The Troll Campaign to Rename Yale

Last week, the conservative troll Ann Coulter needled leftists by asking whether Yale would change its name to distance itself from Elihu Yale (1649-1721), who got rich plundering India and dealt in slaves before giving books to a cash-strapped university in Connecticut. Coulter is not just a troll; she is a Founding Mother of American trolldom. She is one of the modern inventors of saying things with no motive other than to rile and sow discord among one’s enemies. This particular golden apple of strife has landed to great effect. Conservatives have picked up on the #CancelYale hashtag and found allies among certain lefties excited about the renaming possibilities. Yale has not announced plans for any change, but last week’s decision by Princeton to strip the name of its former president Woodrow Wilson from its school of public affairs has put Yale under even more scrutiny.

I teach part-time at Yale, so if the university were not totally empty because of the pandemic, I might be able to hear the burbling of student opinion on these issues directly. (My position is not particularly exalted. I don’t speak for Yale and have no part in its decisions.) Instead, I am stuck listening to the chorus of trolls and imps who are driving this debate online, and occasionally fooling normal people into taking positions on their terms. We have a moral duty to avoid confected controversies such as these.

The evidence that this controversy is confected is overwhelming: Yale’s students and administrators have spent a lot of energy considering Elihu’s legacy, and have even sequestered two of his portraits in a closet of shame, while displaying a third, with curatorial stress on the enslaved Black child next to him, in the Yale Center for British Art. But almost no one seems to have thought reckoning with Elihu’s crimes meant changing the name of the university, which has long been divorced in meaning from the life of Elihu Yale. No one was venerating him; no one was trying to live up to his ideals. The name Yale does not belong to Elihu, but to the university, with its faults and virtues, not his.

[Read: The racist legacy of Woodrow Wilson]

The same cannot be said for Woodrow Wilson, Robert E. Lee, or John C. Calhoun, whose name was removed from a Yale dormitory in 2017. Wilson was not a casual bigot. He did a great deal to keep Black people down, and unless you are a Princeton alumnus, his name means more as a politician’s than as a school’s. He should be judged (harshly) as a politician. Lee is known for being a traitor—an even easier case. Calhoun, I think, was more complicated. He was a Yale graduate and a United States senator, a secretary of war and of state, and a vice president, and he is one of very few American political theorists of the 19th century whose work repays reading today. He was also a raging racist who worked tirelessly to ensure and prolong the enslavement of millions of Black Americans. Given that he is known now mostly for the last of these distinctions, the balance does not favor him, and Yale has renamed Calhoun College accordingly, after the computer scientist and the Navy admiral Grace Murray Hopper.

But this conversation is a distraction—not because the legacy of injustice at institutions such as Yale and the U.S. government isn’t worth discussing, but because it is worth discussing, and #CancelYale is a way to prevent that discussion by replacing it with a much stupider one that will, by proximity, discredit the one that should occur. For years, Yale’s critics have demanded that it respect and live in harmony with the city of New Haven, which is majority-minority. The university has tried to make students, staff, and faculty from underrepresented backgrounds feel like they are full members of its community. Changing the university’s name would not advance these goals at all.

Some other goals would be served splendidly. You can set your watch by the timing of these diversion campaigns: When President Donald Trump gets caught doing something inexcusable, such as tweeting a video of his supporter shouting “White power!” from behind the wheel of a golf cart, he will find an adjacent controversy to magnify, in hopes that it will distract from his own. Nitwits will always be ready to assist by pushing the controversy well beyond its defensible limits: ripping down or defacing statues of, say, Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant or Miguel de Cervantes, and claiming the mantle of those who supported the orderly removal of authentic villains such as Lee.

[Eliot A. Cohen: A profoundly unserious way of dealing with the past]

Confected discord could overwhelm us and become real. What if this greater knowledge of Elihu Yale’s sordid past becomes widespread (and I hope it does) to the extent that it overshadows the reputation of Yale the institution, and when we hear Yale we think not of a university but of a colonial chieftain administering the slave trade in Madras? (I hope it does not.) In that case, the name of Yale might indeed require revision.

But in that case, the name of the university is the least of our problems. Far more serious would be our apparent helplessness when confronted with manipulators, who can, with little more than a tweet, commandeer our minds and dictate what we think about our history and our present. Many of those eager to change the name of Yale would scoff at the idea that Coulter controls their minds. But the evidence may ultimately prove that she does. In ancient Greece, the goddess of strife, Eris, was a minor figure, capable of starting trouble but rarely pivotal in deciding how it ended. She is possibly the most puissant god of our time. It is not too late to resist her.

