’s relationship with the United Kingdom, evidenced by Prime Minister Theresa May’s visit to the White House, USC’s own President C. L. Max Nikias is also hosting powerful leaders from across the pond.
On Thursday night, former Prime Minister of the U.K. David Cameron spoke in a packed Bovard Auditorium. A select group of students, faculty and other guests, including the former governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, crowded the hall to hear the politician’s thoughts on issues from globalization to fake news.
Part of the President’s Distinguished Artist and Lecture Series, the discussion gave members of the USC community the rare opportunity to hear from an influential world leader. Some of the series’ past speakers have included U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Tom Brokaw, General Colin Powell and Madeleine Albright.
The event began with an introduction from Nikias, followed by Cameron’s keynote speech and a question and answer session with students and history and accounting professor Jacob Soll, who served as the moderator. Cameron, who spent six years in office before resigning as prime minister in 2016 following a difficult battle with supporters of British withdrawal from the European Union, was recently named the new president of Alzheimer’s Research UK.
Throughout the evening, Cameron touched on many of the challenges countries around the world face as they enter the 21st century, ranging from the state of the European Union in the wake of Brexit to the emerging problem of fake news permeating the media. During his opening remarks, however, he decided to take a brighter view of global events and encouraged the audience to have a positive outlook on the future.
“First of all, let’s be optimistic,” Cameron said. “Sometimes it’s good to stand back and take a look across the decades and see what has been achieved. Almost a billion people in the world have been taken out of poverty, diseases like polio almost eradicated from the face of the earth. And democracy is still on the march.”
The benefits of globalization and the consequences of populist movements like those seen in the United Kingdom and the United States were major topics during the discussion. On these issues, Cameron expressed his belief in the merits of expanding free trade and cautioned against implementing reactionary policies that threaten global prosperity.
“The argument for staying in [the European Union] was not one of emotion, but of utility, for the influence we gain and the economic benefits of trade and cooperation,” Cameron said. “In the future we will be out of the European Union, but hopefully taking part in the things we need, such as a strong trade relationship and security. If those pursuing Brexit are for cutting Britain off from the world, I wouldn’t worry, for that is not the role of Prime Minister May’s government.”
Cameron went on to speak about the fake news that has recently made its way into the forefront of political discourse. He concluded that it is not a real cause for concern, as the success of news organizations is ultimately driven by the market.
“Fake news will damage [news agencies’] brands and reputations, so they’ll move away from it,” Cameron said.
He concluded by giving a word of advice to the students in attendance who seek to become tomorrow’s leaders, telling them to remain strong in their convictions that they can overcome the challenges of tomorrow.
“Have confidence and optimism that we are capable of cracking the problems in the world that are in front of us,” Cameron said. “We are solving some of the major diseases in the world, we have lifted a billion people out of poverty in the last 20 years, we’ve seen extraordinary developments in technology and the sciences. Do your thinking for the better, and take that into your politics.”
Students who attended the event said that they found Cameron engaging and uplifting, resonating with his sentiments on the need for a positive attitude when discussing the future.
“My favorite part was the optimism David Cameron had about him,” said Neelesh Bagrodia, a freshman majoring in biomedical engineering. “Reading the news lately, a lot of people seem to be down, and I thought his comments were very reassuring.”
Ty Herdtner, a freshman in the World Bachelor of Business program, commented on Cameron’s humor and wit as a highlight of the night.
“I was honestly surprised by how light-hearted, optimistic and genuinely funny Cameron kept it,” Herdtner said. “It was refreshing to see a diplomat who wasn’t so … uptight, and was able to relate well to a younger audience.”