The commencement address grind

As temperatures climb and boredom with criticizing the Trump administration increases, fellow liberals turn to a favorite hobby: self-immolation. Picking on students walking out of Vice President Mike Pence’s commencement address at Notre Dame is the latest example. Students are easy targets. They allow the old to abandon common sense, disregard empathy, and wipe their own memories of youth, for besides mayonnaise in food and chardonnay there is no custom to which the old person clings more zealously than sanctimony.

Until a couple years ago I believed in a ruthless literalism regarding free speech. If the Constitution said, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech,,” it meant that no government body, federal or state, can infringe on our ability to speek freely. Public universities needn’t accept every guest who wants to speak; my understanding of the law is that the universities subsequently cannot restrict or review what the invitee will say. Moreover, protecting the speech of these invitees doesn’t require the rapt attention of an audience.

Those aging scolds have surely forgotten what a grind commencenent addresses are. At mine, the late Camilo Jose Cela raged like a summer storm about “las tonterias de la juventud.” I’ll give the Nobel laureate his due: he had no patience for self-empowerment banalities. Neither do the graduates. All they want is their fake diplomas and a handshake with the president, and I’ll even doubt this point – it’s at their parents’ insistence. This takes me back to Mike Pence. A commenter at Lawyers, Guns and Money got it right:

I am somewhat sympathetic to arguments that speakers invited onto campus by a student group should have the opportunity to speak without excessive heckling. (This doesn’t apply to someone like Milo whose presence on campus is a threat to students.) I am absolutely not sympathetic to the argument that students who have gone into significant debt and worked hard to earn their degrees should welcome being forced to listen to a speech by someone who wants to destroy their livelihoods and their communities.

Although written before the Notre Dame speech, the point stands. Pence, speaking at a private university where its administration could have done whatever the hell it wanted about accepting or rescinding invitations, signed bills as governor that endangered women and sought to make lives harder for gays and lesbians in Indiana, some of whom were in the audience. If they had jeered, I can understand an argument against disrepecting a guest. That’s not what happened. A commencement address is not a debate; they could not respond to him even if Pence stuck to the banalities mentioned above. Students owed him no courtesy, nor would exposure to the former governor of their state have nourished their intellects. Pence got to speak; his freedom of speech was impinged neither by Notre Dame nor the students. Those who walked out responded no differently than if they’d walked out of Alien: Covenant.

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