Can our democracy survive this constitutional stress test? How eerily close does this administration mirror that of Nixon’s? Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and Deputy Attorney General Bob Ruckelshaus—who was fired by former President Richard Nixon —answered these and other pressing questions during Thursday’s event.
A wide range of ages filled the seats at Seattle University’s Pigott auditorium as two prominent figures in America’s shifting democracy debated and discussed whether the United States democracy can withstand the current presidency and the impact it’s already made on the nation.
Bob Ferguson’s name has been in the news as one of the chief forces in confronting Trump’s administration. Filing 19 lawsuits total, some alongside Washington State Governor Jay Inslee, Ferguson and his team managed to block the president’s immigration plan that would bar those wanting to enter the U.S. from the seven majority-Muslim countries, and is now currently filing a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) ruling to repeal net neutrality. “When the president acts in an unconstitutional fashion, we all have a role to play and my role I think is to be clear when it is appropriate to take an administration on,” Ferguson said Thursday.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson discusses his many lawsuits against President Trump
During the conversations, Ruckelshaus and Ferguson both expressed their frustrations with the current administration, saying that the priorities in the White House have shifted from public interest, and that the movement away from a bipartisan system has taken a toll on the government’s stability.
“The best way to do it is the way we haven’t been doing it for the past four years, and that is working together to try and move our country towards a better place. There’s no reason for this extreme polarization that is currently going on,” Ruckelshaus said. “How many times did you hear the public interest mentioned when you’re listening to television? You’re hearing how terrible the other side is, it’s just a big waste of time. They [politicians] ought to be in there working to make a difference.”
“I hope that when members of Congress see that when courts are declaring the president’s actions unconstitutional, that raises their awareness and puts pressure on them to actually do something about it,” said Ferguson in regards to his lawsuits against the president.
Larry Hubbell, the Director of The Institute of Public Service at Seattle U, said the department chose to host this event as an “outlet to maintain hope.” Hubbell, who mediated the event alongside longtime journalist Joni Balter, and both his interviewees reiterated this idea of protecting institutions.
“I find many troubling things, especially troubling is core institutions, our press, the judiciary and the attacks on those institutions. There’s a cause and effect that happens with that, when the president speaks in the way that he does, I think it may be hard to undo those,” Ferguson said. “I have a lot of faith in our institutions, I feel our institutions are demonstrating their strength in the past year, and I hope they continue as long as he is president.”
Ruckelshaus added “The essential nature of our democracy today is in the strength of our institutions and our value for equality and freedom. Our institutions are holding, and it’s important for us all to keep our eyes on them because their support from us is going to be absolutely necessary in order for them to survive.”
Despite the anxiety surrounding the current presidency, the tone of the event was overall optimistic and reinforced the ethics needed to operate a better functioning democracy that abides by the constitution.
Ruckelshaus stated that “If what you are being asked to do is fundamentally wrong, you simply have to say, ‘I’m not going to do that.’ It’s really not that hard of a decision.”
When asked about any parting advice for students in 2018, Ferguson said “My view has always been that it’s important to be engaged, but that’s finding an organization that you believe in, finding a political candidate that you believe in. It’s not a time to be on the sidelines. Choose your issue, choose your candidate and be involved.”
The event ended with a standing ovation.
The next of these events to be hosted by Seattle U’s Institute of Public Service is How the West Coast Leads on Climate Change, Immigration and Fairness on Feb. 2. Free tickets for students can be arranged through Lindsay Ohab the Graduate Program Coordinator, at email@example.com.
Madeline Mesa may be reached at