FAIRFIELD – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg spoke to a crowd of several hundred people during a campaign stop Thursday, Aug. 15, in Fairfield’s Central Park.
Buttigieg is in his eighth year as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. That executive experience was mentioned by Phil Miller, a Fairfield veterinarian who introduced Buttigieg to the audience.
“[Buttigieg] has more experience in government than our current president [Donald Trump], more executive experience than our vice president [Mike Pence], and more military experience than any president since George H.W. Bush,” Miller said.
Miller was referring to Buttigieg’s service as a lieutenant in the United States Navy Reserve. While serving as mayor, Buttigieg took an unpaid seven-month leave to deploy to Afghanistan, where he received the Joint Service Commendation Medal for his counterterrorism work.
During his remarks, Buttigieg accused the Trump Administration of ignoring a host of problems.
“How can the president keep us safe from climate change if it doesn’t even recognize it’s real?” he said. “How can the president protect us from white nationalism if he doesn’t recognize it as a problem?”
Is it fair to say that Trump has minimized those two issues? Trump has made a number of statements suggesting he believes climate change is either a minor problem or not a problem at all. For instance, before he became president, Trump wrote on his Twitter account in 2012 that “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
In November 2018, the Trump Administration released the National Climate Assessment, a report summarizing the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. The report’s chapter on climate change’s effect on coastal areas states that there is a 66 percent likelihood that between $66 billion and $106 billion worth of real estate would be below sea level by 2050, affecting particularly Florida and the states along the Gulf of Mexico.
A few days after the report was released, Trump told reporters outside the White House that he did not agree with its assessment of the climate.
“I’ve seen it, I’ve read some of it, and it’s fine,” he said, according to a report from The Guardian. “I don’t believe it.”
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s website states that the global mean sea level in 2017 was 3 inches above the 1993 average. It states that sea level is caused by melting ice sheets and glaciers, adding water to the world’s oceans.
Presidential candidates have made a point of addressing the subject of white nationalism in the wake of the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3, in which a gunman killed 22 people and injured 24 others at a shopping center. According to Ben Collins of NBC News, just before the shooting, the attacker published an anti-Hispanic, anti-immigrant manifesto in which he claims to have been inspired by the mass shooting at the Christchurch mosque in New Zealand in March.
On the subject of combating white nationalism, Buttigieg said that Trump has cut funding to investigate domestic terrorism and white nationalism specifically. There is some truth to this although the issue is complicated. A $10 million grant program called Countering Violent Extremism, begun under President Barack Obama and scheduled to last two years, was not renewed by the Trump Administration when it expired in July 2019.
According to an investigation by PolitiFact, most of the grants that were awarded were focused on combating extremism among Muslims or immigrants, not white nationalists. One group that was supposed to receive a grant was Life After Hate, one of the only groups among those to receive grants with expertise on white nationalism. The Trump Administration rescinded the group’s grant. Homeland Security spokespersons said Life After Hate’s grant offer was rescinded because it did not meet new criteria such as working with law enforcement.
Buttigieg spoke about many other themes, such as how his faith guides his political philosophy.
“Scripture asks us to view prisoners as if we were the prisoner,” he said.
The South Bend mayor told the crowd that this election was not the one to “play it safe.”
“Now that the house is on fire, it’s not enough to put it out,” he said. “We’ve got to rebuild.”
Buttigieg fielded several questions from the audience. The first dealt with his private life. The person asked if America was ready to elect a gay person president. Buttigieg said he has fielded this question many times before. He came out as gay in 2015 in a column in his local newspaper, in the midst of his re-election campaign for mayor. Buttigieg said he could no longer hide who he was, and that he wanted to finally have a personal life.
“I trusted that the voters would judge me on my qualities as a mayor,” he said.
Later, another member of the audience asked Buttigieg what he would do about protecting the rights of transgender people. Buttigieg said he supports the Equality Act, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in May that would prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in public accommodations, education, federal funding, employment, housing, credit and the jury system.
Buttigieg said he would also lift the Trump Administration’s ban on transgender people in the military, which bars those individuals taking hormones to undergo a gender transition, and requires that troops serve in units that correspond to their assigned sex at birth.
During a discussion on his own military service, Buttigieg was critical of President Donald Trump’s ability to avoid the draft during the Vietnam War through a medical waiver. In 1968, podiatrist Larry Braunstein of Queens, New York, diagnosed Trump with bone spurs in his feet, which would have prevented Trump from walking long distances. However, Braunstein’s daughter Elysa Braunstein told The New York Times that her father did that as a favor to Trump’s father Fred, who was her father’s landlord.
Buttigieg said he looks forward to debating Trump and confronting him about why he “pretended to be disabled.”
One person asked Buttigieg what he felt about recent developments in China. Buttigieg answered that he believes China is a bigger problem than most of his fellow Democrats.
“China is using technology to perfect their style of dictatorship,” he said. “Their model of government is being held up as an alternative around the world.”
The People’s Republic of China has come under fire from human rights groups for holding hundreds of thousands of Muslims and an ethnic group called Uyghurs in internment camps in the western province of Xinjiang.
The country has also stepped up pressure on the quasi-independent city of Hong Kong, where protesters have filled the city’s streets hoping to stop a bill that would allow people arrested in Hong Kong to be extradited to the mainland government.