Load more
Read full article on:
Floyd Family Attorneys To Announce A Civil Lawsuit Against Minneapolis And Police
Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, attorneys representing the family of George Floyd, are expected to announce the lawsuit at a press conference on Wednesday morning.
Alaskan senator nearly ‘gifted’ caribou heart by protester at campaign event
A protester attempted to give an Alaskan senator a “gift” — a bloody caribou heart — during a wild campaign event, according to a report. Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan was campaigning inside an airport hangar in Anchorage Saturday when the demonstrator, Kathleen Bonnar, walked up and asked “if I could give him a gift,” local...
Video shows Fahim Saleh’s remains being removed from murder scene
Chilling video shows the moment the remains of dismembered tech CEO Fahim Saleh were carted away from his posh Lower East Side apartment.
'Little bit of an oops': Jack Nicklaus sent congratulatory text to Justin Thomas
Jack Nicklaus saw Justin Thomas drain a 50-foot putt on the first playoff hole but didn't wait to see Collin Morikawa make a 24-footer to extend play.
Trade adviser Peter Navarro tears into Fauci in blistering op-ed: ‘Wrong about everything’
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro tore into Dr. Anthony Fauci in a stunning op-ed on Wednesday, saying the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director has been “wrong about everything.”
Ghislaine Maxwell secretly married but won't reveal husband's name, prosecutors say
Ghislaine Maxwell is secretly married — and refusing to reveal her husband’s name, prosecutors said this week at the accused madame’s bail hearing.
Veterans Hospital Staffer Admits to Killing 7 Patients With Unprescribed Insulin
A former staffer at a veterans hospital in West Virginia pleaded guilty Tuesday to intentionally killing seven patients with fatal doses of insulin, capping a sweeping federal investigation into a series of mysterious deaths at the medical center. Reta Mays, a former nursing assistant at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg was…
Rachel Campos-Duffy on backlash against Goya CEO: 'He's giving people courage' to stand up to the mob
Fox News contributor Rachel Campos-Duffy said on Wednesday that the Goya CEO is giving people the courage to stand up after refusing to apologize for visiting the White House.
Peacock’s ‘Brave New World’ is the Horniest TV Dystopia Ever
Star Harry Lloyd explained how the orgies and sex scenes tell a deeper story.
Jordan Harvey: COVID-19 presents unique challenges for life in the MLS bubble
In Jordan Harvey's latest diary from the MLS bubble, the LAFC defender discusses the challenges the teams in — and out — of the tournament are facing.
Orange County Votes to Reopen Schools; Democrats Criticize; Schools Uncertain
Controversy is raging in Orange County, California, after the county's school board voted overwhelmingly this week to reopen schools -- but the county's Democratic congressional delegation criticized the decision, and schools were uncertain.
Disneyland Paris reopens with new Covid-19 measures
Europe's only Disney theme park has been closed for four months but it's now cautiously reopening to the public, with new measures to try to keep Covid-19 in check.
Bakari Sellers: Reality show president landed us on 'Survivor'
CNN's Bakari Sellers discusses the disparity between President Donald Trump's talking points and what is happening in the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
U.S. General: War with Israel Would Be 'Great Mistake' for Hezbollah
TEL AVIV -- Attacking Israel would be a "great mistake" on Hezbollah's part, a U.S. general touring the region said this week, adding it would not end well for the Iran-backed terror group.
France: Radicalised Muslim Underage Girls Sentenced For Police Station Terror Plot
Two Islamic convert girls have been sentenced after being convicted of plotting to attack a police station in the city of Saint-Etienne.
Tyra Banks Will Replace Tom Bergeron as ‘Dancing with the Stars’ Host
Banks is ready to lead DWTS through its creative refresh.
CNN, MSNBC avoid on-air coverage of Bari Weiss' dramatic exit from The New York Times
Bari Weiss shook the media landscape on Tuesday with her scathing letter announcing her departure from The New York Times, but CNN and MSNBC viewers were kept in the dark.
Ghislaine Maxwell denied bail in Epstein sex trafficking case, pleads not guilty to charges
Ghislaine Maxwell -- Jeffrey Epstein's former girlfriend and alleged sex trafficking ring co-conspirator -- was denied bail at an arraignment hearing Tuesday. Jericka Duncan reports on the arguments exchanged between prosecutors and defense lawyers before that decision was reached.
Pregnant YouTube star Nicole Thea’s cause of death revealed
"She was telling her partner that she had pains in her chest and her back."
Arizona student says they waited 26 days for COVID-19 test result
Coronavirus numbers surged in Arizona Tuesday with 4,273 new cases reported, just over 3,500 hospitalizations and 92 deaths — a new record for the state.
Largest lab in Arizona hopes to speed up COVID-19 test results
It takes currently, on average, seven days to get a COVID-19 test result from Sonora Quest Laboratories, Arizona's largest lab. But the company says it hopes to cut that time to just two days as testing demand continues to grow in the state. Mola Lenghi reports.
The rise and humiliating fall of Jeff Sessions, a cautionary tale for other Republicans
What happened to Jeff Sessions underscores why Senate Republicans aren't ditching Trump anytime soon.
'Dancing with the Stars' announces Tyra Banks will replace Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews
