Last Saturday, amid viral videos of public monuments being defaced all throughout the country, #CancelYale started trending on Twitter—but it wasn’t Antifa’s doing. It was an elaborate troll by conservative commentator Jesse Kelly. “Yale University was named for Elihu Yale. Not just a man who had slaves. An actual slave trader. I call on @Yale to change it’s name immediately and strip the name of Yale from every building, piece of paper, and merchandise. Otherwise, they hate black people. #CancelYale,” Kelly tweeted.
“End university racism and these monuments to slavery.”
He didn’t stop at Yale. Kelly’s “campaign” to topple monuments to slavery and indigenous genocide called out Harvard, Brown, the University of Virginia—every single one of these institutions have hoarded wealth, resources, and expertise on behalf of America’s elites. “I am calling on both parties in Congress to pass the Strip University Credentials Act for every American university like Yale, Georgetown, and Brown who are founded by slave owners. I’m calling it the SUC Act,” he tweeted. “End university racism and these monuments to slavery.”
Not all conservatives could get behind the troll, however—some hesitated. Cathy Young, a contributor to Reason, pushed back: “The left’s ‘cancel culture’ is vile. The right’s ‘hey, let’s turn cancel culture around to clobber the left’ game is ten times as nauseating because it’s so flagrantly cynical,” she tweeted.
With all due respect, Young is wrong. The right should get 100% behind the #CancelYale movement—we must make the left feel the pain of its own rules if we are to create a consensus around preserving our history.
As Kelly later explained: “We must use the enemies weapons against them.”
If conservatives refuse to force the left to abide by its own book of rules, we face losing a lot more than our national monuments. We risk allowing the anti-American drive animating the recent vandalism to become a dominant ideology. This drive has been smuggled through the backdoor in the fight against implicit racial bias in policing. It has nothing to do with racism and everything to do with destroying American history, culture, and identity.
MONUMENTS ARE FALLING—BUT NOT ON CAMPUS
The left has been on a monument-destroying tear this month, going well beyond the statues of confederate generals—in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, the statue of Ulysses S. Grant was toppled on June 19th; the next day in downtown Los Angeles, a statue of Junipero Serra was toppled near Union Station.
“I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
During a news conference in 2017 following the Charlottesville incident, President Trump remarked on this impulse to uproot and topple American history: “Many of those people [rallying in Charlottesville] were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
At the time, the President was roundly mocked. Now, he looks prescient.
On June 18th, protesters vandalized and tore down a statue of America’s first president, George Washington, in Portland, Oregon. More than 2000 people signed a petition to remove the Emancipation Statue of President Lincoln from Lincoln Park on Capitol Hill, claiming the monument portrays “degrading racial undertones.” New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that a prominent statue of Theodore Roosevelt, which as stood at the entrance of the American Museum of Natural History since 1940, will be removed in response to “objections that it symbolizes colonial expansion and racial discrimination.” It’s not just here in the United States—last week, Emma Soames told the BBC that there was serious consideration of moving the monument to her grandfather, Winston Churchill, in London’s Parliament Square, which had to be boarded up to prevent further vandalism.
Most of these historic monuments that have bore the brunt of anti-racist protesters are nothing more than symbols of America’s highly complicated history. That history is ostensibly the history of the first and most prominent democratic project in the world—and democracy is a hard-won institution. The arc of democracy is long, but bends towards justice.
For Democrats, standing silent while statues topple is a no-lose scenario. They can watch statues topple, wear Ghanaian costumes, and claim to be on the side of minority Americans who continue to struggle to actualize American democracy to its fullest. So the Democrats sit idly as statues topple, as businesses are vandalized, as the radical left makes demands to “Abolish America.”
To paraphrase the President, “You really have to ask yourself, where does it stop?”
For national conservatives, who understand that fanning the flames of racial animus and anti-Americanism, simply to curry political favor, is a dangerous game. We already live in divisive times; a divisiveness made all the more treacherous because of the looming Cold War with China.
Conservative principles mean nothing if the radical left and their Democrats are able to destroy American history, American culture, and the American nation; those principles mean nothing if we can’t inspire unity and national healing. Those principles mean nothing if we can’t force elite liberals to have skin in the game.
THIS IS WARTIME CONSERVATISM
Good-faith persuasion has not worked; statues didn’t just start coming down yesterday, and the left has gotten only more aggressive in the culture war. Why? Because good-faith persuasion does not make the left feel the pain of its own, largely symbolic advocacies.
We should #CancelYale and seize its endowment.
#CancelYale forces the Democrats to have skin in the game. Many, many elite liberals went to Yale. Many work at Yale. It’s a valuable credential for most of them, something they are proud of. Elite liberals don’t care about the name of Fort Bragg because they have no connection to it, it has no meaning to them, because they don’t know any soldiers—but they’re all heavily invested in persevering the power of elite universities.
Elihu Yale was, in fact, a slave trader, given that the left, rubber-stamped by their Democrats, are going after people like Ulysses Grant (the Union general who won the civil war)—Elihu Yale is absolutely fair game. So if they Democrats want to truly make amends for America’s racial crimes—seize Yale’s endowment and use it to pay reparations.
.@nhannahjones is 100% correct. Reparations must be paid. Let’s immediately move to seize the endowment of each and every university who has its roots in slavery and redistribute those funds to black people. We shall overcome. ✊? https://t.co/fgTrXCjIKk
— Jesse Kelly (@JesseKellyDC) June 24, 2020
#CancelYale isn’t some cynical joke; the strategic intent is to force liberals to understand the importance of historic preservation. It also works like #SeizeTheEndowments—conservatives should be broadly hostile to universities, which are bastions of anti-conservative sentiment and create the social and cultural capital that keeps the ruling class intact.
So let’s do this. We should #CancelYale and seize its endowment. If we can’t use Yale’s tainted money to pay off student debt, perhaps it can be used for reparations.