Texas Tribune Festival: 2017

The Texas Tribune Festival was held on the UT campus over the weekend of September 22-24, 2017. This annual event was sponsored by The Texas Tribune, a non-profit media organization that informs Texans on statewide issues. More than 60 sessions were offered, plus podcast tapings, keynote addresses, and various receptions. The sessions were grouped by themes: Trump: Year One, Politics & the Media, Transportation, Energy & the Environment, Diversity & the Law, Health Care & the Economy, Public & Higher Education, 2018, and Cities.

Unfortunately, I was only able to attend the Festival on Saturday. I wanted to see certain panelists (Mara Liasson, Joaquin Castro, Cecile Richards, Sid Miller), so I mostly went to Trump: Year One sessions in Hogg Auditorium. I would definitely attend this event again. These discussions were more in-depth and thought-provoking than similar sessions at SxSW.

Trump and the Presidency: Douglas Brinkley (Rice University / historian), H.W. Brands (UT / historian), Mara Liasson (NPR correspondent), moderator Bryan Curtis

Opening remarks: In December, Trump told Brinkley some stories about meeting Presidents Nixon, Carter, and Reagan. Liasson thinks that Trump is frustrated because he feels that he is not respected. She is concluding that he is just different “in kind” from previous presidents. Brands observed that Trump views his job as a businessman and his impatience stems from being a CEO.

What has surprised you? Brinkley: Trump’s Twitter use has not slowed down and he is pitting American against American. Liasson: Trump is exactly as he was during the campaign. Brands: Agreed. Trump’s actions seem to be more impulsive than calculated.

What do you think is Trump’s view of the presidency? Liasson: Trump is a cheerleader for the U.S. Brands: Trump might win reelection, he is a big brand. Liasson: Trump has a bigger bark than bite. People are starting to tune him out. Brinkley: Agree, just as people had started to ignore Nixon. Brands: Mixed accomplishments so far: Supreme Court appointment, but has undermined U.S. leadership in the world.

Say something nice about Trump? Brands: Trump demonstrated that someone outside either party structure could be elected. Liasson: Good selections for his national security team. Brinkley: His willingness to save Dreamers and appointment of Brock Long to FEMA.

Trump and National Security: Joaquin Castro (U.S. Representative), Kathleen Hicks (Center for Strategic and International Studies), Malcolm Nance (Terror Asymmetric Project), Will Hurd (U.S. Representative), moderator Bobby Cheney

North Korea? Castro: Gives Trump credit for going to the UN, but thinks Trump should take the fight off Twitter. Best strategy is a diplomatic one. Hicks: Trump’s unpredictability is very risky for national security. Nance: This game of chicken has human consequences and could quickly escalate out of control. Hurd: Russia and China agreement at the UN Security Council is great.

China? Hicks: We must work with Chinese to ensure security tensions do not impact our economic goals. Nance: Withdrawal from Trans-Pacific Partnership gives China power in Asia Pacific region. Hurd: US and China are “frenemies.” Castro: Trump has been a god-send for China, allowing them to rise on the world stage, especially in Latin America.

Russia? Nance: US strategy for confronting Russia is not working. Putin understands information power. Hurd: Russians are not our allies, they are our adversaries. Castro: Russia has leverage by their seat on the UN Security Council.

Cyberattacks? Hurd: Need to determine what is a digital “act of war.” Nance: Will not be able to legislate cyberattacks out of existence. “Common sense is the best intelligence weapon.” Hicks: Should expect cyberattacks to increase and find ways to encourage people to work in public service on this issue. Castro: Becomes difficult to pass legislation in this area.

How Cities are Tackling Climate Change: Steve Adler (Austin mayor), Ron Nirenberg (San Antonio mayor), Pete Buttigieg (South Bend mayor), Annise Parker (Houston former mayor), moderator Kia Collier

What tools are in the cities’ toolkit to tackle climate change? Adler: This is a local issue. Mayors signed their own accord during the Paris climate conference. Nirenberg: Cities and their populations will feel the impacts of climate change. Buttigieg: A lot of the action on this global issue is happening in the cities. Parker: Cities can negotiate their own agreements.

