Political Correctness Goes To War on American History
So Wilson had, as is the case with not a few famous historical leaders, conspicuous shortcomings—a reluctance to compromise, grand visions without the means to implement them, a curt temper, and not least, a belief in the innate racial superiority of whites. But what does it really mean to try and tar him for not having adhered to enlightened twenty-first-century standards? Where will the impulse to purge the past of its sins end? Should Washington, DC, named after a slave owner, adopt a new title? Should the Jefferson Memorial be torn down? Or what about the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars or the Wilson research fellowship that Johns Hopkins University, where Wilson taught for years, bestows upon promising undergraduates?
As L. Gordon Crovitz observes in the Wall Street Journal, there are a bevy of malefactors from the past that young students can try to hunt down: “Elihu Yale made his fortune as a British East India Company imperialist. Exploited Chinese laborers build Leland Stanford’s transcontinental railway. James Duke peddled tobacco.” And so on. It’s a game of trivial pursuit with real consequences for the intellectual climate on campus. No longer do students attempt to divine why the leading lights of a different era thought as they did, to attempt to put them in a broader context. Looking at Wilson as a racist pure and simple is rather reductionist. It tells you something about him but hardly everything.