Former acting U.S. Ambassador to China David Rank drew approximately 60 people to the La Follette School on Friday, July 14. After a 15-minute introduction, Rank answered more than a dozen questions from UW–Madison students, faculty, and alumni as well as community members.
Rank, who joined the State Department in 1990, resigned as the senior U.S. diplomat in China after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris climate agreement in early June.
“David Rank offered a birds-eye view of diplomacy and politics at the highest level,” La Follette School Director Don Moynihan said. “An overflow crowd in the middle of summer is a good indication that they public really does care about these issues.”
Rank spoke on the importance of speaking truth to power, noting that a public official’s most loyal act is using his or her experience to explain why a president’s proposal is a bad idea. Ultimately, the president makes the policy decision, Rank said, but the country benefits from having civil servants who can offer an in-depth analysis of the consequences, such as President Obama’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan.
In response to the wide-ranging questions, Rank focused on loyalty, professionalism, and the need for dedicated public servants. One student sought advice about following his dream of working in the Foreign Service. “Absolutely; you have to pursue it,” Rank said without hesitation, adding that it was an honor to serve the United States.