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Watch Ken Burns insult Donald Trump for 7 minutes straight at Stanford’s commencement

Stanford University Holds Commencement Ceremonies Amid Recent Controversial Rape Case Ramin Talaie/Getty Images
Libby Nelson is Vox's policy editor, leading coverage of how government action and inaction shape American life. Libby has more than a decade of policy journalism experience, including at Inside Higher Ed and Politico. She joined Vox in 2014.

Documentary historian Ken Burns delivered an urgent message to Stanford’s class of 2016 on Sunday: Forget the banal life advice that commencement speakers usually give. Defeating Donald Trump — whom he called "an insult to our history" — is the most important thing you can do right now.

Burns argued that Trump’s candidacy is an existential threat to American democracy, and that the stakes of the 2016 election are just as high as they were before the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln declared, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

His remarks start at the 1 hour and 12 minute mark, and the remarks about Trump specifically start around 1:23:00:

During his career, Burns said, he’s tried to be politically neutral in public. But "there comes a time when I, and you, can no longer remain neutral and silent," Burns said. "We must speak up and speak out."

And then he did, delivering a seven-minute string of blistering insults to Trump, calling him an "infantile, bullying man," a "spoiled, misbehaving child," a "charlatan," and a "naked emperor." He blasted Trump’s speeches as riddled with "troubling, unfiltered Tourette’s of his tribalism."

Trump, Burns said, threatens to revive a laundry list of historical evils:

We see nurtured in his campaign an incipient proto-fascism, 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…

We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires.

It’s up to graduates to reverse it, he said, to applause: "Asking this man to assume the highest office in the land would be like asking a newly minted car driver to fly a 747."

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