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An open letter to Fr. Jenkins

| Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Dear Fr. Jenkins,

I am very concerned by recent remarks you made insinuating that you might not invite President-elect Donald Trump to speak at the Commencement ceremony in May. As many people know, Dwight Eisenhower was the first president to speak at Notre Dame’s Commencement, and, with the exception of Bill Clinton, every president since Jimmy Carter has. It has become an established tradition at Notre Dame to offer the newly elected president a chance to speak to the graduating class. A decision to not invite Donald Trump to speak at Commencement would tarnish Notre Dame’s legitimacy as a bastion of intellectual discourse and contradict its long-lasting commitment to honoring the value of democracy and respecting elected leaders.

You said that you are “conscious that that day is for graduates and their parents” and that you “don’t want to make the focus something else.” However, I believe this is a dishonest justification for not inviting Donald Trump. If we are being entirely realistic, not inviting Donald Trump will also cause significant controversy and redirect attention from graduates and their families. Controversy did not stop you from rightly inviting President Barack Obama to speak at the 2009 Commencement ceremony. Notre Dame is not an institution that allows tradition and ideals to succumb to controversy or public perception. Rather, Notre Dame stands in the face of controversy to champion what it believes to be right.

I did not vote for Donald Trump. I did not support Donald Trump. I even wrote several articles in The Observer criticizing Donald Trump. However, I nevertheless believe Donald Trump should speak at Commencement in May. Inviting Trump to speak is not a blanket declaration of tolerance for the offensive remarks he made during his campaign. Just as inviting President Barack Obama was not a condoning of his positions on abortion, inviting Trump is not declaring agreement with all of the policies he has proposed or statements he has made. Rather, inviting Trump is embracing the virtue of open expression and holding high respect for the Executive Office of the President.

I criticized the decision last year to award Vice President Joe Biden the Laetare Medal, an award intended to honor an individual who displays outstanding service to the Church, because the vice president’s position on abortion and voting record in Congress directly contradicts Church doctrine. However, I was not against Joe Biden speaking at Notre Dame. Similarly, I do not have qualms about President Obama speaking at Commencement in 2009. I think welcoming elected public officials to speak is beneficial to the academic environment on a campus. In fact, I believe fostering discussion and encouraging intellectual debate should be the essential cornerstone of an institution of higher learning. What individual could be more cultivating of these aims than the president?

I write this letter with complete respect for you and an acknowledgement of the difficult decision you and the University have to make. I simply ask you to strongly consider the ramifications of not inviting Donald Trump. In a time where much of the nation is divided, not inviting Donald Trump to speak would only add to the tone of disunity plaguing our country.

With all this said, as a student of this University, I respectfully ask you to offer Donald Trump an invitation to be the speaker at Commencement in May.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Eddie Damstra

Eddie is a junior from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Constitutional Studies and plans on pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

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  • NDaniels

    “America faces the challenge of finding ways to foster constructive conversations.”

    A conversation that denies The Truth of Love cannot serve to foster constructive conversations. Our call to Holiness, has always been a call to be chaste in our thoughts, in our words, and in our deeds. No doubt, “we have hit a high point in terms of vitriol in public discussion”. Rioting does not foster constructive conversations; it serves to foster violent uncivilized disorder.

    Father Jenkins is capable of responding to the deep divides in our Nation, in the light of our Catholic Faith. I hope he will use this opportunity to rise to the challenge of President Trump’s Commencement speech, affirming that when we deny that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and of Marriage, we deny The Divinity of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity, and thus we deny Salvational Love, God’s Gift of Grace and Mercy.

    The fact is, if we are no longer One Nation, under God, and thus indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all, the immigration issue will become moot, as we, too, will no longer have any place to rest our weary heads.


    • So any criminal who wears the mask of anti-abortion is suitable? I wonder what Jesus Himself would do about inviting Mr. T to His Mother’s university to speak? Would he have no mercy on pregnant women who terminated their pregnancies? No mercy for the medical staff that helped her do that? What will you do when your own daughter has an abortion? Will you obey your parish priests who tell you to cast her out into the streets and say with Mr. Ron Paul and Mr. Capulet, “Beg! Starve! Die in the streets! Nothing of mine will ever do thee good”!

      • NDaniels

        It is not Loving or Merciful to desire that we remain in our sin.

      • Punta Venyage

        ” I wonder what Jesus Himself would do about inviting Mr. T to His Mother’s university to speak?”

        Probably nothing. Jesus stayed out of politics and looked down upon human institutions and power structures, generally speaking..

        Also, even though the name of Notre Dame, implies association to Christ, are you saying that Notre Dame is a direct bastion of authority emanating purely from Jesus Christ himself?

        These points aside, one could literally take your own faulty question and throw it back at you

        “I wonder what Jesus Himself would do about inviting [OBAMA] to His Mother’s university to speak?”

        It comes down to the fact that your view on Trump is your own OPINION. And intellectually rich environments acknowledge and accept the flourishing of DIVERSITY in opinions, which are often times in conflict with each other. This is the whole point of the tradition to invite president, as he is invited regardless of individual opinions.

        Some people didn’t like Obama. Some people don’t like Trump.
        But the president should still come speak, regardless of the fact that there will always be some people who don’t like the president. That’s a key point of the tradition.

        The only difference is that you fall under the category of people who don’t like the president this time around.

        You’re trying to appeal towards mob rule IN THE MOMENT by saying if more of us don’t want this current president we should usurp the tradition, rather than considering the policy from a TIMELESS perspective.

  • John H. Gleason

    If a staunchly pro-abortion president such as Barack Obama can speak (and receive an honorary degree!) at Notre Dame’s commencement, there should be no problem with inviting Donald Trump to do the same.

    • RandallPoopenmeyer

      Abortion isn’t the only issue that Catholics care about…

      • Punta Venyage

        And, what’s your point?

        “. . .” isn’t a substitute for argument

  • I do support Father Jenkins in his position. It’s astonishing that such a man as Mr. Trump is considered by Eddie Damstra as suitable as a commencement speaker for the University of Notre Dame. The Trumpian method of sexual seduction is repugnant to Catholic teaching, even though students of Chaucer will recognize it as something performed by Nicholas to overwhelm Alison in the absence of her husband John the Carpenter. Neither the Miller nor Chaucer excused his misbehavior. If for no other reason than the Trumpian star-power method (although there are many even more offensive), Notre Dame is morally obliged to deny this person a forum for his words. Mr. T is certainly not a man in the tradition of President Eisenhower nor of President Obama. Our Lady’s university is no place where outspoken (nor even secret) denigration of women should be tolerated much less rewarded. A person’s position on the single issue of abortion is not a litmus test for suitability to speak at Notre Dame. I think one’s position on the natural dignity of women certainly is.

    John Dwyer, ND ’66, ’68, ’92, ’97.

    • KenTre

      Yes…it certainly is more dignified to support ripping apart unborn women in the womb. Your faux concern for the dignity of women is showing.

      • RandallPoopenmeyer

        Dignity of women? You do not get to decide whether a woman has dignity or not.

        • KenTre

          I have no idea what your point is. Of course I don’t get to decide that. No one does. God has already spoken on the issue. Read Dignitatis Mulieribus.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            How about you read a science book. God isn’t real…

          • KenTre

            Science can’t disprove the existence of God.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            True, and science can’t disprove the flying spaghetti monster either. Nothing says your god is right or real.

          • Punta Venyage

            Are you saying that the scientific method is the only way to acquire knowledge?

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            What proof do you have.

          • Punta Venyage

            Do you believe that the scientific method is the only way to acquire knowledge?

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Sorry but the bible doesn’t have any knowledge in it. Scientists aren’t looking to it for the answers of life.

          • Punta Venyage

            Why are you talking about the Bible? Is my question really that hard for you to address?

            It is incredibly straightforward:

            Do you believe that the scientific method is the only way to acquire knowledge?

      • Your rhetoric is not dignified.

    • Mark Davis

      If Notre Dame is morally obliged to deny this person a forum, than so was it also obliged to deny Barrack Obama a forum for his stance on abortion. Over 1 million infants die yearly due to abortion and yet you condemn Mr Trump for sexual seduction ? Your viewpoint is a testament to the hippocracy that infects this great Nation. You Sir would not be suitable as a commencement speaker at the University of Notre Dame.

      • RandallPoopenmeyer

        Plenty of people die a year because they do not get the blood and organs they need, yet we do not force the living or even the dead to do compulsory organ donation.

      • NDaniels

        it is important to note that President Obama also denies the Sanctity of the marital act, which is Life-affirming and Life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman, united in marriage as husband and wife. It is time for Our Lady’s University to make a statement that affirms The Sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, and The Sanctity of marriage and the family as God intended, and thus affirms Genesis, and The Divinity of The Most Holy And Undivided Blessed Trinity.

        “Let Us Create man in Our Image.”

        • João Pedro Santos

          Why should Obama be a bigot like you?

    • NDaniels

      The single issue of abortion denies the Sanctity of all human life, from the moment of God’s Creation; from the moment of our conception, every son or daughter of a human person, has been Created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a beloved son or daughter, Willed by God, worthy of redemption.

      • And you’ll drown anybody who thinks differently? Or maybe just water-board them?

        • NDaniels

          No. It would be better to correct the false assumption that it is possible to be for Christ, while denying the Sanctity of the marital act which is life-affirming and life-sustaining, and can only be consummated between a man and woman united in marriage as husband and wife. When we deny the Sanctity of the marital act, and thus deny that God Is The Author of Love, of Life, and Marriage, thus rendering onto Caesar, what belongs to God, anything can become permissible, including the destruction of a son or daughter residing in their mother’s womb.

          The right thing to do would be to admit the original error and start anew with a Commencement Speech that serves for The Common Good, and thus defends The Sanctity of Human Life from the moment of conception, and The Sanctity of Marriage and The Family, as God intended. You can’t defend one, without the other.

          And while we are at it, http://www.aggiecatholicblog.org/2016/01/illegal-immigration-and-the-catholic-church/


  • Punta Venyage

    “A decision to not invite Donald Trump to speak at Commencement would tarnish Notre Dame’s legitimacy as a bastion of intellectual discourse and contradict its long-lasting commitment to honoring the value of democracy and respecting elected leaders.”

    But…but… one does not simply engage in ‘intellectual discourse’ with the second coming of Hitler!!!

    In other words,

    The main argument that the anti-Trump for commencement speech advocates would put forth is that inviting a monster would equally, if not moreso, “tarnish Notre Dame’s legitimacy.”

    Persuading hypocrites to admit their hypocrisy (or at least to expose it to the individuals with more intellectual honesty and personal integrity) is a challenging task, but is the one that you should focus your energies on, as it relates to this matter.

    Your tolerance of having Joe Biden speak (and presumably Obama), speaks more to your openmindness vs the apparent closeminded thickheadedness of the liberals attempting to usurp this tradition.