ABC announced that Tyra Banks will replace Tom Bergeron and Erin Andrews as the host of "Dancing with the Stars."
CNN Anchor gives a passionate pandemic plea
Becky Anderson has a simple message. Wear a mask.
How Much Time Actually Passes in the ‘Palm Springs’ Time Loop?
We did some calculations, and then bounced them off Palm Springs writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow.
Severe weather, heavy rain threat for Central US as heat wave shows signs of easing
A break in the summertime heat is coming across the central part of the country on Wednesday, along with the threat of stormy weather.
Glee Creators Pay Tribute to ‘Our Friend’ Naya Rivera, Plan College Fund For Her Son
Rivera died by accidental drowning after a boating accident in a California lake
Eye Opener: CDC director offers bleak public health outlook for fall and winter
The CDC director is warning that the fall and winter seasons will be among the worst in U.S. public health history. Also, Jeffrey Epstein associate Ghislaine Maxwell pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from allegations against the late sex offender. All that and all that matters in today's Eye Opener. Your world in 90 seconds.
UAE reaches for Mars
As the UAE prepares to launch the Emirates Mars Mission, Astronauts Hazzaa AlMansoori and Sultan AlNeyadi speak about the significance of the Arab world's first interplanetary mission.
Investigation Uncovers Missteps In Washington, D.C.'s Coronavirus Response
In the nation's capital, the coronavirus has killed Black residents at 5.9 times the rate of white people — a disparity that's worse than any other big city in America with published demographic data.
Connor McGovern can stabilize a crippling Jets weak spot
As the Jets get close to training camp, I am examining the roster and giving you my top 25 players. Each weekday, we will reveal another person on the list, leading right into camp. I am not including rookies on this list because I do not feel it is possible to fully evaluate them before...
Aircraft dump retardant near homes threatened by Utah wildfire started by fireworks
Aircraft dumped fire retardant near homes in Washington, Utah, as crews battled a blaze that authorities say was started by teenagers using fireworks.
'Why would I donate to my host?' Airbnb guests perplexed by 'kindness card' email suggesting extra payments
Airbnb has recently sent emails to guests suggesting they send "kindness cards" to their hosts, which has irked many a guest on social media.
Goldman Sachs is crushing it as booming markets trump Main Street turmoil
Goldman Sachs revealed a 41% surge in revenue Wednesday as the Wall Street bank capitalized on booming markets and a flurry of dealmaking.
US banks warn of much more economic pain ahead
The biggest US banks are setting aside billions of dollars to deal with toxic loans as support from the government falls off in the months ahead, a sign that some of the worst economic damage from the pandemic is still to come.
Trump to ease environmental reviews for infrastructure projects
Mr. Trump is traveling to Atlanta to announce the new federal rule.
The Energy 202: Biden pleases some once leery liberals with new climate plan
The former vice president’s plan would put the United States on a 15-year timeline for eliminating greenhouse gas pollution from power plants.
Delingpole: Boris Muzzles Britain's Bulldogs; Poodles Yap Their Approval
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has decided to make muzzles -- aka masks; aka face nappies -- compulsory for everyone who wants to go shopping. Anyone caught not wearing one will, from July 24, be liable for a £100 fine.
The Health 202: The race for a coronavirus vaccine isn’t slowing, even as Trump undermines Fauci
Moderna became the first company to announce final-stage trials of a vaccine.
This day in sports: Bobby Grich lifts Angels to win over Yankees
Some of the greatest moments in sports history to have occurred July 15.
Coronavirus testing for half a million L.A. students each week? Easier said than done
Testing nearly half a million students would be unprecedented and strain already limited resources
California fails to protect Latino workers as coronavirus ravages communities of color
Experts say the failure to protect Latino essential workers has contributed to California's mid-summer spike of the coronavirus.
News Analysis: As coronavirus surges, so do calls for rules from Gov. Newsom on schools reopening
Gov. Newsom has issued coronavirus guidelines for businesses and services across the state, but he has so far refused to step in when it comes to schools.
Column: Inside Orange County's bizarre school-reopening vote
Orange County's school reopening vote harks back to its right-wing past.
Back to school in Orange County without masks and social distancing? Many call that reckless
The county Board of Education's recommendations attempt to cast doubt on the necessity of wearing masks and social distancing among students
Column: The latest rallying cry of coronavirus deniers, brought to you by Orange County
The last thing California needs is a government-sanctioned rallying cry about the safety of reopening schools in the pandemic. Thanks, Orange County.
NBCUniversal wades into streaming wars with Peacock
The streaming service, which was already available to Comcast customers, could struggle without Roku and Amazon partnerships. But Peacock's strategy is different.
To weather the COVID-19 drought, small businesses need to expand credit now
Your access to credit during the coronavirus crisis will likely be greater now that later, so take advantage of the opportunity to clean things up.