What do you say to climate skeptics? Parker: Talk about practical and financial impacts. Nirenberg: The loss of federal support and data via the EPA is dangerous. Adler: Point to how Austin has experienced drought, significant rain and wildfires in the past three years.

How do you balance climate issues with development?  Nirenberg: Need to push back on irresponsible development practices and state legislatures. Parker: Overlapping jurisdictions are a problem.

How to address water supply issues? Adler: Proud of work that has been done on conservation. Trying to be a better regional partner on water conservation. Nirenberg: Work on conservation and regional partnerships.

How to rebuild older cities with conservation in mind? Buttigieg: Must realize that the costs will only get larger. Parker: Not easy to undo damage of previous infrastructure decisions. Noted that streets in Houston are part of their drainage system.

Trump and the Resistance: Cecile Richards (Planned Parenthood), Crisanta Duran (Colorado State Representative), DeRay Mckesson (Black Lives Matter / Campaign Zero), Ezra Levin (Indivisible Project), moderator Jamelle Bouie

Does resistance include a positive agenda? Richards: Purpose is not only to resist, but persist. Part of a larger progressive movement. Duran: Yes, need to be more involved at the ballot box. Mckesson: Need to build up resistance proactively. Interesting that now protests are more accepted than just three years ago. Levin: Resistance has been going on for decades.

How do you resist things that are less visible? Levin: At the local and state level, those representatives do care about your vote. Mckesson: Protests have pushed people to think about “quiet trauma” at the state and local level. Richards: Never, never give up. Duran: Everyone has an opportunity to influence state legislatures and local governments.

How can your message get out? Mckesson: Democrats have not honed their message. Duran: Need pathways for new leaders with different backgrounds and experiences. Richards: Marches and phone calls are great, but voting rights are most important.

Trump and Mexico: Henry Cuellar (U.S. Representative), Sid Miller (Texas Agriculture Commissioner), Veronica Escobar (El Paso County Judge), Tony Garza (former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico), Francisco Cabeza de Vaca (Governor, Tamaulipas, Mexico), moderator Jay Root

Who supports any of Trump’s positions on the Mexican border? Garza: Prior to Trump, we were not good about defending our relationship with Mexico. Miller: Mostly agree with Trump, but would take a different approach. NAFTA needs to be revised.

Any other comments about Trump’s positions on Mexico? Cuellar: Our world has been turned upside-down if Russia is a friend and Mexico is not. Garza: Are the US and Mexico really competing with each other or together against the rest of the world? Agree that NAFTA needs to be reviewed and modernized. Escobar: Will be hard on border communities such as El Paso if NAFTA is blown up. But there is an opportunity to improve labor rights on both sides.

Do the existing border fences work? Escobar: The idea of a wall is offensive and absurd, and intended to send a negative message to our neighbor. Cabeza de Vaca: Build more bridges, not walls. Garza: Concentrate on what is in the best interests of both countries. Physical walls were needed in the 1960s. Any border wall that was needed has already been built. Miller: Need to continue cooperation with Mexico, for example, a recent project to eradicate boll weevils.

What about corruption in Mexico? Garza: Corruption does not stop at the border. Cabeza de Vaca: Trying to work on corruption issues in the border control forces. Escobar: Employment surges always spark more corruption risks.

Has Mexican politics been influenced by Trump? Miller: Trump is a little rough around the edges. Cuellar: Mexican tourism has significantly reduced. Cabeza de Vaca: Mexican elections will probably not be influenced by Trump.

What is the Mexican view of DACA? Cabeza de Vaca: May provide Mexico with an opportunity for more skilled employees if DACA is ended.

© Austin Downtown Diary, 2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Austin Downtown Diary with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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