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The danger of normalizing an abnormal candidate

| Thursday, January 19, 2017

I am writing in response to a Letter to the Editor published Jan. 18, titled “Why We Should Invite Donald Trump to Commencement.” In this article, the author argues that President-elect Donald Trump should be invited to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony in order to preserve the University’s history of presidential speakers as well as its “impartial and intrepid political involvement.” The author errs in normalizing Trump’s behavior so as to compare it to the controversy surrounding President Barack Obama. The latter was criticized primarily due to his political policies (read: his stance on abortion), whereas the former stirs controversy through his blatant disregard for people and their human dignity.

The normalization begins with the author’s introduction, in which University President Fr. John Jenkins’ decision between Trump and Hillary Clinton is jokingly compared to that of our football coach, Brian Kelly. While I understand this may have been an attempt to lighten the mood, the author accidentally pokes fun at those who take this commencement decision seriously. In comparing Jenkins’ decision to the fate of our football program, the author implies that this debate is pedantic, and that the answer is more obvious than many believe.

Downplaying this debate normalizes serious issues with our president-elect. The author claims that, “many are arguing against a Trump Commencement on the grounds that he doesn’t share some of our University’s core values as evidenced by his rhetoric and stated policies.” This grossly understates the plethoric reasons many argue against President-elect Trump’s appearance. To say Trump does not share “some” of Notre Dame’s “core values” because of what he has said suggests we can circumvent the severe prejudice he constantly sows. Can we really disregard the fact he ridiculed a reporter with a disability in public? What does this say about his respect for those living with a disability? Can we brush off the fact that he has accused a whole race of being criminals and referred to these people — human beings — in xenophobic terms? Can we cast aside his disregard not only for Mexican-American people but African-American people too, especially when he has a history of racial discrimination in business and personal interactions, not to mention an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan? And I have not even begun to discuss Trump’s treatment of women. All I will say is I never heard President Obama brag about sexually assaulting women. Can we confidently overlook the fact our president-elect condones the sexual assault of women? How does that uphold the dignity of the human being, particularly women? None of this even begins to touch on his policies, which are better left out of this discussion.

The author argues that the tradition of inviting the new president to give an address has been an “endorsement of the office of the presidency rather than of its occupant.” Focusing on tradition when speaking of this current election is yet another normalization of an abnormal election. It is safe to say that this past presidential election reminded us all of the unpredictable nature of politics. It reminded us that convention, and tradition can all be called into question. So why should we look to convention again when discussing Trump? Trump is a candidate who defies traditional notions of who a candidate is. He is unlike any candidate America has previously elected. For this reason, we cannot look to a precedent set by presidents past.

The author also makes the rather bold claim that it is “borderline un-American” to “[disavow] the president” before he is inaugurated by refusing him a chance to speak at commencement. Assuming that allowing him to speak at commencement is just an endorsement of the presidency, this is not a far reach. However, the author fails to account for the myriad offenses that Trump brings to that office. This year, it is obvious that allowing Trump to speak at commencement is endorsing more than just a political office. It is the endorsement of a character contrary to everything the University stands for. If Trump were refused the opportunity to speak at this year’s commencement ceremony, it would not be an “un-American” attack on the office of the presidency. It would be an acknowledgment that there may be people in the crowd to which he speaks that he has attacked and disregarded in some way, and that subjecting his victims to more is just wrong.

While President Obama’s stance on abortion may be controversial on a religious ground, a controversial political stance is far different than personal attacks on innocent people. To say that Trump’s rhetoric causes the same controversy as President Obama’s is to say language of hate, fear, selfishness and anger is the same as a disputed political stance. How does that make sense? We are allowed to disagree and take different positions on political issues. That is excusable. What is not excusable is the promotion of hateful dialogue that puts down others and disregards basic human dignity. The author of the original article emphasizes that he didn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton. All this does is emphasize that he isn’t for Trump, but he isn’t necessarily against him either. Yet again this normalizes Trump, suggesting that while he isn’t the best, he is probably not the worst.

This is offensive to those who have been personally attacked by Trump. It is offensive to women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and countless others who have come under attack from Donald Trump. While I understand the author may not intend any of this insult, I think that makes it all the more important to acknowledge. By casually accepting Trump’s actions, we enable him to continue his tirade of hate and insults. It is on us to stand up, call out his crude behavior and demand better because we as American citizens deserve it.


