Pete Buttigieg: The Most Important Job Of An Elected Leader Is To Bring People Together


In an interview Wednesday on MSNBC's "Morning Joe," Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, talked about leadership and what a president should do:

MIKE BARNICLE, MSNBC: Let's get back to Christ. He never saw color. He never saw a class. He had faith that people would do the right thing to -- and pray that people would do the right thing to others. I have not heard you speak about our problems with both class and color in this country. They are significant. They are deep. They are historical. Talk about that.

MAYOR PETE BUTTIGIEG: Well, I'm the mayor of a diverse community and a largely low-income community. People may not know this because they only know about Notre Dame. We're about 40, 45 percent non-white. So we've got a lot of racial diversity. And we've got a lot of economic diversity. Our per capita income is just over $20,000 right now. Remember, we're still dealing with the legacy of having been an industrial city that saw our economy completely transform over the last 50 years.

The most important job of an elected leader -- and I say that I came to this the hard way because, you know, I'm a policy guy. And I came out of the business world. So I thought, you know, things that you can count, things you can measure, policy, that's what matters. And, of course, it does.

But the most important job of an elected leader is to call people to their highest values and to bring them together. And that's particularly important when it comes to things like racial divisions among us. What we have right now is leadership, if you can call it that, that exploits those divisions, that uses race to divide us within, among other things, the middle class and the working class. And that is unbelievably harmful at a moment when people of color, in particular, in this country, are feeling more and more under attack and more and more marginalized. And you've got people in the majority who are basically having their resentment stoked. That is not a formula that ever made our community better off.

Part of this goes back to policy, right? The party's commitments to racial justice and social justice need to animate our policies.

But a lot of it also goes back to the way our leaders talk about what made our country the way it is and why we benefit from our amazing diversity.

BARNICLE: Where would you place, on a scale of important things that you, as president, would have to address, the diminishing importance of community in this country, sense of community?

BUTTIGIEG: Oh, it's huge. It's huge. First of all, it's one of the reasons why I think we need to look at national service. It can be voluntary, but at the very least let's create more opportunities for more people to have a service year after high school, because that builds community.

You know, one of the experiences I had in the military was coming to learn and trust people radically different from me in their politics, in their race, in their generation, but you learn to trust each other with your life. You shouldn't have to go to war to get that kind of experience. And so that's one way we can build community.

In a deeper sense, I think the loss of community is one of the biggest consequences of automation and artificial intelligence and the way that they're changing work. It used to be you got a lot of community from the workplace because you knew you would have a lifelong relationship with a single employer, and that was true whether you were a blue-collar worker or that -- at a production facility and your spouses get to know each other through the union picnics, or whether you're a white-collar worker at a CPA firm and you and your spouses get to know each other at the firm dinners. That model is fading away. People in my generation are likely to change careers more often than our parents change jobs. And this has serious consequences for our understanding of community, where we fit in.

And there are some very ugly things that will move in to fill the void if we've lost that sense of community, that sense of identity that used to come from the workplace. Things like white identity politics. Things like extremism come in. Things like the worst forms of nationalism come in. When we could actually be building out the best forms of nationalism, which is when you rally people around the sense of identity that we're building each other up. When community, even in the literal sense of the city, is part of how people explain who they fit into the world, because there are tons of people in South Bend where they come and go for various occupations.

I don't even know what they do for a living, but they are incredibly important in the community because of the role that they play in the arts or in activism or in some so way. We've got to celebrate that, build that up. I don't know if that's a liberal idea or a conservative idea, but it's something I strongly believe needs support at the national level.

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