President Barack Obama explicitly called for college students to avoid protesting and shutting down political rallies — even if they think the person has offensive views.
“There’s been a trend around the country of trying to get colleges to disinvite speakers with a different point of view, or disrupt a politician’s rally,” he said during his commencement speech at Howard University. “Don’t do that — no matter how ridiculous or offensive you might find the things that come out of their mouths.”
Obama’s advice is surprising — particularly as protesters follow Donald Trump across the country to condemn his controversial rhetoric. In his hometown of Chicago, protesters celebrated in March after they shut down a Trump political rally.
But Obama suggested a different path, citing advice from his grandmother.
“[E]very time a fool speaks, they are just advertising their own ignorance. Let them talk. Let them talk,” he said. “If you don’t, you just make them a victim, and then they can avoid accountability.”
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has also suffered from protesters interrupting her rallies, including multiple disruptions during her Cinco De Mayo rally in Los Angeles.
Obama suggested that political opponents should be challenged in the realm of ideas, and be willing to talk as well as listen.
“There will be times when you shouldn’t compromise your core values, your integrity, and you will have the responsibility to speak up in the face of injustice,” he said. “But listen. Engage. If the other side has a point, learn from them. If they’re wrong, rebut them. Teach them. Beat them on the battlefield of ideas.”
He cited his own experience as president as an example of the struggle with people he believed to be ignorant and wrong.
“You might as well start practicing now, because one thing I can guarantee you — you will have to deal with ignorance, hatred, racism, foolishness, trifling folks,” he said. “I promise you, you will have to deal with all that at every stage of your life.”