Liam Maher


Jan. 18

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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Letters to the Editor can be submitted by all members of the Notre Dame community. To submit a letter to the Viewpoint Editor, email viewpoint@ndsmcobserver.com

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  • Punta Venyage

    Don’t you realize that “blatant disregard for people and their human dignity” is just a politically influenced perception you hold and not an objective truth? How can you not see this as your own bias in place of an argument?

    You do realize the anti-Obama people could just as easily have used the “blatant disregard” for people and their “human dignity” line and associate it with his pro-abortion stance. The self-critique of your own opinion is evidently absent since you would have caught this right away if you had taken a moment to stop and challenge your own worldview.

    What has happened to our critical thinking? Have we become so lost in self-delusion that we can’t think outside of our own perspectives?

    “women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and countless others who have come under attack from Donald Trump.” More delusion – please stop and challenge your own claim before solidifying your opinion. Show me where Donald Trump has made attacks against ENTIRE GROUPS OF PEOPLE…
    If someone debates or makes a claim against you, they are debating you as an INDIVIDUAL, not whatever group you choose to identify with.

    Your problem is that Trump responds to individuals like Rosie O’Donnell, Alicia Machado, Khazr Khan, and you incorrectly interpret that as a response against an entire class of people (Hint: An understanding of the ***Fallacy of Composition*** would do you well).

    In terms of Trump’s explicit statements regarding GROUPS, they have been overwhelmingly positive (see his comments regarding the LGBT community, inner cities, women’s health issues, etc.), and you probably have no idea what he has explicitly said regarding his support for groups because you are surrounded by an echo chamber of uniformity (non-diversity) in opinion, which is tainted with propaganda. I just hope that you can consider the effects of confirmation bias and attempt to see beyond it.

  • Annette Magjuka

    I am a 1978 ND grad, and was devastated by Trump’s election. The picks he has made for the Departments of Education, Energy, Defense, etc. make it clear that he intends to wipe out every progressive program and law that I worked and prayed for my entire life. I am in DC right now preparing for the Women’s March on Washington. We are sleeping wall-to-wall in my kids’ DC place. We are making signs and getting ready to be seen and heard. Liam, I am sure that you and I view our Catholicism in a similar way. Do you realize that there are many right on your campus who are enthusiastic about the new administration and the doing away with progressive ideas and laws? THAT is where the conversation is. The election is over. I have my beliefs about the huge roll that voter suppression played, Comey’s role, and the Russian influence. But it appears that it is done, and Trump et al are taking over Jan 20. He is our president, and he should be invited to speak. Each student must decide what to do. Perhaps there is a silent and non-violent protest the students could make, so that they are seen and heard? The time for mobilizing was during the election. Now it is time for resistance to policies that are unjust. That is why I will be so proud if Notre Dame becomes a Sanctuary. Here is the lesson: BE POLITICALLY INVOLVED. Those who want to take power for themselves and use it against “the least of us” are organized and unified. Democrats are more “live and let live.” We want every voice to be heard. We fight with one another about nuance. Meanwhile, the Republicans have incrementally gained power locally, statewide, and nationally for forty years. There is a whole lot of pain and suffering to be had in the next four years for those without means. What will all the bright, idealistic Notre Dame students do? You have tremendous power and energy. I believe in you. Trump must be asked to speak. But each of you should make your voice heard.

  • Leonard DeLorenzo

    Strong piece, well written. I really appreciate what you say and the core of your argument. As a point for honest conversation, though, I would love to hear more about how policies and platforms that support abortion rights are not considered “blatant disregard for people and their human dignity” or how the rhetoric involved therein is not considered “personal attacks on innocent people.”

  • Wonderful article Liam. You perfectly articulated the difference between abuse and different beliefs, and your language about normalization is spot on.

  • Wonderful article Liam. You perfectly articulated the difference between abuse and different beliefs, and your language about normalization is spot on.

  • ramsj

    ND shouldn’t have invited Obama because of his stance on abortion, Trump shouldn’t be included in the same sentence as Notre Dame because of well everything the author so artfully wrote…