Cornell Brook / March 24

Cornell Brooks

We’ve reached “an anguishing hour of our democracy,” said the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, calling out some problems he sees: a normalization of anti-Semitism, the mainstreaming of misogyny and “Machiavellian voter disenfranchisement.” A new generation of activists—people who stood against the “vicious vectoring upward” of such problems—are now refusing “to join the committee of hand-wringing pessimists,” he said. “There is much to be hopeful about, much to be confident in, when we look at this generation of activists,” added Brooks, whose son is an Amherst sophomore. “Students all across the country assert with confidence that we can do things differently.” —Rachael Hanley

Jeb Bush/Jan. 31

Jeb Bush

After sharing a self-deprecating story about a stranger in an airport who exclaimed, “You used to be Jeb Bush, right?,” the former Florida governor argued that it is automation and artificial intelligence, not immigration, that is interrupting the American Dream. Whether through improved UPS routes that make drivers redundant or self-serve soda machines that replace movie theater attendants, he said, the trend is toward efficient systems beating out low-skilled labor. “For the first time in American history, people don’t think their children will have more opportunities than what they had,” Bush said. He suggested, among other ideas, energy reforms that encourage competition and immigration policies that favor increasing the number of skilled workers instead of reunifying families. —by Rachael Hanley

Melissa Harris-Perry/March 27

Melissa Harris-Perry
Fifty-three percent of white female voters did not cast their 2016 ballots for Hillary Clinton. The media reported this as if it were a surprise, said Harris-Perry—a political scientist at Wake Forest University and former MSNBC host—even though white women historically support Republicans. In a speech on the impact and treatment of U.S. women of color, she said the more important statistic has to do with voter participation. In 2008 and 2012, “the rates at which African American women were voting are matched only by the rates at which people vote in countries where it is mandatory—where it is literally illegal not to vote,” she said. “The Clinton camp was relying on black women voters turning out as though it were illegal not to vote for Hillary.” —by Caroline Hanna

Rich Lowry/March 8

Rich Lowry
The National Review editor analyzed the nascent Trump presidency and explored possible scenarios for the next four years. He offered a conceptual historical handhold, comparing Trump to Andrew Jackson—a fellow populist, nontraditionalist and natural fighter. Lowry lingered after his talk for one-on-one conversations. Notably, he gave out his personal email address to a number of students, offering to look at their written work or discuss their after-graduation plans. “He’s anecdotal and loves policy, and I walked away from hearing him talk with a much better understanding of conservatism and national politics,” said Maximos Nikitas ’17, vice president of the Amherst College Republicans. —Katharine Whittemore 

Masha Gessen/Jan. 26

Masha Gessen

In making the case that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have nine traits in common, the journalist and activist described Putin as “the despot that Trump plays on TV.” She noted that both men, reinforced by self-aggrandizing media bubbles, govern through rapid, powerful gestures such as executive actions, and she maintained that both have fleeting interests rather than extended priorities—which makes them difficult to predict but popular within their own parties. Both also disdain moral authority and an open, public sphere, Gessen argued, as well as concepts of excellence and originality. And perhaps most important, she said, both have “absolute and utter disdain for government.” —by Rachael Hanley