USC President C. L. Max Nikias welcomed former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron to Bovard Auditorium on Thursday evening for one of the President's Distinguished Lectures. In a discussion with USC professor of history and accounting Jacob Soll, the British former politician addressed the rise of populism as well as the aftermath of the historic Brexit referendum results.
In his opening remarks, Cameron took comedic aim at President Trump, saying he worried he might mimic Trump's behavior on Twitter during the event, "insulting at least one country, but only in 140 characters."
He also singled out former California governor and lecture attendee Arnold Schwarzenegger for praise.
"It's great to speak in front a great friend of mine, someone who's always been a huge supporter of mine," Cameron said, "who you and I know as the governor or the Terminator, but to the President, he's presumably the immigrant who took his job on The Apprentice."
Throughout the speech, the former statesman appeared to align against many of the Trump administration's policy plans. Cameron decried protectionist economic policies, encouraged trade cooperation with China and highlighted Russian aggression in Eastern Europe.
"I'm a pro-NATO man, I'm a stand-up-to-Russia man, I'm a believer-in-free-trade man," he said.
Cameron warned against "unreasonable" immigration laws, saying that Western governments did not need to "single people or countries out because of their religion." Doing so would be counterproductive, he said.
"Most immigration control doesn't happen at the border," Cameron said. "We're modern economies and we have tourists, visitors, students, businesses coming to invest. We don't want to stop them coming in, but we do need to make sure they go home if they're meant to."
The former prime minister also implored the audience to differentiate between extremist Islamic terrorism and the vast majority of Muslims, garnering the first bout of applause that evening.
"Remember we are not fighting a war against Islam. That is what the terrorists want you to think," Cameron said. "We are fighting against Islamist extremism and terror. We can win, but we've got to be smart. Our job is to join the moderates and fight the extremists, not lump them together."
The two-term Conservative Party leader didn't shy away from talk of Brexit, even though he was forced to resigne after his "Remain" campaign failed to capture the vote of the British public. The referendum on the U.K.'s membership in the European Union was originally a centerpiece of his 2015 re-election campaign.
Cameron said he refuses to "gripe" over the referendum results and instead holds an optimistic view, despite signals of a "hard Brexit" coming from EU officials. He expected the U.K. to take back control of immigration issues and laws, but may be left vulnerable without the EU trading bloc.
"If Britain's going to be a success post-Brexit it's going to have to work twice as hard to leverage its contacts with the United States, with Canada, with Australia and New Zealand. We're peaking with China and we should maintain our special relationship with India," Cameron said.
Soll pressed Cameron on the financial sector losses, claiming "massive amounts" of people in the industry were leaving the City of London financial district because of the loss of European ties. Cameron denied such an exodus, saying London's financial services will maintain dominance over the "Frankfurts and Parises," but agreed strong non-EU trade deals will be crucial to the success of the U.K.
"The most important thing now for the British government is to set out how it's going to negotiate the free trade of goods," Cameron said. "Although it's a hard Brexit, it's on the softer end. If you don't have a deal at all you go to World Trade Organization rules with tariffs, and that dislocation would be quite painful."
Cameron's lecture embraced an optimistic view of globalization, saying it had made Western countries wealthy rather than deprive them. But he acknowledged the role economic inequality had in the rise of populism.
"Too many people in our world and societies have been left behind economically, a rising tide has not lifted all boats. The middle-class lifestyle has been out of reach for too many people."
Cameron's outlook for the future was buoyant, as he assured the audience that he doesn't believe the EU will break apart, nor does he think Marine Le Pen, a far-right French politician, will win that country's general election this year.
He ended his lecture by advising students to pursue public service because of the change they will be able to enact, giving the example of the Northern Ireland peace process as an ideal of political moderation and mutual understanding between opposing viewpoints.
"It's a great example of hard work, politics, and compromise leading to peace and peaceful development in that part of our world."