Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States, with its history of inequality, is an example of why we need to be patient with developing democracies.
Promoting her new book, Democracy: Stories from the Long Road to Freedom, Rice also emphasized that it’s best when the executive branch is properly “constrained.”
“We forget in the United States how long it has taken us to make ‘We the People’ mean people like me. And indeed, I do think that America was born with a birth defect: it was slavery,” Rice said in an interview aired on CBS Sunday Morning. She called the Civil Rights Movement “the second founding of America.”
“And so I do think that when we were finally able to deliver the promise of the Constitution to people like me, little girls growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, when finally my father was able to vote without difficulty, yes, it’s the second founding of America,” she added. “The first founding wasn’t quite complete.”
In a separate interview on CBS’ Face the Nation, Rice stressed that “democracy takes time.”
“One of the points that I make in the book is, it took us a long time. That first American Constitution counted my ancestors as three-fifths of a man. That first American Constitution didn’t provide my father the right to vote in 1952 in Birmingham, Alabama,” she said. “But I took an oath of allegiance to the same Constitution as a black woman secretary of state with a Jewish woman Supreme Court justice swearing me in. Democracy takes time and we have to be a little bit more patient and a little bit more helpful in speaking out for those who are still trying to get there.”
On global democracy promotion under an “America First” president, the former secretary of State explained that most of democracy promotion is not about military action but “really about supporting those within their countries that want to have the simple freedoms that we have, the right to say what you think, to worship as you please, to be free from the knock of the secret police at night, places like Liberia and the Ukraine and other places that are trying to get there.”
“Now, Americans should recognize that of course we’re going to defend our interests, but in the long run our interests are better served when we have democracies that don’t hire child soldiers, that don’t harbor terrorists as a matter of state policy, that don’t traffic in human beings, that don’t start wars with one another,” she added. “The quintessential example of this is that we took a risk after World War II that a democratic Germany would never threaten its neighbors, that democratic Japan would never threaten its neighbors, and now not only have they not threatened their neighbors, they are firm allies and they are pillars of international stability.”
Rice said that “of course” President Trump is going to have to meet with heads of state who are human rights offenders in the course of his job, “but we always need to speak for our values as well.”
“And our values are the belief that we were endowed with certain rights by our creator. It can’t be true for just us and not for them,” she said.
Asked about Trump’s critical comments about the other two co-equal branches of government, Rice acknowledged “there’s no doubt that presidents get to be presidents and then they realize that the Founding Fathers put all kinds of constraints on the presidency, a Congress, courts, civil society, a press, not to mention Americans who are kind of ungovernable anyway.”
“And it can be frustrating… I say it’s also safest when the executive is actually constrained,” she said. “That’s what the Founding Fathers understood.”