Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 was transported to Mexico City, Mexico on Thursday by visiting the Portal at Cornell, speaking about U.S. international relations during the Trump presidency with political consultant Luis Daniel Perez Vazquez.
“In the age of Trump — which is an age of people putting up walls and deciding that national identity is more important than your identity as a human being — anything that can bring you face to face with somebody who is very different from you and makes you feel like you have more in common than what separates you is a good thing,” Myrick said, in an interview with The Sun.
The Portal is a small room located right outside of Olin Library in which anyone can video chat with people in places around the world such as Milwaukee, Baltimore, Nairobi, Kenya and Kabul, Afghanistan.
“Our goal is to bring the world to Cornell,” said Xin Li, associate university librarian for discovery, assessment, and international engagement “It’s all about engagement with different parts of the world to talk about inclusion and diversity.”
After discussing the income inequality in Mexico and the United States, the conversation turned to the future of U.S. international relations under Donald Trump.
When Vazquez asked whether Donald Trump has done anything “good” so far, Myrick answered that his election reinvigorated political engagement, as persecution based solely on identity, bigotry and systemic oppression increased feelings of dissatisfaction with the government.
“We’ve had a lot of people in our country who’ve thought that elections didn’t matter: that you didn’t really have to pay attention, that the grown-ups were in charge, and that good things would happen. That’s changed,” he said.
In regards to increased political engagement, Myrick encouraged all U.S. citizens and Cornell students to engage with politics, stating that individual people can make a difference.
“We’re seeing that all over the country,” he said. “I think one good thing he’s done is given our country a great big civics lesson and forced us all to get more engaged.”
In response to Vazquez’s question about why he thought the United States elected Donald Trump, Myrick said that Trump had the appeal of greater charisma and humor, comparing the 2016 election to a high school election.
“The tallest, funniest class clown, who is rich and world famous? They usually win, whether they’re qualified or not,” Myrick said. “I’ve seen this several times in high school elections, is the nerdy girl where everybody goes ‘yeah, she’s smart, and yeah, she’s responsible, but the jock — the class clown — will make us laugh, and I’d rather watch his speeches than her speeches.”
Myrick, a former member of Hillary Clinton’s campaign team, also noted that he thought there was an “invisible current of sexism” in the election.
“We still haven’t elected a woman,” he said. “I think there was an invisible current of sexism, which is hard to calculate, because you can do a poll and ask, ‘Do you not like women?’ and nobody will answer that honestly.”
Vazquez agreed, saying that although the majority of people regarded Clinton as more trustworthy and competent, Trump’s campaign persona was more likable and charismatic.
After the event, Myrick told The Sun that his conversation was “fascinating” and encouraged Cornell students to use the Portal.
According to Myrick, the ability to see the entire body of the other person differed greatly from apps such as Skype or FaceTime, making the Portal a better experience since individuals can observe body language.
“I did eventually forget that we weren’t in the same room,” Myrick said. “There was a moment, five to ten minutes in, where I was just talking to a guy. I wasn’t talking to a guy through a screen.”
The ability to converse with people on other sides of the world through the Portal has a broader political significance as well, especially in a time of increasing nationalism, xenophobia and racism, according to Myrick.
“I think if I were a student today and if this were on campus, I would gain a broader perspective … I think it’s very easy, [as] I remember [from] when I was a student, to believe that the only things that mattered were happening on campus,” he said.
The Cornell University Library offers students the option to walk-in or schedule a visit to the Portal. However, Carl A. Kroch University Librarian Gerald Beasley said in an earlier interview that students who hope to talk with residents of a particular city — like Berlin, Tehran, or Nairobi — should schedule their visits beforehand to increase the likelihood that they will meet students from their desired location.