Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright received several rounds of applause on Thursday night in San Antonio, but none as deafening as the one she received when commenting on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s promise to, if elected, build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The idea of building a wall is one of the most stupidest things…” she said right before an overwhelming majority of the more than 1,000-person audience erupted with applause and yelps of agreement.
They drowned out the rest of her sentence, but no matter, the message was clear – without the use of profanities. She is, after all, Madame Secretary.
During an interview with Fusion published on Thursday, former Mexican President Vicente Fox firmly rejected the billionaire businessman’s plan to have Mexico pay for the wall that would, according to Trump, keep out drugs and immigrants.
“I’m not going to pay for that f***ing wall,” Fox said. “He should pay for it.”
While Albright, the first woman Secretary of State, spoke with former San Antonio Mayor Henry Cisneros during the World Affairs Council of San Antonio‘s annual award gala at the Marriott Rivercenter, the field of five Republican candidates laid into each other at the University of Houston during CNN’s televised debate.
“Mexico will pay for (the wall), because they’re not doing us any favors,” Trump told moderator Wolf Blitzer. “They could stop all of this illegal trade if they wanted to, immediately. Mexico will pay for the wall. It’s a small portion of the kind of money that we lose and the deficits that we have with Mexico.”
When asked about Fox’s response, Trump said, “The wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me. It just got 10 feet taller.”
Though Trump was not mentioned by name, Albright expressed concern about how the election, and comments like Trump’s, are received throughout the international community.
“We think we’re talking to ourselves during this campaign. It is heard abroad and we are insulting people that we ultimately want to work with and have a relationship with,” Albright said to more applause. “They think that we’ve lost our minds … we’re going to spend years trying to explain that this is nuts.”
While Trump painted a skewed picture of a burdensome Mexico, Albright celebrated the United States’ relationship with Mexico.
“America is blessed by the fact that it has friendly neighbors on both sides,” she said. “The relationship between our northern and southern neighbors is incredibly complex … it’s not just foreign policy it’s everything.”
From trade to culture to transportation and the import/export of goods legal and illegal, she said. “Mexico is an incredibly important neighbor.”
It will be impossible to find solutions to the European and Middle East refugee crises, poverty, war, or any other international problem without collaboration with other nations, she told the hundreds of local and international citizens and dignitaries. “There are issues that can not be solved by America alone but they can’t be solved without the United States.”
Someone who can keep, develop, and respect international partners should be key principles for whomever holds the highest office in the county, she added.
Albright, 78, is lauded as one of the most influential feminists in the U.S. and is a fierce supporter of former Secretary of State and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“There were people who thought a woman couldn’t be secretary of state because the Arab leaders wouldn’t deal with her. I didn’t have any problems,” she said during a one-on-one interview with the Rivard Report before the gala.
During a campaign rally for Clinton in New Hampshire earlier this month, Albright said, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Even Clinton looked surprised. The quote went viral. Women across the nation felt rebuked and betrayed, interpreting her words to mean that a vote for Democratic candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), is a vote against women.
The New York Times published Albright’s eloquent mea culpa, “My Undiplomatic Moment,” on Feb. 12 in which she explains that she has in fact used that phrase before, but using it in context of this election was a poor choice.
“I did say it in the wrong place,” she said Thursday in the small, quiet meeting room. But she isn’t taking it back. “The statement comes from my experience … the reason that statement comes out at all is that actually older women weren’t helping me (when I was young).
“And I think – I know – that younger women get tired of being told how terrible our life was and I’m through with my own stories on that,” she said. “I’m concerned things would go backward in some way – there are some trends that are going on in this country that are troubling and so I think we need to help each other.”
While huge strides have been made, the civil rights movement is far from over. That being said, Albright added, she’s not voting for Clinton because she’s a woman.
“I would not vote for (a woman) I disagreed with I’d prefer to vote for a man that was good on women’s issues.”
Bernie supporters argue that, among other things, his perspective from further outside the bowels of the political machine is what’s needed to overhaul the country’s shortcomings.
Clinton, with decades of experience inside Washington D.C., just happens to be a woman and the right person for the job, Albright said. “(She has) restored America’s reputation abroad. We have never, and I underline (that), had anybody as well prepared to be president of the United States. The world moves so rapidly, whoever is president has to be ready on day one. There can’t be any on-the-job learning.”
That principle of international collaboration and respect is the mantra behind the World Affairs Council and all its city chapters. The event and organization itself is bipartisan, it’s mission is “to promote public understanding of world affairs and United States foreign policy, and to enhance the ability of its citizens and future leaders to participate in a global community.”
Every year, the Council honors a local leader with its International Citizen of the Year Award.
Former City Attorney and civil and children’s rights activist Jane Macon accepted her award Thursday night donning an extravagant red outfit with matching cowboy hat and feather boa, her signature accessories. Albright, Cisneros, and former state Sen. John Montford even borrowed the look for a few moments on stage to honor the animated Macon.
Read more:” Jane Macon: An Advocate Whose Reach Knows No Bounds”
Biographer David Roosevelt, grandson of the late President Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Dr. Rajaa Khuzai also were interviewed earlier in the evening by award winning author and journalist Rosalind Miles about the unfathomable 60 million refugees in the world.
There are many reasons why someone would want to flee their country, said Khuzai, who tended to more than 30 women giving birth by candlelight during the Gulf War.
As far as the factors that continue to feed these conflicts, she said, “I need two days probably (to explain),” but she cited the militant group ISIS (or ISOL) as one of the greatest hurdles of peace.
“Something is wrong, some things aren’t working,” said Roosevelt, whose grandmother Eleanor who chaired the United Nations Human Rights Commission that created the 1948 charter of liberties. “I happen to believe in the United Nations … but something is not working. The fact is that we must come together as a community of nations working together not against each other and not soley in our own self interest.”
Miles’ candid commentary, despite or because of her levity, conveyed the gravity of what’s really at the core of the discussion: the pursuit of world peace.
“(We’ve come to the) simple conclusion that the community of nations must work together to coordinate all the contemporary responses to form a solution – because there is no alternative.”
What does the future hold?
“I’m an optimist who worries a lot,” Albright said.
*Top image: Madam Secretary Madeleine Albright greets the crowd with “Hook ’em Horns” – or the “rock on” gesture, depending on your perspective. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone