National Politics

Trump Jr. scolds universities during UNT speech, a fundraiser for scholarships

Brought in for the UNT Kuehne Speaker Series, Donald Trump Jr. spent a significant portion of his 30-minute speech admonishing American universities, with a notable exception of those in Texas.

The oldest son of President Donald Trump said Tuesday that universities across the country, and specifically the University of California, Berkeley — and even his own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania — are reining in free speech and distorting traditional values while instituting policies of groupthink. He singled out the University of North Texas as increasingly becoming “the exception.”

“A lot of other universities don’t teach civility or intellectual openness anymore,” Trump said, speaking to 800 people seated at white tables on the home turf of the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium. “They’ve become captive to political hatreds. That’s how innocent questions become verbal assaults.”

On campuses afraid to foster independent thought, he continued, universities have turned “traditional” values into “hate speech.”

“Hate speech,” he said, “is anything that says America is a good country and our founders were great people, that we need borders. Hate speech is anything faithful to the moral teaching of the Bible.”

Universities, he said, too often make this bad deal with parents: “We’ll take $200,000 of your money; in exchange we’ll train your children to hate our country ... we’ll indoctrinate them and punish them if they disagree with us. ... We’ll make them unemployable by teaching them courses in zombie studies, underwater basket weaving and, my personal favorite, tree climbing — but that’s only because it’s deer season.”

Dressed in a blue suit and a Mean Green-colored tie, Trump, 39, who was paid $100,000 for the speech, twice praised UNT for maintaining its integrity while also maintaining its standard as a top party school, drawing some laughs. He spent another large chunk of time promoting his father’s vision of the future of foreign policy, American nationalism.

Trump was introduced by UNT President Neal Smatresk, who opened by saying, “There’s been a lot of news, or maybe I should say ‘fake news,’ surrounding today’s lecture.”

That statement likely came in reference to his own alleged opposition to Trump speaking under the UNT name. A sizable number of faculty also voiced opposition. The series’ namesake, Ernie Kuehne, defended the choice of bringing in Trump because of the money he would likely generate for scholarships. Kuehne and presenting sponsor Brint Ryan, head of the UNT board of regents and a Dallas businessman, said the event will net the series $200,000 toward the funding of scholarships for National Merit Scholars.

Ryan conducted an informal sit-down interview with Trump and noted the 87 professors who signed their name in protest to a letter sent to the university’s student newspaper as well as the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Afterward, Ryan said the actions by those professors were “shameful.”

“His comments about the role of universities, his comments about Berkeley were very important and timely for this audience because I agree with him that if free speech is going to flourish in this country it has to start at the universities, and the campuses have to be about diversity of thought, as well as diversity of everything else,” Ryan said. “That’s a great message for the administrators here, the president is here, and hopefully we’ll stand firm and continue to support that.”

Trump delved into a number of other topics such as disdain for the media, disparaging mainstream media outlets for their “vitriol” toward his father. He opened by retelling his father’s path to victory in the election, with a nod to supportive Texans, when few believed victory was possible. Then came a barrage of critiques and criticisms of the state of the country and of events that led to his father getting elected.

Trump did not take media questions during the event and a spokesman did not respond to an email inquiry.

Trump blamed failed policies of the last two presidents for his father’s election, which served as a “repudiation of foreign policy disasters,” he said. He admonished George W. Bush’s agenda to spread democracy to Iraq, and Barack Obama for desiring to “export America’s liberal ideals.”

He described himself and his father as nationalists, while asserting many confuse the meaning of American nationalism. For the last 20 years, he said, the U.S. has ignored its true national interests, a practice that has stopped with his father’s presidency.

“We have a leader who will no longer see 200 years of hegemony because everyone else wants a participation medal,” Trump said. “We won’t feel guilty for our successes and dominance globally, and we’ll fight to preserve it. We will intervene in other countries to protect Americans and American interests, and not to export our values or impress our traditions upon them. That’s simple nationalism.

“There’s a lot of people who don’t like the idea of nationalism. There’s some confusion perhaps as to what it actually means. Some think it means a willingness to make war. But it’s actually just the opposite. Making war is not often in a country’s best interest except for when it is attacked or directly threatened. It’s the liberal imperialist who will be ready to make war when they’re not threatened. The true nationalist always seeks peace.”

Trump said when all countries are governed by nationalist principles, “they’ll act in the best interest of their people. That means they are less likely to engage in foreign wars.

“We will seek friendship and goodwill with the nations of the world, but we will do so with the understanding that it’s the right of all nations to put their own interests first. So, nationalism means a less aggressive foreign policy.”

He also said discrimination on race, gender or class is “contrary to the ideas of nationalism.”

“If you’re an American nationalist, you’ll have a special regard for your own fellow citizens,” Trump said, referencing his father’s inauguration speech. “Here’s what else he said, at the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America.”

There was no discussion of possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Trump Jr. testified in September in a congressional hearing behind closed doors about his involvement with Russians during the president’s campaign, and specifically a June 2016 meeting between himself, senior members of his father’s presidential campaign and a group of Russians who promised dirt on Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

None of it has dented Trump’s popularity as a keynote speaker at Republican Party fundraisers and conservative groups. Before his speech at AT&T Stadium, a long line formed to take a picture with him, and afterward there was no shortage of those wanting to take selfies with him.

Jeff Caplan is a projects and enterprise reporter for the Star-Telegram. Reach him at: 817-390-7705, @Jeff_Caplan

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