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Divided Campuses Can Learn from Naval Academy's Trump Support

Divided Campuses Can Learn from Naval Academy's Trump Support

United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland. (Cynthia Farmer/Dreamstime)

Tuesday, 29 May 2018 01:11 PM Current | Bio | Archive

This week I attended my Harvard College 50th reunion. Our class, that of 1968, was famously one of the most idealistic. During that time we were caught in the midst of an unpopular war (which most of us managed to avoid).

A period of national distress prevailed, one rather similar to the present. Our political parties seemed hopelessly at odds. It looked to most of us as if civil society itself was falling apart.

March, 1968 witnessed LBJ's declining to seek a second term as the nation's president, leading to his eventual departure from office. America ultimately grew tired of Lyndon Johnson — and his war in Vietnam. This was also an era of the assassinations, those of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in April and June of 1968 respectively.

The Kent State shooting in 1970 saw undergraduates lose their lives. Watergate lay in the near future (beginning in 1972), but the failure of political institutions already seemed manifest.

Many of our programs at the reunion were devoted to examining our current political divide and to a search for solutions to what was perceived by the event organizers as another problem of national distress and despair. What I found most disturbing was the near universal assumption among almost all those who spoke at and attended the reunion that Donald Trump and his administration were exacerbating rather than ameliorating what was perceived as a national malaise.

Indeed, many of the women and some of the men sported "Resist!" armbands that featured a circle with a diagonal line through the word "Trump." How could it be that at an event at the country’s richest and oldest university so many people felt a clear alienation from the nation’s leader?

Donald Trump did not attend Harvard. He graduated from another Ivy League Institution, the University of Pennsylvania. One of the president’s key advisers, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was Harvard College Class of 2003. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, is a Harvard Law School graduate. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin went to Yale.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, graduated from Yale College and Harvard Business School. U.S. Secretary of Labor, Alexander Acosta, is Harvard College Class of 1990, and Harvard Law School class of 1994. Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services has an undergraduate degree from Dartmouth as well as a law degree from Yale.

Dr. Ben Carson, HUD secretary, graduated from Yale College, and Mr. Trump’s secretary of transportation, Elaine Chao, has a Harvard MBA.

Thus seven out of the 15 members of Trump’s cabinet have Harvard or Yale affiliations.

His administration, while including people from many other colleges and graduate institutions still includes a fair number of Ivy-Leaguers. Why then is the thought of Trump so odious to so many of my classmates?

Even more disturbing, why did the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard, this week choose to single out Hillary Clinton (Wellesley College, Yale Law), whom Trump defeated in the 2016 election, to confer upon her its "Radcliffe Medal," which "annually honors a recipient whose life and work have had a 'transformative impact on society.'"

According to The Harvard Gazette (the in-house news organ) the medal was conferred in honor of Mrs. Clinton’s "extensive career as a lawyer and champion for the rights of women and children, as first lady, as U.S. senator from New York, as secretary of state, and as the Democratic nominee for president in 2016 . . . the first woman nominated by a major party for that office."

In a piece published a week earlier, Andrew C. McCarthy, former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York, commenting on Mrs. Clinton’s federal office-holding, observed, "If you or I had set up an unauthorized private communications system for official business for the patent purpose of defeating federal record-keeping and disclosure laws; if we had retained and transmitted thousands of classified e-mails on this non-secure system; if we had destroyed tens of thousands of government records; if we had carried out that destruction while those records were under subpoena; if we had lied to the FBI in our interview — well, we’d be writing this column from the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth."

Instead, Harvard conferred upon Mrs. Clinton one of its highest honors.

The same day that Hillary Clinton got her Radcliffe Medal, President Trump delivered a commencement address to the U.S. Naval Academy. He told the midshipmen that "we are witnessing the great reawakening of the American spirit and of American might."

The president lamented, and he lamented that "too many people . . . have forgotten that our ancestors trounced an empire, tamed a continent, and triumphed over the worst evils in history." Mr. Trump continued, "In every generation there have been cynics and critics that try to tear down America. But in recent years, the problem grew worse. A growing number used their platforms to denigrate America’s incredible heritage, challenge America’s sovereignty, and weaken America’s pride."

The president might have been talking about the attitude of many of those who organized and attended our reunion. Harvard and Radcliffe openly embrace "diversity," and, in its name, have sought to end the influence of traditional associations such as the Final Clubs, highly prestigious self-perpetuating organizations who select their own members.

The honor conferred on Mrs. Clinton reflects a similarly egalitarian spirit which appears to celebrate achievement by a woman, simply because she acquired a series of titles and ran repeatedly for the nation’s highest office, and in spite of the fact that her accomplishments were modest and her transgressions alarming.

Harvard still offers its students wonderful educational opportunities, and I’m still proud to have been there, but the contrast with Annapolis, where the graduates cheered the president, and where each and every one of the 1100 graduating seniors enthusiastically shook his hand could not be more striking.

Could it be that Harvard could learn something from the Naval Academy?

Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). Presser was recently appointed as a Visiting Scholar in Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado's Boulder Campus for 2018-2019. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Harvard offers students wonderful educational opportunities, but the contrast with Annapolis, where the graduates cheered the president, and where each and every one of the 1100 graduating seniors enthusiastically shook his hand couldn't be more striking.
annapolis, medal, pompeo, radcliffe
Tuesday, 29 May 2018 01:11 PM
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