Posted Wednesday afternoon, May 24, 2017.
I’d walk out on Mike Pence too. Then I’d walk back in just so I could walk out on him again.
Notre Dame graduates walk out of their own graduation ceremony to protest the policies of commencement speaker Vice-President Mike Pence and the man he works for, Sunday, May 21, 2017. Photo by Robert Franklin, South Bend Tribune, courtesy of AP via WeStandforND.
One of my terrifically talented and intelligent nieces graduated from college last week. My nephews are all talented and intelligent too, but last Saturday was her day. I was just getting my head around the fact that she was a college student and now here she is a diploma-ed adult with a career. And this is the point. The day she graduated she was already not a student any longer. She was a social worker.
She's one of the lucky ones among her cohort to have landed a good job in her chosen field right away, before her first student loan payment is due. When she starts a conversation at work with how are you today it's not going to be a prologue to What can I get you? It will mean Tell me how badly you're hurting today and let's see what we can do to ease the pain? It's a career in which she's setting herself up for daily heartache, frustration, and disappointment, and it's not going to make her rich. But there's a good chance it will make her happy and proud because other people's lives are going to be better thanks to her.
Now, here's the thing.
She's twenty-one. She'll be twenty-two next month. To us old folks, that makes her just a kid. She's not, of course. We don't give kids the responsibility for other people's mental health and well-being. And that's what we've done. We as a society that relies on good-hearted, hard-working, selfless kids like her have put the lives of her clients in her well-trained but as yet inexperienced hands. She'll have supervision. She'll have colleagues she can turn to for help and advice. But mainly she'll be on her own and her clients will have to trust her professional judgment and expertise, not to mention her character, virtue, and wisdom. It's a weighty responsibility but, naturally, I think her clients are in good hands. More to the point, though, is that her now former college and her now employer believe she can handle it, even at the age when she's only recently become old enough to order wine with dinner when she goes out to celebrate her graduation.
This needs to be kept in mind when talking about the Notre Dame graduates who walked out of their own graduation ceremony Sunday rather than sit there and listen to our despicable President's despicable Vice-President spout lies masked in pities and banalities. It's not that they are so young. It's that they are so old. No kids walked out on Pence. They were all adults, some of them like my niece with careers already underway.
Most of them were twenty-one or twenty-two. That means most of them are old enough to be elected to the United States Congress. If any of them are going into the military they are most likely going in as officers. If they're going into the Army or Marines, it's with the rank of lieutenant and if they're deployed to Afghanistan they will probably be commanding troops in a combat zone. Men and women nearly twice their age will be depending on their judgment and expertise to keep them alive.
Less dramatically, those who are going to be teachers will be standing at the fronts of classrooms come fall. Those who are going to be engineers will be helping to design and build bridges that better hold up under traffic. Those going into finance and business will be making (often instant) decisions that will affect the economic well-being of countless other people. Those who are going to become social workers are...well, see above.
They should not be assumed to be spoiled children. They should be assumed to be what they are. Adults about to take their place in the world, which is a way of saying, about to take over our places in the world. Where do fifty-something pundits like Ron Fournier who have had their time in the sun get off telling them what to do with theirs?
For those of you who've been happily unaware of his existence until now, Fournier is currently the editor of Crain’s Detroit Business but for most of the Presidential campaign season he was the senior political columnist for the Atlantic. He’s made his bread and butter as a pundit weasel-wording online and on the television bobblehead shows about how it's "Both Sides!" Whenever Trump said something appalling or was revealed to have been even more despicable than was already known, Fournier could be counted upon to, while appearing to acknowledge the appallingness or despicableness of whatever it was Trump said or did, try to mitigate it with some version of “But Hillary's just as bad.” Fournier tweeted in response to the walkout thusly:
Don't be afraid, kids. Don't run away from opinions and policies that don't conform to your own. https://t.co/GPbLLOT2lq— Ron Fournier (@ron_fournier) May 21, 2017
Brad Thor mined a similar vein of hypocrisy and phony outrage.
I'm old enough to remember when people could sit for 20 minutes and listen to ideas they didn't agree with. We used to call it "civility." https://t.co/n1AAkBRcCI— Brad Thor (@BradThor) May 22, 2017
Thor is a best-selling novelist whose merits as a writer of political thrillers I can't judge, not having read them, not on principle, he just wasn’t on my radar. At USC one of his teachers was T.C. Boyle, so maybe he learned a thing or two about the trade. But he also appears to be one of those writers of thrillers and detective novels who come to believe they are one of the manly man heroes of their own books. Thor wears a leather pilot’s jacket and sports an astronaut’s haircut in his author photos even though there’s no mention in his biography that he ever served in the military. Going by his Twitter feed, his webpage, and a quick Googling, I think it's safe to say he's not a liberal. He’s a member of the Heritage Foundation and was one of those #NeverTrump types who jumped on the orange bandwagon late in the campaign when it became real to him that Clinton might very well win. The prospect of a liberal Democratic woman President struck him as more terrifying than the prospect of a raving, corrupt, sexually predatory, racist, crypto-fascist one, so, you know, an expert on civility.
Mike Pence has no opinions worth listening to except to be appalled by. He’s hardly a deep thinker with ideas that can’t be plucked out of a grab bag of conservative cliches. He's a rigid ideologue, a religious bigot, an ignoramus, a smooth and well-practiced and proven liar, a hypocrite, a cynical opportunist, and a sanctimonious and self-satisfied prig, as well as being not very bright and having been an incompetent governor---the reason he was available and willing to be Trump's running mate is that his other job option was to be humiliated in a futile bid for re-election. But he wasn't there as any ordinary supposedly wise elder with controversial or challenging opinions.
