Don’t invite Donald Trump to commencement
Letter to the Editor | Friday, May 18, 2018
Editor’s Note: This letter was originally published on December 7, 2016.
It has been years since I last read an Observer article, and even longer since I wrote a letter to the editor, but today I found myself, drawn back, through social media: Friends had shared an article about whether Donald Trump would be invited to speak at the 2017 Commencement. As a student and as an alumnus (and, in fact, until the results of this election), I was proud of the University’s tradition of inviting the sitting president, regardless of party, to speak. Now, I am terrified of associating Donald Trump with the best traditions, let alone the intellectual and moral life, of our University.
There is so much to say about the reasons not to pick Trump — much of it said during the course of the presidential campaign. Rather than repeat the innumerable scandals and embarrassments, I want to focus on three things which I’m sure you look for in a commencement speaker: inspiring Notre Dame’s newest alumni, commending the value of higher education and furthering the unique mission of Notre Dame.
First, and most basic, can you imagine Trump inspiring the class of 2017? Can you even imagine him saying anything of value, at all, to a graduate? When you ask students, faculty, staff, trustees, Holy Cross priests or other trusted friends, can they imagine it? He speaks at a lowest common denominator level, playing to fear and insecurity, trading on innuendo and conspiracy theories.
Second, Trump may be among the worst people to uphold the value of higher education among our recent graduates. That may sound hyperbolic, but this man has utter distain for any sort of learning or expertise, as he demonstrated by claiming to “know more about ISIS than the generals do,” and that that his “primary foreign policy consultant is myself” because “I have a very good brain.” Learning should inspire humility about the limits of one’s own knowledge; as Socrates reflected: “The ancient Oracle said that I was the wisest of all the Greeks. It is because I alone, of all the Greeks, know that I know nothing.” Who can picture Trump ever betraying a hint of ignorance about anything? That, after all, would be a sign of weakness.
Third, and finally, Trump’s words and conduct are antithetical to Notre Dame’s unique mission. As a student, I was inspired by the University’s commitment to teaching the whole person, to promoting a moral and spiritual, as well as intellectual, education. Trump represents no kind of moral or spiritual life. Everything that Trump says, everything that he does, is in service of himself and his ego. The things he likes, the things he does, are the best; he says kind words about those who support him or treat him well, and no one else. Those who oppose him are liars, failures or losers. I am not saying that our commencement speaker must be Catholic, or even Christian, but Trump’s conduct provides no evidence of any guiding moral principle, beyond pride.
Fr. Jenkins, I can think of no worse commencement speaker than Donald Trump. It is prestigious for the University to have presidents speak at commencement, but surely prestige alone cannot drive this decision. What shall it profit the University to have Donald Trump as a speaker?
class of 2004
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.