Don’t back down
Letter to the Editor | Wednesday, January 25, 2017
In 1969, Hillary Clinton (then Hillary Rodham) gave the first student-offered commencement address at Wellesley College. Before she spoke, Sen. Edward Brooke talked about how unnecessary protests were at the time, a complete counter to Rodham’s speech about a youth dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. Hillary spoke, and responded truthfully and gracefully to the senator’s remarks. She said that “we feel that for too long our leaders have viewed politics as the art of the possible. And the challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible.” Hillary didn’t back down in the face of someone who disagreed with a core belief, rather she stood up to them. Another Clinton memory gives us this same lesson. Her mother made her face her bullies rather than hide from them. When you face a bully and are in a position of strength, you don’t back down.
Donald Trump is our bully. He has bragged about sexual assault, praised authoritarian leaders (looking at you, Putin), grouped a whole religion as terrorists, called Mexicans rapists, made fun of a disabled reporter. Need I go on? He is the antithesis of what this University stands for. He wants power for his own gain; he has exploited time and time again his contractors, the very people he claims to support. He is a man who will say and do anything with no real beliefs. This man, in a little over a month, will be the president of the most powerful country on earth. He will be our president, whether we like it or not.
In the face of such an existential threat, we can either pretend to be above the base arguments he is presenting, or we can fight him at every place possible. As J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend.” We are allowed to fight without enjoying it, and more importantly, we must fight to protect what we love, or risk losing everything we have. We no longer have the luxury of moral high ground. Donald Trump has destroyed what was considered acceptable in American politics, and we must work to correct that.
Notre Dame, as it has done so often before, must play a part in this. Academia doesn’t have to be a place where all sides are right: There is no moral ambivalence in truth. It does, however, need to be a place where all sides have the chance to be heard and, more importantly, challenged. Let Trump come to commencement and hope he will begin to heal the wounds he has poured salt in. As former Sen. Harry Reid said, “If this is going to be a time of healing, we must first put the responsibility for healing where it belongs: at the feet of Donald Trump.”
In the spirit of Hillary Clinton, let the valedictorian and University President Fr. John Jenkins follow Trump’s speech, and if necessary, go off script. Challenge him. Call him out, but we have no chance to silence him with our disgust: That didn’t work in the election, and it won’t work in the next four years. Coupled with action (like the University protecting our undocumented students), our words will have power. Donald Trump is more dangerous than we ever imagined he could be, and now more than ever, we need to challenge him on every front possible.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.