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Notre Dame should not invite President Trump to speak at Commencement

| Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I read Eddie Damstra’s “An open letter to Fr. Jenkins” in the Dec. 7 edition of The Observer. While I respect his well-stated position, I cannot agree with his conclusion. I believe Notre Dame should not invite President Donald Trump to speak at Commencement.

I did not expect to write this letter. In March 2009, Notre Dame announced Barack Obama would speak at my commencement ceremony in May. I could hardly contain my glee at having the first African American President of the United States and a personal political idol of mine, since his keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention, speak at my graduation.

My glee was short-lived, however, as for months, groups protested and argued it was inappropriate for a Catholic institution to invite a pro-choice President to speak and be honored at its commencement.

I have to confess: I found the whole situation baffling. Would Notre Dame seriously decline to invite the president to speak at our graduation? Surely, an invitation to speak at Commencement need not equate to an endorsement of all of the president’s policies, and a snub seemed like a close-minded refusal to engage with anyone whose political beliefs did not align with Catholic teaching.

When President Obama addressed our class, he invoked a favorite expression of the late University President Emeritus Fr. Theodore Hesburgh about what it meant to be a lighthouse and a crossroads — to simultaneously shine unwaveringly for your beliefs and bring people together with all of our differences. I was inspired by that charge, and for many years, I knew I wanted to write to graduates feeling politically conflicted about a different president speaking their Commencement and pass on the lessons I learned at the time: Hold your beliefs dear, but respect for the presidency is a duty of every American and do not let our divisions blind us to our shared humanity.

Thus, I realize this letter must make me seem hypocritical. Though I truly would prefer to write a letter similar to the one Mr. Damstra composed, I cannot bring myself to write it because I believe it is Mr. Trump who needs those lessons. Mr. Trump has flaunted the norms of our democratic system, including through his tweets criticizing the rights of assembly and the free press, his refusal to disentangle himself from his vast business holdings and their attendant conflicts of interest and his debunked allegation that illegal votes prevented him from winning the popular vote. Mr. Trump has also done much to divide us, including his comments on immigrants and Muslims, his refusal to distance himself from or forcibly denounce the white supremacist right (the so-called “Alt-right”), his continued refusal to take any responsibility, even indirectly, for pulling us apart.

An invitation to speak at Commencement might not equate to an endorsement of Mr. Trump’s policies, but it does at least partially endorse Mr. Trump, the man. It would be wrong to decline to invite Mr. Trump because of legitimately held political differences, but it would be worse still to invite Mr. Trump following the concrete actions he has taken that threaten to corrode the foundation of our democracy and rip apart the ties that bind us together. I would prefer Notre Dame act as a crossroads, but I believe we should stand as a lighthouse on this occasion.

Michael Folger
class of 2009
Dec. 7

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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  • Gary

    This from the Sycamore Trust recent bulletin:
    Dr. Michael J. Crowe, the Rev. John J. Cavanaugh, C.S.C. Professor Emeritus, published his adaptation of the faculty letter in the Irish Rover:

    We know that you, like many of us, are reeling over the result of the presidential election. You may be fearful of the very real dangers that may be ahead. Some of you might feel even more silenced, wondering if the classmate sitting next to you, your professor, or people in your residence hall actually support the views of [Hilary Clinton], who made comments supportive of aborting babies right up to the moment of their birth, who advocates continuing funding of an organization that not only does hundreds of thousands of abortions, but also sells body parts from the abortions they perform. This is also a candidate who openly advocates forcing all Americans, including those who see abortion as murder, to give financial support for abortions and would like to force medical professionals who object to performing abortions to be removed from hospital staffs. You may encounter overt signs of these views on campus. Please know you are not alone. We stand in solidarity with you against hate. We offer our support and love. As a start, and at the very least, we will listen to your voices. We will listen to your anger, fear, and disappointment in a country that may fail to live up to its promise of justice and the blessings of liberty for even its most vulnerable members. Do not lose heart. We are not powerless. Please reach out to any one of us. We are here for you.

    • disqus_PBnOP0sXke

      “[Hilary Clinton], who made comments supportive of aborting babies right up to the moment of their birth”

      “forcing all Americans, including those who see abortion as murder, to give financial support for abortions”
      Why am I forced to fund wars I don’t agree with, such as the Iraq War? Why was I forced to fund the event which (unconsciously) resulted in the creation of ISIS?

  • W Patrick Burns

    Your statements on your opposed position are absolutist. They make for great political left talking points and are unsubstantiated. Especially this one, “the concrete actions he has taken that threaten to corrode the foundation of our democracy and rip apart the ties that bind us together,” That.s right up there with the lib sound bite always used in the mainstream, “He’s against the core values we represent.”

  • Larry Schlutt

    Personally this was the icing on the cake for me. I’ve been upset with the directin notre dame has been going for awhile now. Jack and BK should both be fired imho.

    For a Catholic university to refuse to invite our president says a lot about Notre Dame. As Catholics we are taught at a very early age to set aside our differences and do the right thing, to always do what is right. By doing what Notre Dame did by refusing to invite president Trump that shows how weak and how unchristian Notre Dame really is. To this day they still have people from Notre Dame praising that Obama spoke at Notre Dame a man that was Muslim and was pro-abortion spoke at a Catholic University but can’t set aside their differences and invite president Trump? I’ve been a fan of Notre Dame for 43 years I have thrown away all my Notre Dame apparel all the Notre Dame stuff I accumulated over the years and I’ve now become a Michigan State University fan just because of the Trump thing. Notre Dame is a disgrace! God country and Notre Dame is a thing of the past God has been replaced with money look at the deal Jack got with Under Armour that’s proof right there that Notre Dame cares nothing about anything but money Notre Dame got a 2% stock option when they sign up with Under Armour again Notre Dame is it a disgrace.