I am writing this post after seeing news coverage of the “walkout” that occurred when Vice President Pence began delivering his commencement address at Notre Dame last weekend. The fact is that it was only “several dozen” [out of 2,081] graduates who got up and walked out as Mr. Pence began his address. But the New York Times reported it like this: “Online video of the ceremony showed a large number of young people filing out of the stadium as the vice president began to congratulate the graduates and their families. Around them, the audience erupted into a mixture of boos and applause“. Now, if you Google “Pence Notre Dame commencement speech”, the only items that show up have to do with the demonstrations — interviews with the students, why they did it, how they “feel”, etc. As I watched the video of the actual news coverage, I saw no “eruption” of the audience, either the boos or the applause.
At least they weren’t shouting and throwing things, so maybe I should be thankful for that and just put my troubled thoughts about the event down. After all, these graduates were “exercising their First Amendment right” to express their displeasure with Trump Administration policies with which they do not agree [and perhaps with some of Mr. Pence’s stated positions on certain issues]. However, there is much more to this particular demonstration than meets the eye.
I’ve alluded to distorted media reports in several of my blog posts [see News [or NNTN?] Circa 2017 and Fake News Or Just Meaningless News? for just two examples]. My concern here is the disrespect these students showed toward the Vice President of our country. This honorable and decent man a) came at the invitation of the leadership of their university; b) was the first U. S. Vice President to deliver a commencement address at that university; and c) is one of only about seven millionths of one percent of all U. S. citizens who have ever lived to become first in the line of succession to the highest office in the world. Those things alone should have engendered enough respect for Notre Dame’s leadership, and for this man, to prompt these students to seek less blatant, less in-your-face ways to express their disdain for the policies they attribute to the President and/or to him.
I wonder how many of these students actually know the genesis of the very right they were exercising, and how many gave any thought to whether this method of exercising it was the best way to do so, and how many gave any consideration at all as to whether negative impressions of them because of their chosen tactic might outweigh any positive impact other tactics might have had in addressing their concerns? My guess is that for most if not all of these questions, the answer is “None”.
The First Amendment And The “Bill Of Rights” — Roots
There’s a very good reason why the first ten Amendments to the constitution are collectively referred to as the Bill of Rights. As you read through them, it becomes very clear that at least some of our Founding Fathers, particularly at the State level, wanted to ensure that, as the new Federal government developed, these basic rights didn’t get lost in the shuffle. They were proposed following an oftentimes bitter 1787–88 battle over ratification of Constitution, and had been crafted to address the objections raised by Anti-Federalists, adding to the Constitution specific guarantees of personal freedoms and rights, clear limitations on the government’s power in judicial and other proceedings, and explicit declarations that all powers not specifically delegated to Congress by the Constitution are reserved for the states or the people. They were officially ratified in 1791, two years after the original constitution was approved by Congress [subject, according to Article VII, to ratification by nine of the thirteen States — so actually, this Bill of Rights essentially became a requirement for reaching that level of ratification].
I think there’s also a very good reason why the very first of those ten Amendments has to do with freedom of speech — specifically, it prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion [a tenet which nowadays is grossly over-interpreted by many as “separation of Church and State”], ensuring that there is no prohibition on the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble, or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. Having the right to express our opinions freely, without fear of reprisal, is clearly a fundamental concept woven into the documents defining our nation.
But With Rights Come Responsibilities
However, I believe anybody should be able to agree that there are at least some bounds within which our exercise of this [or any other] right should be carried out. Most obviously, it is highly doubtful that the framers of our founding documents, by including this right, thought that people exercising them would destroy property or cause physical injury to others. But on most days, if there is no example that day, you wouldn’t have to go back more than a few weeks at most to find several examples of exactly that kind of violence in demonstrations — e.g., demonstrations at Berkeley University just last month, many Black Lives Matter demonstrations, etc.
The missing element in all of this is respect for others, and the ever-present common element is narcissism — complete focus on what I think is best, without regard for other people’s views and feelings. That’s most interesting — the very behavior people accuse our President of exhibiting is apparent in their own behavior. I guess there’s a lot of good common sense in the old saying “What goes around, comes around”.
Charles M. Jones