In the midst of politicized unrest, the vice president of the United States would have been an ideal commencement speaker.
Of course there are going to be people who don’t agree with him. This is the whole point of the American experiment, though: We’re a country that needs, more than ever, to listen to one another.
Who better to help foster this sort of dialogue than Vice President Mike Pence?
Well, he won’t be doing it, at least not at Wisconsin Lutheran College on the border of Milwaukee and Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. Officials at the school said they decided to replace Pence as the speaker two days prior to commencement due to the unrest in the nearby city of Kenosha.
In a statement Thursday, the administration “announced that after further review with careful consideration of the escalating events in Kenosha, the WLC Board of Regents and the College’s Administration have jointly decided to present a different speaker instead of the Vice President of the United States, Michael R. Pence, at the Saturday, August 29, 2020, commencement.
“The College is pleased to announce that Rev. Mark Jeske of St. Marcus Lutheran Church has agreed to serve as the commencement speaker,” the statement added.
Pence said he understood the decision, which the college said was a joint call.
“Vice President Pence understands and supports Wisconsin Lutheran College’s decision to prioritize the safety and well-being of their students, and wishes the students well as they celebrate the accomplishment of graduating from college and as they embark on their next journey,” Pence spokesman Devin M. O’Malley told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Pence’s appearance had been announced last week; the college said at the time it “cannot” be seen as a political endorsement.
“We believe it is possible within our context to leave partisan politics at the door and to celebrate America, our freedoms, Christian servant leadership and our graduates’ immense accomplishments,” the college said in a statement.
“Though not an official campaign stop, the speech would have brought Pence to Wisconsin days after the Republican National Convention, where the vice president touted ‘law and order,'” the Journal Sentinel reported Thursday.
“Wisconsin is a key state the Republicans are trying to hold on to this November. “
You also had alumni and current students of the school going as far as to apologize to the students of this year’s graduating class.
“Your commencement ceremony should not have been infected by toxic politics,” they wrote in an open letter on Medium.
“You didn’t ask for this, and you should not have needed to ask for this not to happen. Controversial political figures need to stay out of our academic celebrations.”
The letter also called the invitation “blatantly inappropriate.”
“The mere invitation of a Vice President of an incredibly divisive and controversial ticket to speak in a swing state months before an election is ignorant and deceptive,” it said.
“Speaking to young adults months before an election is a political move and not one that WLC can decide is apolitical.”
All right, then — what about other politicians who have appeared to give commencement speeches during campaigns? Is this a tradition we’re going to suddenly retire? Or is this mostly about one particular kind of politician giving a speech?
Also in question were Pence’s remarks about the violence in Kenosha during his speech accepting the GOP’s vice presidential nomination during the Republican National Convention this past week.
“President Trump and I will always support the right of Americans to peacefully protest. But rioting and looting is not peaceful protest. Tearing down statues is not free speech,” Pence said, according to a New York Times transcript.
“Those who do so will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Last week, Joe Biden didn’t say one word about the violence and chaos engulfing cities across this country. So let me be clear. The violence must stop, whether in Minneapolis, Portland or Kenosha.”
There is — or should be — nothing controversial about these thoughts.
What Pence was expressing support for was the rule of law. That’s the bare minimum that’s necessary for a society to function.
Anyone who believes that’s divisive has abandoned all pretense of wanting unity. But then, that’s not what this is about.
At this critical juncture in our history, there would have been few — if any — individuals better able to rise to the moment than Mike Pence.
Nobody wanted a speaker who could rise to the moment and bring us together, though. What the loudest voices on the left wanted was someone who would loudly declare their vision for America to be orthodoxy.
I have no idea if Rev. Mark Jeske is that man. Rest assured if he’s not, he’ll likely find himself uninvited to some other places.
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