Mark Shields speaks at Trinity University on November 27, 2018.
Mark Shields speaks at Trinity University on November 27, 2018. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Most people would expect a journalist who has spent five decades observing Washington, D.C. through 10 presidential administrations to be jaded about politics.

Not Mark Shields.

During a Tuesday night speech at Trinity University peppered with personal stories and lighthearted jokes about politicians, Shields, a political commentator for PBS NewsHour, delivered a simple message: politics matter.

“Politics is honorable,” Shields said in an interview with the Rivard Report prior to the event. “It is the peaceable resolution to conflict among legitimate competing interests, and I don’t know how else in a big, brawling continental nation like ours we resolve our differences except through the commitment, the skill, the dedication of talented people in the political process.”

During the hour-long event, the D.C. veteran journalist touched on recent elections, speaking about factors that influenced the 2016 presidential race and the 2018 midterm that resulted in Democrats potentially picking up 40 House seats.

Shields pointed to changing electorate demographics and called the midterm elections a “convincing, thorough Democratic victory.”

“The typical Democratic voter in 2018 is moving from her own room to an apartment of her own, someday hoping to get a house of [her] own,” Shields said. “The typical Republican voter is moving from his own home to the nursing home to the funeral home and that is a big, big difference demographically – and one that should not be and cannot be ignored.”

Shields also called for unity at a time when American consensus appears to be unraveling. He spoke against political parties being treated as social clubs, saying they tend to either seek converts or heretics. Parties that look to welcome people who share some beliefs, but may not embrace all, will be healthy and vibrant, he said.

Shields told the audience of a time when he learned the value of shared experience during a 13-week bootcamp on Parris Island in South Carolina. Then a Marine in training, Shields was part of a small group that had graduated college before enlisting. Another small group within the bigger battalion had been ordered there by a judge.

By the end of training, Shields said these groups and all other race, class, and ideological divisions were meaningless because of the shared experience – after training, they were brothers.

This same philosophy could inspire consensus in politics, Shields said. Instead of judging the success of an administration by an individual being better off in the span of four years, Shields said, the country must look at the success of the collective group.

“Are the weak among us more protected? Are the strong among us more just because everyone has been warmed by fires we did not build?” Shields asked. “Every one of us has drunk from wells we did not dig. We can do no less for those who come after us, and together – with goodwill and commitment and dedication – we can do more.”

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Emily Donaldson

Emily Donaldson reports on education for the San Antonio Report.