Our glorious Thanksgiving unraveling: Race, protest, patriotism — and the forming, finally, of a true American spirit
Trump leads the GOP. Terror fears. Protests on campus. This is a fraught Thanksgiving — and that’s a good sign
It is fascinating to watch these student protests arising around the country—the University of Missouri, Yale, Princeton, many others. Students, your timing could not be more arresting: Intentionally or otherwise, you give all of us something to be thankful for today and, one hopes, all days to come.
The proceedings that stir me most are those at Princeton. Students from the Black Justice League started a sit-in at the president’s office last week, demanding that Woodrow Wilson’s name be stripped from all buildings and academic programs bearing his name. Talk about grand ambitions. One may as well propose taking St. Patrick’s name off that big pile of marble on Fifth Avenue at 51st Street in Manhattan.
Wilson, a Southerner and scion of a Presbyterian minister, was a Princeton graduate, a scholar, what we would today call a public intellectual and, before becoming the 13th resident at the White House, Princeton’s president. He is famous for his Fourteen Points, the League of Nations and a certain kind of intrusive internationalism now known as Wilsonianism. Every president who has served during your lifetime was one or another kind of Wilsonian or neo-Wilsonian or what have you. (I await more eagerly than I can say our first post-Wilsonian president.)
Wilson was also a racist—a grand-scale racist. He took his inherited ring-for-the-servants racism global. In 1901, while American soldiers were slaughtering Filipinos who had fought for their independence from Spain, Wilson published an essay in The Atlantic called “Democracy and Efficiency.” In it he explained America’s duty in the century then to come. “The East is to be opened and transformed, whether we will or no. The standards of the West are to be imposed upon it,” he wrote. These “underdeveloped people,” he explained, were “still in the childhood of their political growth.”