‘I believe in our country’: John Kerry opens Texas Tribune Festival with discussion on US democracy

Megan Menchaca

Former Secretary of State John Kerry said although the United States has proven it can withstand anything, the current state of the country is in deep trouble.

Kerry, the opening speaker for the Texas Tribune Festival, spoke Thursday at The Moody Theater about the upcoming Texas midterms, voter turnout and American politics. Over the next three days, the festival will feature more than 300 other speakers throughout downtown Austin.

“I believe in our country,” Kerry said. “(But) we’ve lost the baseline of civility. We’ve lost truth. Any democracy requires truth to be able to determine the decisions and choices you want to make.”

Kerry said he is concerned about the current state of patriotism and democracy in the U.S., especially after what he has seen while serving in Vietnam.

“I appreciate that patriotism can come from many different places,” Kerry said. “But you will find demagogues that exploit patriotism for power and we have seen that. But it doesn’t take us where our country needs to go.”

Evan Smith, chief executive officer and editor-in-chief of The Texas Tribune, asked Kerry how the U.S. could improve voter turnout in the 2018 midterms. Kerry said his solution is to organize people.

“I’ve walked up to people (across the world) who were waiting in a long line in the hot sun at risk of life who said, ‘Mr. Secretary, I’ve waited 50 years for this,’” Kerry said. “We’ve got to feel that way in the United States of America again.”

Kerry said the Republican Party is also actively working to keep people from voting through corruption and gerrymandering.

“There is far too much money in American politics to have a legitimate election, and it is destroying the system,” Kerry said. “We can’t even have a democratic election in this country because of gerrymandering.”

Kerry said voters are angry because Washington has become dysfunctional and that the U.S. has the opportunity to make a midcourse correction in 2018. Kerry, who is not currently considering a presidential run in 2020, encouraged Texans to vote in the midterms for “a guy whose name begins with B.”

“I don’t believe in the posturing of politics, and I don’t believe in lying, but what I do know is we have an important election coming up in 40 days,” Kerry said. “No one should be talking about 2020. Everyone should be focused on 2018.”