In the midst of all the latest craziness in Washington, D.C., it appears that President Donald Trump is going to return to one of his favorite safe zones.
That would be Liberty University, of course, home of uber-Trumpster Jerry Falwell, Jr.
The Donald has, of course, spoken during campus convocations at Liberty, including a rather ahead-of-its-time appearance in 2012. Now he has been asked to speak at the most symbolic campus event of all -- commencement. The key here is that this is a safe trip for Trump (hint, hint).
The Washington Post is all over this with an education-beat feature under this headline: "Excitement and caution as Liberty University awaits Trump’s commencement speech."
LYNCHBURG, Va. -- It’s exam week at Liberty University and everywhere are signs of last-minute cramming. Study groups are bunched around tables inside the student union. The Jerry Falwell Library is unusually packed. And the weekly campus worship service has been postponed to allow more time to study.
But final exams aren’t the only tests facing the outwardly placid campus this week.
Students at the nation’s largest Christian university are also preparing for the arrival of President Trump, who is to deliver the commencement address for the Class of 2017 on May 13. He will be the first incumbent president to speak at the school’s commencement since George H.W. Bush in 1990.
If Trump needed a safe space to deliver his first commencement address, he would be hard-pressed to find a more accommodating school.
Right, right. As this story noted, it's hard to imagine what kind of protests would have been staged if Trump had tried to speak at commencement at the University of Notre Dame (as opposed to walking in the footsteps of pro-abortion-rights President Barack Obama and [a] speaking there and [b] picking up an honorary doctor of laws degree).
No way Trump could go to Notre Dame, which has invited Vice President Mike Pence, instead.
That Pence event may cause trouble, too, since it's hard these days for political and cultural conservatives to speak on many mainstream campuses, secular and religious. The same would be true for whatever Trump is, in terms of political, cultural and religious labels.
So this president is headed to the safety of Liberty. Sure enough, there are people there who question what will happen next:
Students at the school, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southern Virginia, voted overwhelmingly for Trump in November. Of the 3,205 votes cast on campus, Trump took 2,739. Democrat Hillary Clinton received just 140. Trump also had the backing of Liberty President Jerry Falwell Jr., whose early and vigorous support helped him navigate the national thicket of conservative Christian voters.
In interviews with dozens of students, the overwhelming reaction to Trump’s impending visit is a sense of pride that the president chose their school for his first address to new college graduates. But mixed with the enthusiasm and excitement is a sense of apprehension and caution. They wonder: What will he say? And what will America think about them?
Some doubts about the president linger here. Though Trump crushed Clinton among campus voters, he finished a distant fourth in the Liberty precinct in Virginia’s Republican primary, capturing 8 percent of the vote and trailing Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (Tex.), both evangelical favorites.
Students did offer some interesting and insightful reactions, when the Post invader asked them to articulate their worries:
Seniors Meredith Boyce, 22, of Rochester, Minn., and Hannah Kuster, 22, of Louisville, both voted for Trump. Aside from possible logistical headaches of security screenings for a presidential visit, they are expecting a memorable and enjoyable commencement. Like Wood, they think that Trump’s appearance will help put Liberty on the map. But they are also a bit nervous.
“There’s definitely some apprehension because he can say crazy things,” Boyce said. “I’m just praying no one does anything stupid.”
Caleb Brown, 21, a junior from High Point, N.C., says he considers it a blessing that Trump is coming. But he is looking for more than just a stump speech.
“As long as he puts America before himself, he’ll do a lot more good than if he is just about his ego,” Brown said. “I want him to be specific, not just more rhetoric.”
The Post added reactions from a Latino feminist and a freshman from New York City who notes that his white friends are excited, but his black friends on campus are not. Oh, and the founder of Liberty United Against Trump gets to speak his peace.
All of this is perfectly valid.
However, I am interested in one relevant angle that did not make it into this long news feature, which had plenty of room for nuance.
A am referring to that interesting speech at Liberty by one Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose address in convocation drew more than polite applause and exactly zero hostility. It even inspired quite a bit of dialogue on campus.
Might that have been worth a sentence in this Post piece? I mean, this is relevant in contrast with recent events on many other campuses, all of which loom over the new Trump speech in this "safe" zone..
This led to a question from a D.C. Beltway reader:
Article stresses good setting for Trump because of the conservative religious people, Pres. Falwell Jr., etc., but didn't Liberty provide safe and respectful place also for Sen. Sanders? Safe and respectful because conservative and religious, not secular and progressive like Yale and Berkeley, which are not good at offering safety and respect for contrary views. That's a missing religious angle to this story.
Amen. But I would argue that it's a missing secular angle, as well.
Is Liberty a "safe" zone for conservatives (and whatever Trump is) or is it simply a safe zone for polite public discourse? What does that say about Liberty and, well, some other campuses that we could mention?