Opinion: A Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. speech that should make Trump’s ears burn

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. urged middle-school graduates to act humbly and show compassion.
(Pablo Martinez Monsivais / Associated Press)

If anyone was still in any doubt that President Trump was an embarrassment to his office, it should have been dispelled by the latest example of what Trump calls his “modern day presidential” use of social media.

I’m referring, of course, to his tweet featuring a doctored version of a video — apparently appropriated from Reddit — showing him attacking a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head. The original 2007 video featured Trump body-slamming World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon. (The White House now says that the video tweeted by Trump didn’t come from Reddit.)

CNN said the tweeted video “encourages violence against reporters.” That strikes me as an overreaction. Trump’s hostility to the news media is troubling, but this tweet — like most of his “modern day presidential” broadsides — is more inane than inciting.


The truer takeaway — and it’s bad enough — is that Trump is thin-skinned, conceited and devoid of dignity.

If you want a Fourth of July corrective to Trump’s tweet, check out a video featuring the head of another branch of the U.S. government. This is the commencement speech delivered last month by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. to the graduating class of his son’s middle school. It has gained new attention with the publication of excerpts by the Washington Post.

Roberts’ speech, tailored to an audience of 14-year-old boys and their parents, can be read as a long subtweet of Donald Trump. Without mentioning the president, Roberts extols virtues Trump conspicuously lacks.

The chief justice reminds the young graduates that they are “privileged young men” and adds: “My advice is: Don’t act like it.”

In one of the most striking passages of the speech, Roberts told the students: “I wish you bad luck ... so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life, and understand that your success is not completely deserved, and that the failure of others is not completely deserved, either.”

Some might criticize Roberts’ speech for a whiff of noblesse oblige. (He advises the students to introduce themselves when they arrive at their next school to the people “raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash.”) But you don’t have to be an elitist to endorse the qualities Roberts was commending to his young audience.

Granted, Trump is a politician, not a judge, and presidents — “modern day” or otherwise — aren’t bound by the decorum required of members of the Supreme Court, which is, after all, an anti-democratic institution.

But much of what Roberts said could also plausibly come from the mouth of a president — but not, unfortunately, this one

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11:25 p.m.: This post was updated to include White House denial that Trump’s tweet was taken from Reddit.