Trump Makes Speech at West Point After Receiving Backlash About Putting Graduates at Risk for Coronavirus

Donald Trump largely sidestepped current events during his West Point commencement address

Donald Trump
President Donald Trump. Photo: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and the widespread protests against police brutality in the United States, President Donald Trump largely sidestepped current events in his commencement speech at the West Point graduation ceremony on Saturday.

Meanwhile, in his speech he praised Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant — who led the Army in beating the Confederacy during the Civil War, before later being elected president — days after he said he would “not even consider” changing the name of any of the 10 Army bases that are named for Confederate Army officers.

“Right now, America needs a class of cadets by your model, with vision to lead,” Trump said in his commencement address. “We need you to carry on the spirit of the great General Ulysses S. Grant.”

He also mentioned the American Civil War in his speech, saying that it was U.S. Military Academy graduates that fought the war to end “the evil of slavery.”

“It was this school that gave us the men and women who fought and won a bloody war to extinguish the evil of slavery within one lifetime of our founding,” he said.

Donald Trump
TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

The West Point graduates were required to self-quarantine for two weeks prior to the ceremony, which was held in person despite the coronavirus risk. No family or other guests were permitted to attend.

More than 1,100 cadets filed into the outdoor ceremony wearing face masks before sitting down six feet apart and later removing the masks.

Trump briefly discussed the pandemic in his nearly 30-minute speech, thanking the members of the military for their service.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank all members of America’s armed forces in every branch, active duty, National Guard and reserve who stepped forward to help battle the invisible enemy, the new virus that came to our shores from a distant land called China,” he said, adding, “We will vanquish the virus.”

Prior to the ceremony, over 2,000 people signed an online petition in an attempt to halt Trump's appearance on campus. "We don't need an entire class of junior officer incapacitated and rendered unfit for duty. We need them ready to serve; not in ICUs. Please sign the petition and tell them NOT to endanger the health and lives of our US military for a useless photo op," the petition's description reads.

Donald Trump
West Point.

Trump’s speech to the graduating cadets comes after he threatened to use American troops on U.S. soil in response to the Black Lives Matter protests stemming from George Floyd’s murder. Twenty-three states called in the Guard to help quell the protests, CNN reported.

Though the president did not explicitly reference the current protests, he alluded to “turbulent” times and thanked the National Guard for “ensuring peace, safety and the constitutional rule of law on our streets.”

"What has made America unique is the durability of its institutions against the passions and prejudices of the moment," he said. "When times are turbulent, when the road is rough, what matters most is that which is permanent, timeless, enduring and eternal."

During Trump's commencement ceremony, protestors sailed along the nearby Hudson River in kayaks and sailboats as well as outside the venue.

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