Acclaimed documentary filmmaker Ken Burns lit into Donald Trump while delivering a commencement address at Stanford University on Sunday, calling the presumptive Republican presidential nominee an “infantile, bullying” “charlatan” and an “insult to our history.”
The 62-year-old, four-time Emmy-winning Civil War filmmaker held nothing back as he repeatedly went after Trump during his 25-minute speech, at various points calling the presidential candidate a “spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert” and referring to his campaign rhetoric as a mix of “bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements.”
(Watch: Burns’s speech begins around the 1:11:30 mark.)
“For 216 years, our elections — though bitterly contested — have featured the philosophies and character of candidates who were clearly qualified,” Burns began his attack on Trump. “That is not the case this year. One is glaringly not qualified.”
“So before you do anything with your well-earned degree, you must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process, divided our house, to fight against — no matter your political persuasion — the dictatorial tendencies of the candidate with zero experience in the much maligned but subtle art of governance; who is against lots of things, but doesn’t seem to be for anything, offering only bombastic and contradictory promises, and terrifying Orwellian statements; a person who easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter; who has never demonstrated any interest in anyone or anything but himself and his own enrichment; who insults veterans, threatens a free press, mocks the handicapped, denigrates women, immigrants and all Muslims; a man who took more than a day to remember to disavow a supporter who advocates white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan; an infantile, bullying man who, depending on his mood, is willing to discard old and established alliances, treaties and long-standing relationships.
“As a student of history, I recognize this type. He emerges everywhere and in all eras,” Burns continued, never mentioning Trump by name. “We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient protofascism, a nativist anti-immigrant know nothing-ism, a disrespect for the judiciary, the prospect of women losing authority over their own bodies. African Americans again asked to go to the back of the line, voter suppression gleefully promoted, jingoistic saber rattling, a total lack of historical awareness, a political paranoia that, predictably, points fingers, always making the other wrong.
Burns also singled out the media for taking advantage of the ratings that Trump provides them.
“Edward R. Murrow would have exposed this naked emperor months ago. He is an insult to our history,” Burns said. “Do not be deceived by his momentary ‘good behavior.’ It is only a spoiled, misbehaving child hoping somehow to still have dessert.”
During his commencement address, the filmmaker discussed the sexual assault case that rocked the campus and the country this year when Stanford freshman Brock Turner was sentenced to six months in jail after being convicted of three counts of sexual assault against a graduate student.
“If someone tells you they have been sexually assaulted, take it effing seriously and listen to them,” Burns advised the graduates. “Maybe someday we’ll make the survivor’s eloquent statement as important as Dr. King’s letter from the Birmingham jail.”
According to the Daily Mail, several students protested Turner’s sentence during Sunday’s graduation ceremony, holding signs reading “Stanford Protects Rapists” and “Celebrating 125 Years of Rape Culture.”
Read Burns’s full Stanford University commencement address here.
Follow Daniel Nussbaum on Twitter: @dznussbaum