The Pitfall of #CancelYale

Some conservatives think they’ve nailed the Left good with the #CancelYale meme. Outraged by the Left’s assaults on America’s heritage, right-wingers decided to give liberals a taste of their own medicine. They want to shame Yale and other elite universities for their ties to slavery and racism to defend American heritage. Yet, in doing so, they unintentionally reinforce the Left’s moral framework.

Elihu Yale, the university’s namesake, was a slave trader in the colonial era. That makes the school’s name “problematic,” to say the least.

Ann Coulter kickstarted this campaign in her column defending American monuments under attack. The famed conservative commentator cheekily suggested targeting Yale as a counterattack against the Left. 

“How about a bill withholding all federal funds from Yale University until it changes its name?” Coulter gleefully asked. “Quite a dilemma for the little snots who attend and teach there! It will be tremendously damaging to their brand. After all, true sublimity for a Social Justice Warrior is virtue signaling and advertising their high SAT scores at the same time.”

Coulter’s point was to note the absurdity of going after Christopher Columbus and Confederates when liberal institutions are not pure either. Nothing in our history would stand up to the standards of the woke mob, especially not the elite alma maters of the liberal chattering class. The point is to make liberals squirm and force them to live up their insane principles. 

And yet the #CancelYale hashtag took off last week, with many conservatives eagerly championing the cause. They also set their sights on Georgetown, Duke, Princeton, and others with similarly problematic histories. Most conservatives were just having some fun with the hashtag and didn’t seriously believe these schools should be cancelled.

But some conservatives seriously believe they can take down Yale and other elite universities with trumped-up accusations of racism.

“If the Right starts wounding the Left’s sacred cows (their elite alma maters), the Left will call a cease-fire on statue destruction,” said Rogan O’Handley, proprietor of a popular pro-Trump Instagram account. 

The sad fact is no liberal will change her mind in response to the #CancelYale campaign. The school is not going to change its name, nor will liberals finally agree to a statue ceasefire. The Left already believes that every American institution is tainted by “white supremacy”—they’re not going to be shocked that their universities are no exception. They will even thank conservatives for further proving their point that “racism” and slavery lie at the center of the American experience.

Some conservatives believe they are emulating Saul Alinksy and making the enemy live by his own rules in this campaign. Unfortunately, these institutions are happy to live by their own rules and intensify their wokeness.

Georgetown, one of the schools attacked for its racist history, is well ahead of these complaints. The university, which benefitted from slavery in its early years, is offering reparations to the descendants of the slaves sold by Georgetown’s Jesuit founders. The Georgetown student government voted in 2019 to impose a $27.20 fee on all students to pay for these reparations. School officials balked at the student fee but agreed to raise $400,000 for this cause. Georgetown officially apologized for its slavery connection in 2016 and offered preferential admission to the descendants of the sold slaves. 

Other universities have also apologized for their connection to slavery and pledged to work harder against racism. 

The Princeton Theological Seminary last year pledged nearly $28 million in reparations for its role in slavery. The University of Virginia in 2006 apologized for its odious associations and heavily emphasizes the evils of slavery to students. Brown University made its apology around the same time and created a research center dedicated to slavery and injustice. Liberals consider the Ivy League school a model for how America should treat slavery and support reparations. None of these schools changed their names or shut down over their racist associations. 

Yale likely would make the same amends if the pressure campaign continues. The university would apologize, make a hefty donation to Black Lives Matter, mandate courses on slavery and racism, and strengthen its commitment to left-wing causes. It would not change its name because that would eliminate its global prestige. People will not pay $76,000 a year (absent aid) to attend the newly minted Trayvon Martin University of New Haven, Connecticut. They pay for the Yale brand and the Yale brand will stay as long as the school exists.

Yale has no problem with jettisoning parts of its past that do not align with the woke present. It renamed its Calhoun College, honoring John C. Calhoun, in 2017 to strip itself of its racist associations. Yale will stay because few associate it with Elihu Yale—they just see it as the name of the university. 

That same argument, of course, applies to military bases named after Confederate generals. The difference is that the elite doesn’t pay six figures to say they trained at Fort Benning; it is no loss to them to see the names of bases changed. Hypocritical? Obviously. But when you hold the moral and cultural power in society, you can safely ignore the other side’s bleating.

The unintended result of the #CancelYale campaign is that it further reinforces the Left’s argument for statue destruction. Conservatives aren’t attacking Yale and other elite schools for being anti-Christian, anti-American, Communist, or anything that’s abhorrent to their ideology. They’re complaining Yale is racist because of its namesake’s connection to slavery. Thus, it needs to be torn down for failing to live up to progressive principles.

In the process, conservatives buttress progressive power over our society. They’re conceding that the only way you can be canceled is if you fail to live up to the Left’s moral standards. Conservatives know they can’t cancel anti-white New York Times editorial board members or Antifa-supporting professors. They can only cancel these leftists if they made a semi-racist joke on Twitter in 2011. While it’s fun to see these folks hoisted by their own petards, it ensures that everyone only has to worry about offending the Left’s moral code.

The far-Left is not particularly tied to Yale, but leftists would prefer to see the university support the cause with substantial payouts rather than change its name. They gain power by having these institutions on their side, not by them renaming themselves. Liberals know how to make their peace with the revolution and won’t complain too much about the changes.

Elite institutions bearing the names of the old America can be altered to meet the times. Harvard eliminated Puritan references in its school song in 2018, admitting its current students are no longer Puritan descendants and the school wants to free itself of the bad old America. Yale and the others can easily follow suit. 

Their names will be the same but they no longer symbolize traditional America. These universities represent the new America at war with the old. 

We should want to cancel Yale, but conservatives won’t win by trying to outsmart the Left at its own game.

About Paul Bradford

Paul Bradford is a Capitol Hill refugee now earning an honest living.

Photo: Getty Images

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