POLITICS

Please Don’t Vote For Trump, College Commencement Speakers Beg

It's rare to see so many commencement addresses focusing on one particular candidate.

Commencement speeches are all about advice. The learned and successful use them to dispense wisdom -- and warnings -- to the next generation of leaders. And this year, many of the nation's commencement speakers have the same message for graduates: Be wary of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

President Barack Obama cautioned grads on Sunday against embracing Trump's isolationism and ignorance. The past GOP presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, also made similar remarks during his commencement speech earlier this month.

"Demagogues on the right and the left draw upon our darker angels, scapegoating immigrants and Muslims or bankers and business people," Romney declared at Trine University in Angola, Indiana.

Obama, speaking at Rutgers University in New Jersey, warned that some politicians don't care about what's true: "When our leaders express a disdain for facts, when they’re not held accountable for repeating falsehoods, and just making stuff up while actual experts are dismissed as elitist, then we've got a problem. The rejection of facts, the rejection of reason and science, that is the path to decline." 

Obama then mocked Trump's proposal to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border: "The world is more interconnected than ever before. Building a wall won’t change that."

Both former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama took aim at Donald Trump in their commence
Both former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama took aim at Donald Trump in their commencement speeches. 

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg also alluded to Trump at the University of Michigan: “In this year’s presidential election, we’ve seen more demagoguery from both parties than I can remember in my lifetime. Our country is facing serious and difficult challenges. But rather than offering realistic solutions, candidates in both parties are blaming our problems on easy targets who breed resentment. For Republicans, it’s Mexicans here illegally and Muslims. And for Democrats, it’s the wealthy and Wall Street. The truth is: We cannot solve the problems we face by blaming anyone.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) quipped at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts: “Heck, on my day of graduation, I never imagined I would visit foreign countries. I never imagined I would be a commencement speaker. I never imagined I would get into a Twitter war with Donald Trump.”

Warren largely left politics out of her speech aside from that joke, but later told reporters: “Donald Trump is a truly dangerous man. There is some risk that he could be president of the United States. I think it’s time for all of us to pay careful attention to him and to the issues that he has raised, and to start fighting back.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) at Friends University in Wichita, Kansas: “You know, there is this call out there to ‘make America great again,’ but I want to tell you that this nation will not be better because we have one more millionaire. It will not be better that we have one more person that’s achieving fame and success.”

Non-politicians took a stand as well. 

Lin-Manuel Miranda, star and creator of the hit musical “Hamilton,” took a jab against Trump at the University of Pennsylvania commencement without using the nam of the steak salesman turned GOP leader

“In a year when politicians traffic in anti-immigrant rhetoric,” Miranda said in his speech, “there is also a Broadway musical reminding us that a broke, orphan immigrant from the West Indies built our financial system. A story that reminds us that since the beginning of the great, unfinished symphony that is our American experiment, time and time again, immigrants get the job done.”

Secretary of State John Kerry told Northeastern University grads in Boston: "You are the most diverse class in Northeastern’s history -- in other words, you are Donald Trump’s worst nightmare. ... We will never come out on top if we accept advice from sound-bite salesmen and carnival barkers who pretend the most powerful country on Earth can remain great by looking inward and hiding behind walls at a time that technology has made that impossible to do and unwise to even attempt."

In an even more subtle dig, former President Bill Clinton also called for grads at Loyola Marymount University in California to reject isolationism: "Are we going to expand the definition of us and shrink the definition of them, or shall we just hunker down in the face of uncomfortable realities and just stick with our crowd?"

Politicians often seek to leave politics out of their commencement addresses. If they do make political points, they are typically broad statements about how many people do not have health insurance or indictments of both parties for misbehaving, as Obama spoke about in his 2006 Northwestern University speech as an Illinois senator.

Bloomberg in 2012 chastised Washington, D.C., culture without singling out an individual person or party. Former Vice President Al Gore often discusses global warming in his commencement addresses, but doesn't go after politicians who deny the science behind it. Romney's address at Liberty University in 2012 failed to offer even an indirect criticism of Obama as he prepared for the general election that year. 

To be sure, Romney and Obama did not mention Trump by name in their speeches this year, and they both criticized people on their respective sides of the political spectrum. But the bipartisan nature of major politicians all taking time to bash Trump in their speeches is rare. And it shows that if there's one thing they can agree on in this polarized climate, it's that Trump sucks. 

Several historians told HuffPost they couldn't recall a candidate being so roundly criticized by major politicians in commencement speeches.

"I think Trump does bring out in people an apocalyptic fear, as if his presidency would be utterly different from -- and more frightening than -- that of Bush, Bush, Reagan, or even Nixon," said David Greenberg, a professor of media and history at Rutgers. "I doubt that is the case. I see some authoritarian tendencies in Trump, but I also saw them in Bush, Bush, Reagan, and Nixon."

Brian Balogh, a historian at the University of Virginia and co-host of the podcast, "BackStory," said it was particularly "unusual for politicians to attack the presumptive nominee of their own party" in the graduation speeches.

"However, this should not be unexpected in a highly unusual election cycle where the speaker of the House and former vice presidential candidate has failed to endorse the presumptive nominee of his own party," Balogh said, referring to Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who still isn't backing Trump.

Editor’s note: Donald Trump regularly incites political violence and is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistmisogynist and birther who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims — 1.6 billion members of an entire religion — from entering the U.S.

HuffPost

BEFORE YOU GO

CONVERSATIONS