In my recently posted comments on the renaming of Calhoun College at Yale University, I failed to mention a glaring impropriety that the custodians of Political Correctness at Yale have not even begun to address. The university’s original benefactor, who in 1718 paid for the first building of what became a world-famous institution of learning, Elihu Yale (1649-1721), was a person of monstrous insensitivity. In 2007, the university authorities felt compelled to remove from their premises a picture of Mr. Yale, who had been a corrupt and presumably racist governor of the East India Company. The picture in question, which had been donated almost a hundred years earlier, showed a shackled black slave serving a drink to none other than Elihu Yale. In all likelihood many thousands of sensitive Yalies shuddered as they passed this hurtful portrait that was thoughtlessly allowed to remain exhibited on campus for almost a hundred years. Although I don’t recall my own reaction when I first encountered this portrait as a Yale student, I trust that I was properly choked up with indignation.
Unfortunately the university didn’t go far enough when it simply removed Elihu Yale’s portrait. It should have taken into account the pure horror of this figure’s involvement in European colonialism and have proceeded to rename their institution for a worthier individual. Allow me to note that the same process should be taking place at other institutions of learning as well. Renaming would be equally in order for all colleges and universities that are cursed with hateful names, for example, Washington and Lee University, which is named for two slave-owners. I am likewise appalled by sectarian colleges named for Christian bigots, like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Thomas Aquinas. Not one of these notorious religionists tried to reach out to Muslims or gays. Indeed in his tome From Luther to Hitler, William McGovern traces back Hitler’s Final Solution to nasty remarks made by the Protestant Reformer about Jews. These mutterings emitted by Luther as table talks obviously led to Nazi mass murder. Moreover, when the Ottoman Turks besieged Vienna in 1529, after overrunning Hungary, both Luther and Pope Clement VII called for a “crusade” to relieve the beleaguered city. Neither Christian dignitary welcomed the Third World visitors with fitting statements of cultural tolerance or with social programs. But perhaps I shouldn’t get stuck on details! There is so much renaming that the present times demand that one barely knows where to begin.
As someone who holds two degrees from Yale, I would like to start the campaign for greater sensitivity at home, with my alma mater; and so I’m herewith proposing a few figures whom this institution could name itself for, once it has finished renaming Calhoun College (first things first!). Let me mention three heroes of our time, any one of whom would be an inspiring name-giver to a university that is still unhappily referred to as “Yale.” All three of these gentlemen have distinguished themselves by gamely resisting a reactionary society, or so they tell us. The first is television sage Bill Maher, who for decades has been combatting religious obscurantists, grasping businessmen, Republican politicians, and opponents of his explanation for global warming. Although Maher has made millions declaiming against these demons to demonstratively favorable audiences, we should not begrudge him his rewards. In a brutally right-wing America, Maher is always in danger of being censored and even worse. One can only imagine the risks that this man of reason and moderation assumes when he warns us on TV and in lectures across the country that “all religion is stupid and dangerous.”
But there are other equally worthy candidates for the honor of lending one’s name to a better and more sensitive (I shudder to use its present name) Yale University. Another candidate I would call attention to is a man of the cloth (or so we are led to believe by the title that he’s been given) the Reverend Al Sharpton. The Reverend Al, who has spent the last twenty-five years organizing demonstrations against police actions deemed as racist and who on one occasion even fabricated the suffering of a supposed black victim of racism, may be exactly what Yale needs as a name-giver. At this moment he is helping his daughter sue the City of New York for the sum of five million dollars for “debilitating pain caused by twisting her ankle in a street crack in Soho last year.” Unfortunately, the cause of the ankle twist has now been determined as a mountain climb attempted by Al’s daughter in Bali, Indonesia last year, and so, alas, the Rev’s latest attempt to fight social injustice and entrenched interests may come to naught.
Lest we think that Al is a man with a politically and socially limited circle, Carl F. Horowitz in a blistering biography Sharpton shows how wide his range of admirers has become, even after Sharpton invented racist incidents involving rape that never occurred and incited black mobs against Jewish shop-keepers in Harlem. For at least ten years he enjoyed the continuing friendship of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and other “conservatives” associated with Fox-news. He was a frequent guest on their programs, long after he developed a reputation for being involved in unsavory activities. But as a forerunner of the Black Lives Matter movement and as someone who has worked all the rhetorical themes that resonate in today’s “Yale community,” Sharpton would be a perfect fit as name-giver for a university that may soon be driven to change its name.
Just as the Reverend Al would be an acceptable Christian for the embattled atheist Bill Maher, so too would our last candidate represent for him a palatable “conservative.” I am referring to the widely respected Republican philosopher and moralist Jonah Goldberg, who for years has championed the cause of gay marriage. Unlike others attached to the Murdoch-neoconservative media empire, Goldberg is not only tolerant of gay lifestyles and accepting of same-sex marriage. When he is not berating Democrats, but never Republicans, as state-worshipping “fascists” or calling for wars in which others (certainly not Jonah) would be fated to die, he has loudly condemned his own party for not being enthusiastic enough in welcoming gay activists. Jonah has gone to CPAC meetings and condemned the GOP operatives gathered there for not appreciating their fellow-conservatives who are openly involved in gay relations and advocating same-sex marriage. Needless to say, Jonah would never extend his welcome mat to those on his right (like us) whom Republican operatives have adamantly refused to feature as speakers. Outreach only occurs for Jonah in one direction, toward the social and cultural Left, where he feels comfortable embracing “fellow-conservatives.”
If Yale does decide to rename itself Jonah Goldberg U, it might replace the portrait of Elihu Yale that was removed eight years ago with a picture of its new name-giver, scowling at his fellow- conservatives or GOP groupies while dressing them down for their heterosexual obstinacies. Here’s a man of “values.” Indeed I would never mistake this grim portly presence for anything else; and Jonah may be my first choice for a name replacement for the eighteenth-century colonial governor whose disreputable name still afflicts my alma mater.
The eighth annual meeting of the H.L.Mencken Club will take place Nov. 6th and 7th. To find out more about the conference and to register, click on this link: http://hlmenckenclub.org/2015-conference/