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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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