Ken Burns unleashes on Donald Trump during Stanford speech

Filmmaker Ken Burns offered a sharp critique of presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump in a speech at Stanford’s graduation Sunday, calling the business mogul “an insult to our history.”

The Walpole, N.H., resident — known for documentaries on American history — said Trump had “dictatorial tendencies” and was “glaringly not qualified” for the nation’s highest elected office. Though he did not specifically name Trump in his speech, Burns was clear about his intended target, referencing Trump’s endorsement from former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke and his wealth as a businessman.

Burns said this “candidate” offers “terrifying Orwellian statements” and “easily lies, creating an environment where the truth doesn’t seem to matter.” Trump’s actions and characteristics, Burns said, are “all virulent strains that have at times infected us in the past.”


“We know from our history books that these are the diseases of ancient and now fallen empires,” Burns said, to applause and cheers from the audience.

Burns delivered his address hours after a man killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando. On Monday, Trump gave a speech in New Hampshire, in which he pledged, if elected, to ban immigrants from the Middle East as a means to fight terrorism. The speech also comes as Trump and his presumptive Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, pivot their campaigns towards November’s general election.

Burns called on the Stanford students to stop Trump from taking office.

“You must do everything you can to defeat the retrograde forces that have invaded our democratic process,” Burns said.

He later added, “We no longer have the luxury of neutrality or ‘balance,’ or even of bemused disdain.”

On Tuesday, President Obama denounced Trump’s statements on Muslim Americans after the shooting massacre in Orlando — which was carried out by a man who had declared his allegiance to the Islamic State — calling his rhetoric “dangerous.”


Meg Bernhard can be reached at meg.bernhard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meg_bernhard.