Friday, July 3, 2020

Find a common hate

When I studied American history in high school and college Woodrow Wilson was considered one of the good guys, a great President, a Progressive who advanced needed reforms like TR did. Jonah Goldberg, in "Cancel Woodrow Wilson" explains why, in the midst of a lot of stupid "cancelings," he's pretty much OK with this one:
...[T]here’s a difference between a flawed agent of positive change and an unalloyed champion of turning back the clock.

I don’t want to go down that rabbit hole, save to make this point: Wilson was a reactionary on race and the Confederate cause in his own time. The first Southerner to take the White House since before the Civil War—a war in which he thought the good guys lost. When he came to Washington, one of his first priorities was to undo the racial progress made by the Republicans: He restored segregation in the federal government. Blacks were sent to different bathrooms, cafeterias, etc. in the name of racial hygiene. When a delegation of black leaders visited the White House, he told them, “segregation is not a humiliation but a benefit, and ought to be so regarded by you gentlemen.” When one journalist objected, Wilson snapped, “Your manner offends me,” and he was sent packing.

“I have recently spent several days in Washington,” Booker T. Washington wrote after visiting D.C. during Wilson’s first term, “and I have never seen the colored people so discouraged and bitter as they are at the present time.”

It’s important to note that Wilson’s racism was only partly a function of his Southern heritage. He was a thoroughly modern progressive (as were many Southern politicians). .... More often than not, Wilson justified his racism not in the language of Southern heritage but in the “scientific” language of eugenics. His academic writing is saturated with talk of “inferior races,” “stagnant nationalities” and “Aryan” superiority. Wilson was an unapologetic subscriber to various notions of eugenics (and as governor of New Jersey, he created the Board of Examiners of Feeble-minded, Epileptics, and Other Defectives).

This is an important point because many apologists for Wilson—or progressivism—like to pretend that the original Progressivism and racism were at some fundamental level in conflict. They weren’t. Not all progressives were racists, but a great many racists were progressives, and a great many racist doctrines were central to progressivism.

But it would be a shame to let this crisis for Wilson-lovers go by without seizing the opportunity to point out why he was horrible for reasons beyond his racism.

First of all, he was astoundingly petty. When a British friend asked Col. Edward House—Wilson’s top adviser—for advice on how best to approach Wilson, House told him “Never begin by arguing. Discover a common hate, exploit it, get the President warmed up and then start on your business.” White House physician Dr. Cary T. Grayson said that Wilson was a “man of unusually narrow prejudices,” “intolerant of advice.” “If one urges Wilson to do something contrary to his own conviction, he ceases to have any liking for that person.” Sound familiar? ....

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