He was there as the Vice-President to the most corrupt, divisive, and deliberately destructive President in our nation's history, and I say that fully aware of how destructive and divisive Nixon and Reagan were and how corrupt Nixon was and how much corruption Reagan tolerated in his administration. If they both look worse in comparison, it's because they had more time to accomplish their dirty work and because they were much smarter and much more competent than our Mr President Trump. But Trump is hell bent on burning the country to the ground mainly out of spite and lunacy but also out of vanity and greed, and Pence is an active and enthusiastic assistant arsonist.
I don’t know why Notre Dame invited him. It seems like inviting trouble. It also seems like a deliberate insult to the graduates, all of them, not just the ones who walked out.
If they’re immigrants or the children of immigrants, if they’re Muslim, if they’re LGBT, if they’re black or Hispanic or just about any minority, if they’re women…
If they don’t have good jobs lined up yet or they’re going to grad school and will need to depend on their parents for medical insurance and their parents don’t have insurance through work or if they themselves have a pre-existing condition, which the Trump Administration and the House Republicans have given insurance companies permission to define as any sign you’re not invulnerable and immune to serious disease and might need to see a doctor in the future for more than just a flu shot…
If they’re going into medicine or science, if they’re going to be teachers, if they’re artists…
If they’re going into the military or are in the military or are veterans…
If they’re planning to have children someday or if they have children…
If they have student loan payments looming, which is virtually all of them...
If they’re hoping to live in a country where the air is breathable and the water drinkable and in a world that isn’t drying up and blowing away or sinking under rising seas…
It they’re just good-hearted, decent-minded people who care about what happens to their fellow Americans, particularly those who are poor and unfortunate…
Then Donald Trump’s agenda, which is Mike Pence’s agenda too, is a threat to them and all they hold dear.
So the students who walked out weren't running away from his opinions, horrifying as they are---and as if Pence wasn’t governor of the state where they went to college for most of the time they’ve been there and hasn’t been in the national news constantly since Trump chose him as his running mate and he’d be passing along an opinion they didn’t already know he held.
As for his “policies”, they are Trump’s policies and they are deliberately designed to be destructive and hurtful.
And they weren’t being uncivil by refusing to sit and listen to “ideas” they disagreed with---as if Pence has ideas as opposed to partisan, political convictions and self-serving prejudices masquerading as religious pieties. No rules of civility require you to listen to in obsequious silence to an evil-minded political hack actively engaged in hurting you and your family and friends mouth platitudes meant to excuse and rationalize the hurt he's inflicting.
These were not special snowflakes who couldn’t take having their feelings hurt. They are graduates of one of the best universities in the country. They've demonstrated their ability and willingness to sit and listen to ideas and opinions that challenge their previous thinking. They've also demonstrated an ability and willingness to interrogate and challenge those ideas and opinions in return and to recognize and reject the ones that are specious, meretricious, pernicious, and just plain wrong. They are not students, not anymore. They are young professionals or soon to be professionals, and they were exercising the sort of judgment based on their learning, intellectual training, and (admittedly still limited) experience and their sense of right and wrong that we're already relying on them to exercise as they begin their careers.
They were, rightly, protesting.
Pence works for a President who is racist, cruel, and vicious. Pence himself is a bigoted, sexist, malicious, and mendacious human being. The grads weren't running away. They were demonstrating their disgust. They were doing what they could at the moment to show they will not be part of the destruction, the cruelty, and the hatred.
They're also graduates of a Catholic university where they learned to spot someone who is opposed to just about all they've been taught about charity, compassion, social justice, the love people owe to one another. They’ve listened to the Pope, and they know Francis is not a fan of this President.
The walkout was organized by a student activist group called WeStanforND. Here’s the statement they issued explaining what they were doing and why:
On May 21, Notre Dame students will stage a walkout during the commencement exercises in
solidarity with all members of the Notre Dame community affected by the policies advocated by
U.S. Vice-President Mike Pence. “The participation and degree-conferring of VP Pence stand as
an endorsement of policies and actions which directly contradict Catholic social teachings and
values and target vulnerable members of the University’s community,” said Xitlaly Estrada, Notre
During his time as governor of the state of Indiana and now as a Vice-President, Pence has
targeted the civil rights protections of members of LBGT+ community, rejected the Syrian
refugee resettlement program, supported an unconstitutional ban of religious minorities, and
fought against sanctuary cities. All of these policies have marginalized our vulnerable sisters
and brothers for their religion, skin color, or sexual orientation.
Pope Francis has bestowed upon the world a call to support Syrian refugees, to acknowledge
and respect the humanity of sexual minorities, and to bring down all walls that separate us. Luis
Miranda, a graduate student, noted “at Notre Dame, we cherish the values for which Catholic
social teaching stands and we cannot stand still when an injustice is being done to our sisters
Following the Notre Dame’s mission to “create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the
common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice,” as members of the
class of 2017 we will walkout during the commencement exercise. “Like Father Hesburgh, we
seek to stand in solidarity with the vulnerable,” said Bryan Ricketts, undergraduate. We will walk
out in silence, with respect for the human dignity of those with whom we disagree and with an
invitation to the rest of the community to build an inclusive future together.
We invite students, faculty, and families present to join us during this walkout and to use the
hashtag #WalkOutND to share your support.
The issue isn’t whether these graduates were right to walk out of their own graduation ceremony. The question is why didn’t every good Catholic along with every other decent-minded person in the stadium walk out with them?