Retired diplomats bring the world, and a dose of civility, to Traverse City

News of our sister Council up in Traverse City, originally published in The Bridge:

TRAVERSE CITY – Jack Segal knew it had the potential to get ugly.

One month into the new president’s administration, the retired diplomat was giving back-to-back lectures on the foreign policy challenges Donald Trump was facing after a rocky first month in office. Both lectures (the second was added after the first quickly reached capacity) packed about 50 adults into a basement classroom.

The short, soft-spoken Philadelphia native looked like he could be dressed for a state dinner, in his wire-rimmed glasses and dark, neatly tailored suit. A tiny microphone under his lapel carried his voice.

Before beginning, he politely told his audience that while many have strong passions about Trump, they should ask questions and offer observations, but “please be respectful and civil.”

It was as if a minister has shushed her congregation. Everyone at attention, he then offered his insights about Russia and Vladimir Putin, China and Xi Jinping, North Korea’s provocative ballistic missile launches, the Middle East and Trump’s early diplomatic moves. Segal stayed on message and avoided observations that might have seemed partisan. His audience followed suit, more interested in hearing Segal’s perspective than barking out their own opinions.

A dispassionate analysis of political and world events has been a guiding force for Segal and his wife, Karen Puschel, since they took over the International Affairs Forum of Traverse City in 2012. The lectures their group sponsors routinely sell out and, in a region that can be fiercely divided in its politics, the couple and the speakers they bring in have managed to be at once fair-minded and thought-provoking in ways that promote discussion rather than shouting.

It’s not always easy. Puschel, also a retired diplomat, said the controversy Trump’s nascent presidency already has generated sometimes makes it difficult to walk the line.

“But it’s not our job to pass judgment on the president,” she said. “Our job is to look at the issues and how decisions affect issues.”

Read more at The Bridge