Liz Cheney speaks at the 2024 Kenner Lecture on Cultural Understanding. This year's lecture was titled "Defending Democracy: A Conversation with Liz Cheney" and discussed threats to the nation following Jan. 6. (Christa Neu/Lehigh University)

Liz Cheney speaks on defending democracy at Kenner Lecture


Former Rep. Liz Cheney received a standing ovation Feb. 7 for her discussion “Defending Democracy” in the 2024 Kenner Lecture on Cultural Understanding.

The Kenner Lecture was established in 1997 by Jeffrey L. Kenner, ‘65, ‘66 and is the premier lecture of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Cheney was the former U.S. Representative for Wyoming’s at-large congressional district from 2017 to 2023 and served as vice chair of the Select Jan. 6 Committee. She spoke to a sold-out Baker Hall about the threat of re-electing former President Donald Trump.

“We all have an urgent obligation to do everything possible to ensure Trump does not take office,” she said to the crowd. 

She opened the discussion by reflecting on her career in politics, beginning at age 10 shutting envelopes for campaigns, and watching her father during the 2000 presidential election of Bush v. Gore, which was determined by a small margin in Florida after multiple recounts and a Supreme Court ruling. 

She cited Al Gore’s concession speech after the election as “one of the finest speeches in American history,” as he quoted Stephen A. Douglass during his concession speech in the election of 1860 saying, “partisan feeling must yield to patriotism,” and said, “disappointment must be overcome by our love of country.”

Cheney said all U.S. presidents have succeeded in a peaceful transition of power, what she acknowledged as “the underpinning of democracy,” until former President Trump. 

She said during the Jan. 6 riots, Trump oversaw a multi-part plan to discredit and pressure legislatures, the Department of Justice and his own vice president, while summoning an angry mob to the U.S. Capitol during Congress’ certification of the vote.

“I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican, that’s depravity,” she said. 

She also acknowledged the sexist actions of her colleagues in the GOP, like that of Rep. Mike Kelly who equated her choice to impeach Trump with “playing the biggest game of your life and looking up and seeing your girlfriend sitting on the opponent’s side.”

She said that the facts learned from the Jan. 6 hearings did not come from his political opponents, but “from the people closest to him.” Cheney commended young women in the party, including Sarah Matthews and Cassidy Hutchinson, for testifying against the former president. 

She said that the vast majority of Americans want to live in a country committed to the peaceful transition of power. 

Professor Anthony DiMaggio said he appreciated hearing from an old-style Republican and respected her acknowledging Trump’s “cult of personality.”

“It’s sort of encouraging that you can sit down with somebody like Representative Cheney, I may not agree with her views politically, but you can say we’re on the same wavelength, we live in the same reality,” he said.

Gianna Sottile, ‘25, said she’s “pleasantly surprised” that Cheney did not try to dodge her question in the roundtable discussion held before the lecture. She said Cheney replied that she would not vote for Trump in this election and would wait to endorse another candidate.

“In terms of our generation, we have to do our best to educate our kids that things like (Jan. 6)  are not the norm and they are abnormal,” she said.

Cheney said she has not yet endorsed a candidate, and in an interview with The Brown and White said she doesn’t know if her endorsement would help a candidate’s chances, but that she believes Nikki Haley should stay in the race for Republican nominee.

She said the last three years have been a message to step back from partisanship, and that “words matter,” that an oath to office has to mean something.

“We can survive bad policy, we can’t survive going to war with the Constitution,” Cheney said.

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1 Comment

  1. In the past 5 years or more I’ve received notifications from Lehigh to sign up to attend the Kenner Lectures and I have attended several. Somehow I either never received an invitation for this one or I missed seeing it. I would have definitely enjoyed hearing Liz Cheney!

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